Nayim's deadly intention

Ian Ridley reflects on the night a goal of dazzling quality lit up Europe

NATIONALISM and the need for local heroes will always colour accounts of sporting contests. They are, after all, the very essence. Sometimes, though, you just have to honour a moment, an achievement, that transcends frontiers no matter who its executor, whatever its circumstances.

The goal 20 seconds from the end of extra time by Ali Amar Mohamed, alias Nayim, that wrested the European Cup-Winners' Cup from Arsenal for Real Zaragoza by two goals to one was one such. To dwell on any perceived mistake by David Seaman - tritely, semi-final hero, supposed final villain - would be to miss the point and deny the beauty.

Afterwards, the Moroccan-born midfield player was modesty itself to English journalists. He had been lucky, he said, a word that also translates his nickname from the Arabic. To compatriots, though, he gave a more convincing account.

"It was the last minute and the last chance," he said. "I didn't have any option but to try. I saw Esnaider was offside. I saw the goalkeeper a bit forward from his line and I tried. I was quite clear. I was really concentrating."

Four days on, it still bears detailed description. A long clearance was headed wide to the right by Andy Linighan to Nayim, 50 yards out from goal and, from this spectator's point of view, there was nothing fortunate in what followed.

Nayim brought the ball down on his chest impeccably and took one look up, to see in offside positions his darting captain Miguel Pardeza, the game's outstanding player, and the striker Juan Esnaider, the Argentine whose tango in Paris had given Real the lead with a 25-yard volley. He looked back down to ensure the ball was under control, then up again to check Seaman's position: acting as sweeper 10 yards from his line. The dipping shot, with pace to match accuracy, was perfection.

Nayim then ran towards the television gantry on the halfway line where the England coach, Terry Venables, the manager in his Tottenham days, was working for ITV and gave the thumbs-up. Venables smiled and shrugged a "not bad".

"If he had just lobbed it, Seaman would probably have got back, but he really whacked it and put a whip on it and that's what beat David," Venables said. "I have seen him try it before both in training and in a match. He and Gazza were always trying to outdo each other in training." Where would he place it on his all-time list? "In the top . . . one," he replied.

The best ever? So many come to the mind's eye and there will always be arguments; also the very stuff of sport. Venables himself was close witness to Paul Gascoigne's glorious free-kick, also against Seaman, in Tottenham's FA Cup semi-final defeat of Arsenal four years ago. Diego Maradona's weaving wonder against England in Mexico in 1986 remains the personal favourite, and it was heart- ening that a BBC2 audience last year voted it best- ever World Cup goal, even though it defeated England and followed the "Hand of God" episode.

Nayim's goal deserved to win this - indeed, any - contest, Real having been the sharper, brighter side. Cutely, if sometimes distastefully with some strategic early "diving", they succeeded in getting the game played at their staccato pace, not allowing the juggernaut Arsenal into a rhythm. John Hartson's equalising goal further illustrated Arsenal's resourcefulness, but finally their creative deficiences were exposed as they waited for the sanctuary of penalties.

Tomorrow they leave for a week's tour of China and Hong Kong, after which the board will decide on a new manager. The caretaker Stewart Houston offers evolution. "All I have really done is try to get them to express themselves a little more," he said. "To play a little bit more when they can, when they have the time.

"But it's only been three months, it will take a little while longer. If I were given the opportunity, we would need to improve in certain areas, mainly the midfield, yes, but in every department at sometime in the future."

It may be, however, that the board is seeking more of a revolution. No manager would again be given the control that George Graham enjoyed, said the chairman Peter Hill-Wood last week. The wage structure that saw all well paid but none outrageously more than another might have to be abandoned to attract the best players for a championship challenge, he added.

A clever banner in the Parc des Princes read: "1 life, 1 game, 1 club, 1-nil." But as last Wednesday proved, no longer can Arsenal consistently go on eking out such results. Neither does the fans' present theme song of bravado - "We'll win, 'cos we're Arsenal" - carry much conviction. Thankfully, touchingly, any arrogance it implied was overcome as they reciprocated the celebratory applause from Nayim and company after the match. When national disappointment and local heroes are forgotten, perhaps all will recall the privilege of witnessing such a coup de grace.

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