Football: Caniggia quells Nigeria

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Argentina. .2

Caniggia 21, 28

Nigeria. . .1

Siasia 8

Attendance: 53,000

IN A steamy Foxboro Stadium near Boston last night, the champions of South America stifled those out of Africa with a display in which their own qualities of defensive soundness and attacking incision proved too rounded for Nigeria's naked talent.

Coming from behind, both Argentina's goals were scored by Claudio Caniggia, near his penetrative best despite only two months ago completing a 13-month suspension for cocaine use. Nigeria, in need of a few lessons, received one: how not to concede a lead.

The crowd was largely made up of Argentine fans who sought to turn the stadium into the River Plate by tossing torn- up paper at the pitch, which was littered in one penalty area. The neutral support, though, seemed to be with the Nigerians after their vibrant 3-0 win over Bulgaria, which eclipsed Argentina's initial victory over a feeble Greece, even if that had been by one more goal.

Just why all but Argentina have been thrilled by the Nigerians, with their uninhibited running at the heart of defences, was apparent after only eight minutes. Rashidi Yekini, the African footballer of the year, evaded a lunge by Oscar Ruggeri some 30 yards out, slipped the ball to Samson Siasia, who clipped it neatly over Luis Islas and into the net.

Thoughts of Cameroon, to whom they lost 1-0 in the tournament's opening game four years ago, must have gone through Argentine minds, especially after they had had a header by Ruggeri cleared off the line by Finidi George and a netted shot by Claudio Caniggia was ruled out, because Diego Maradona had taken a free- kick too quickly.

But this Maradona, these Argentines, have in addition to their usual resilience more of an adventure. Twenty-one breathless, breathtaking minutes later they were ahead, being brought back into the game by the defensive indiscipline that remains the caveat concerning African football.

After 21 minutes Austin Eguavoen kicked wildly at Diego Simeone, for which the Nigerian right-back was fortunate to be given just a yellow card, and Maradona backheeled a free-kick to Gabriel Batistuta. Peter Rufai could not hold his low drive from 25 yards and Caniggia pounced to tuck home the rebound.

That free-kick was taken in more timely fashion by Maradona and, seven minutes later, he again instigated a goal for Caniggia, this time without need for a middle man. Maradona's lung power may have diminished but the touch and vision remain, evident as he rolled a pass into the path of Caniggia galloping down the left. The flashy striker paid it the compliment it deserved by running on and clipping a right- footed shot precisely into the far corner.

More might have followed as Fernando Redondo and Simeone asserted their control in midfield, cutting supply lines and denying the freedom the Nigerians need. Redondo shot over after a one-two with Abel Balbo, who himself went close with a low drive. The Nigerians, however, issued a reminder of their potency when Sunday Oliseh sent in a swerving shot from 25 yards that Islas clutched low down at the second attempt. It was to prove ultmiately never on Sunday.

The debris of paper on the pitch was cleared up for the second half and it appeared that Nigeria, too, had tidied the mess of their defence. Still they found it hard to rediscover their rhythm, however, the Argentines cleverly coaxing them into playing at their more staccato pace and shorter- passing style.

They were, too, hard- pressed to keep the Argentines in check when they broke. After Oliseh and Eguavoen, Michael Emenalo became the third Nigerian to receive a yellow card when he brought down Caniggia, who himself was then bizarrely booked for getting up off the stretcher ordered for his injury.

Moments later, Emenalo tugged Batistuta as they chased another through ball by Maradona and the striker, who was receiving nothing like the room the Greeks allowed him to score his hat-trick, pleaded with the referee for the defender to be sent off. Some old habits die hard.

Adepoju and Yekini were off target at the other end with shots as the Nigerians chased a point but Redondo responded with a run and shot that dived which Rufai dived to turn round a post.

However, Nigeria staged a late rally and saw a glimmer of a draw when Yekini was slipped in with Ilas to beat. The goalkeeper, his all-round play showing why it had won him preference over their penalty- saver extraordinary of four years ago, Sergio Goycochea, was quickly out to smother his shot.

Indeed, the Argentines finished the stronger. Maradona waeved his way through the Nigerian defence only to be denied at the last. He also, finding a reserve of pace from deep in his ever competitive body, produced a run and cross which Batistuta just failed to convert. Cannily, they had matters in hand.

ARGENTINA (4-4-2): Islas (Independiente); Sensini (Parma), Caceres (Real Zaragoza), Ruggeri (San Lorenzo), Chamot (Foggia); Simeone (Seville), Redondo (Real Madrid), Balbo (Roma), Maradona (no club); Caniggia (Roma), Batistuta (Fiorentina). Substitutes: Mancuso (Boca Juniors) for Balbo, 70; Diaz (River Plate) for Sensini, 86.

NIGERIA (4-4-2): Rufai (Go Ahead Eagles); Eguavoen (Kortrijk), Nwanu (Anderlecht), Okechukwu (Fenerbahce), Emenalo (RWD Molenbeek); George (Ajax), Siasia (Nantes), Oliseh (Reggiana), Amunike (MSV Duisburg); Amokachi (Club Bruges), Yekini (Olympiakos). Substitutes: Adepoju (Santander) for Siasia, 57; Okocha (Eintracht Frankfurt) for Oliseh, 86.

Referee: B Karlsson (Sweden)