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September 16, 2000
Golden Eagles win scrappy matchThe Rediff Team
Nigeria's football fixture against the host nation was loaded with possibilities for both sides. It was loaded, too, with danger.
Having played largely lacklustre soccer to draw their opener with Honduras 3-3, the defending gold medalists Nigeria needed a win to stay in the race for qualification for the next stage. And Australia needed a win as bad -- or worse -- given their first round 1-0 loss to Italy.
Initially, it was Nigeria that got off the blocks smoothly, making all the running while Australia looked a touch out of sorts. This period brought an early goal for the Golden Eagles -- rather inappropriately named, given their green outfits -- when Aghahowa did all the early spadework, dispossessing a casual Vince Grella inside the danger zone, then laying on a great through pass for Pius Ikedia to score.
Nigeria's forwards proved to have the legs of the Australians, dominating the midfield and enemy danger zone while forcing the hosts to defend for dear life. Julius Aghahowa made it two zero for the defending champions, when he found space on the right wing, cut through into the zone, and finished with finesse, chipping elegantly over the head of Danny Milosevic in the Aussie goal.
Australia were lucky to pull one back, when a Foxe shot off a free kick deflected off a Nigerian defender, leaving the goalie going the wrong way. There was, however, nothing fortuitouis about the goal the Aussies slotted a couple of minutes later, when a supreme bit of skill from Viduka saw Wehrman getting the benefit of a perfect backheel, which he rammed home in style.
The second half opened to scenes of needless chaos, as a melee broke out following a foul by Emerton. Babayaro got into it, for Nigeria, the captains of both sides seemed inclined to say it with fisticuffs, Colosimo chased Babayaro around the periphery of the ground with manslaughter on his mind, and it took the referee much whistle-blowing, and the sending off of both captains before the chaos ended and sanity returned.
Nigeria's recovery from the incident was swifter than that of Australia -- as exemplified in a defensive lapse that cost Australia a goal and with it, the game. Colosimo attempted to head a loose ball back to his goalkeeper, but Victor Agali was too close to justify that attempt. Anticipating superbly, Agali intercepted, circled the hapless Milosevic, and netted almost contemptuously.
Stung, Australia threw everyone but the goalie forward, while Nigeria, seemingly happy to hold on to the lead, pulled back to defend its territory. This resulted in play, for the most part of the last 15 minutes, taking place inside the Nigerian half -- but some poor finishing, and deft defending by the Nigerians, saw the scoreline steady on 3-2 when the referee's whistle blew.
Nigeria got the win they badly needed, while Australia with the second successive defeat find themselves facing elimination.
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