Football / World Cup USA '94: Captain blames Nigerian coach for elimination

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN KESHI, the Nigerian captain, launched a strong attack on the team coach, Clemens Westerhof, in the wake of the Africans' 2-1 World Cup defeat by Italy on Tuesday night.

Keshi, who was dropped for the match, announced his retirement from internationals while at the same time accused the Dutch-born coach of leaving out key players because of personal grudges.

'I was not picked for the team because I stood up to him. Samson Siasia was also left out because he criticised the coach,' Keshi said.

Westerhof, who has retired as coach, had a row with the Nigerians last week over the right of players' wives to stay in the team hotel.

Keshi added that Westerhof deserved little credit for the country's showing at the World Cup, where they finished top of their group and came within a minute of eliminating the Italians.

'He was not a coach. He only did a lot of talking,' Keshi said. 'It was the senior professionals who ran the team. We organised the tactics. I protected him for five years only because he stood up for the rights of the players on money we were owed by the federation.'

Fifa's attitude to the smaller nations also brought criticism from the Nigerian goalkeeper, Peter Rufai. 'To reach the highest level we need the support of Fifa. From the first they have been giving first consideration to their long-standing clients, not the new ones,' Rufai said. 'If we are treated fairly then we know we can do even better in France in 1998. I believe there is a new world force coming.'

Nigeria will now turn their attention to the defence of their African Nations' Cup title in two years' time before the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign.

'We will have to create a new team,' said Chief Sylvanus Akinwunmi, chairman of Nigeria's National Sports Commission and head of their World Cup delegation. 'Many of the present crop of players will be too old in four years' time. I think we have to start looking inward to find more talent in our domestic league.'

Top of their priority list will be a replacement coach and Akinwunmi said the new man would almost certainly be a foreigner, but he would be at the head of a team of Nigerian coaches.

Meanwhile, Roberto Baggio finally lived up to his pre-tournament billing after inspiring Italy to victory. From the brink of defeat, the player voted the best in the world by every poll last season, came to the rescue with the 89th- minute equaliser before scoring the the penalty winner in extra time.

'For 89 minutes we were suffering and then I got a goal that was worth a million dollars,' Baggio said.

'I haven't scored for a long while and there has been a lot of pressure on me coming into this World Cup. To score was a huge relief. I instantly felt so much better about myself and now I hope I can carry that confidence through the rest of the tournament.'

In Naples a seven-year-old boy was shot dead when his 15-year-old cousin fired his father's pistol in celebration of Italy's victory.