Nigerian late show stuns Italy
Just when it looked as if the Italians had got their challenge back on track, beach soccer once again underlined its reputation for the unpredictable in an action-packed morning in Group D. Staring defeat in the face, the Nigerians banished impending thoughts of a long journey home to produce a remarkable last-minute turnaround on the sands of the Copacabana and keep their qualification hopes alive.
Victory was just reward for an ambitious attack-minded Nigeria side whose superior fitness paid off in the closing seconds. At the end of it all coach Kelechi Emeteole struggled to contain his emotions: "We represent 150 million people and that is our inspiration," he declared. "We simply can't let all the people who are following us on television down. This is a very emotional victory, but we have to take things step by step. Qualification is in our own hands now."
Although it was Ifeanyi Onigbo who popped up with the late, late winner, Nigeria were indebted to a heroic performance from Isiaka Olawale. The indefatigable No2 kept his side in the game virtually single-handedly and notched a brace of headers in the third period to keep the Azzurri within touching distance.
"We saw that the Italians were fairly relaxed, and they obviously thought they would beat us easily," explained the hero of the hour afterwards. "We knew then that we would win. You might ask why I went up front. Well, although I'm a defender we wanted to use my experience to hold the ball and play people in."
Over in the opposing dressing room the mood could hardly have been gloomier, with Roberto Pasquali, the scorer of two goals on the day, conceding that Italy had no-one but themselves to blame: "We had high hopes going into the tournament, particularly as we were representing Italian football. We made a mistake for their first goal, but the fact is we couldn't do anything about the other three," he lamented.
Italy coach Massimo Agostini was in no mood to disagree, and bemoaned his side's inability to hang onto to a 3-1 lead going into the final period: "We couldn't keep it up for the whole game and failed to produce the goods when it mattered. If we play like that against Argentina, then we've got no chance," he said bluntly.
Referees: Joao Duarte (BRA), Erick Chavarria (CRC), Sofien Benchabane (FRA)