Football / World Cup USA '94: Italian coach fears the champions of Africa

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The Independent Online
THE Italian coach, Arrigo Sacchi, said yesterday he feared the triple champions could become the World Cup fall-guys in their second-round meeting with Nigeria.

'Nigeria are not the opponents I would have chosen,' Sacchi said when asked whether he was pleased to have avoided a second- round match against Argentina.

'It's a game in which we have little to gain and a lot to lose. If we lose, then we will look foolish.' Late goals in the final Group D matches on Thursday sent Argentina tumbling to third spot behind Nigeria and Bulgaria.

The African champions now play Italy in Boston on Tuesday, Bulgaria meet Mexico in New Jersey the same day while Argentina, reeling from the loss of Diego Maradona, travel to play Romania in Los Angeles tomorrow.

A meticulous planner, Sacchi admitted he did not know much about the Nigerians. But his assistants have watched the Nigerians and warned him they are physically strong, quick and good on the ball.

'Nigeria are clearly the best African soccer has to offer. They are a strong squad and have several players who have gained experience from playing with European clubs,' he said.

'But we saw when they lost to Argentina that they do make mistakes.'

The Italian coach, who described his side as the 'Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde of the World Cup', was forced to defend the disappointing Roberto Baggio. Sacchi said: 'I'm not going to demand he do this or that in the next match. If we weigh him down with extra responsibility, we will bury him.'