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An American Fanís Journal

June 13, 1998: Let the World Cup debate begin.

June 10, 1998: World Cup off to good start.

An American Fansí Journal: A crowning moment for Nigeria.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes Correspondent

NANTES (Sunday, June 14, 1998) -- Occasionally at a World Cup there is a result, a moment, that transcends sport. That kind of moment took place here when underdog Nigeria --it's country in political turmoil -- overcame Spain 3-2. It just might have been the irrepressible Bora Milutinovic's greatest victory.

On the morning TVG down from Paris it was hard to find anyone, Nigerians included, who gave Bora's squad much of a chance. The Spanish considered themselves the Cup's biggest secret. Few of the experts talk about them in the same way as the Brazilians or the Germanys or the Dutch. But they themselves have been smiling as if they alone share a great secret. That secret, of course, is that to a man they believe this is the year that Spain will win the World Cup.

So given this atmosphere, Nigeria's victory in such a free scoring contest, was close to a transcendent event. The pure joy on the faces of both the Nigerian fans and the players was a thing to behold. These are difficult times for Nigeria, and here on a French soccer pitch was the occasion where Nigerians could forget their national strife and come together for an unforgettable moment.

Given the results in the first round of the so-called Group of Death, the victory coupled with the Bulgaria-Paraguay draw almost assures Nigeria a place in the round of 16. The Spanish now are the ones who must worry that even a draw in one of their next two group matches could send then home very early. Almost as amusing as watching the joy of the Nigerians were the looks of absolute disbelief on the faces of the Spanish experts. They never thought it possible to give up three goals in a first round match.

After the game, Bora was asked if the Nigerian 5-1 loss to Holland last week had been a put-up, as my British friends might say. Or was it a real loss that had served as a wake-up call for the Nigerian free spirits which finally got them to listen to their much traveled coach. His response, in typical fashion, was "My friend, does it matter. Today speaks for today."

Tomorrow: finally it is the United States versus Germany. In Nigeria can do it, why not Steve Sampson's lads.

Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.