Diego Maradona was more than a maestro, he was a maverick – one that will become all too familiar to Nigeria and Nigerians. The former Argentina superstar is regarded as one of the best to ever play the game and in some quarters, as the greatest, although that would be arguable. What can never be arguable, however, is his greatness and how he made the game so beautiful while he played it.
Maradona had several encounters with Nigeria, both as a player, coach, and even as a passionate fan. One cannot forget his reaction to Argentina’s win over the Super Eagles at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Where it began…
At the Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, the United States of America on June 25, 1994. It was Nigeria’s second ever game at the World Cup, having come out 3-0 winners over Bulgaria in their first one. The Albiceleste had won the World Cup in Mexico eight years before, and they had one man to thank for that – Diego Armando Maradona Franco.
Although 34 at the time and seemingly on the wane, the Super Eagles seemed in awe of the Argentinean nonetheless and in fact, there’s a joke about how being star-struck may have cost Nigeria that game. He didn’t find the back of the net on that day, but he had registered his greatness in the minds of millions of Nigerians.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
June 12 represents an important date in Nigeria’s political history. But on June 12, 2010, it was a different kind of history as Argentina made it three successive wins over Nigeria in as many World Cup meetings. Gabriel Heinze’s sixth-minute goal was the difference as the Albiceleste ran out winners over the Super Eagles. What has this got to do with Diego Maradona? Oh, he was the coach – the coach of Argentina.
The Super Eagles had also met and lost to the Argentines at the 2002 World Cup, but there was no direct involvement of Maradona as he had retired. But in 2010, he led his beloved Argentina to yet another win over Nigeria, the second time he was directly involved against the West Africans.
The ‘crazy moments’ in Saint Petersburg
It was yet another meeting between Los Albiceleste and the Super Eagles and this time, it was at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg at the 2018 World Cup in Russia on June 26. This time, the Eagles were so close to getting their first-ever point against Argentina at the senior World Cup, before Marcos Rojo’s 86th minute winner meant that would not happen, while also sealing Nigeria’s fate in the process.
Throughout the game, it was weird moments by Maradona, from celebrating Lionel Messi’s opener to showing the middle finger to fans, to dancing with a Nigerian lady and then being helped out of the VIP stand.
In all, if there’s one player the Super Eagles and their fans will always remember, it will be the man who ruled the world of football in his prime, Diego Armando Maradona Franco.
Rest in peace, legend!