SUPER Eagles’ former central defender, Taribo West, says he feels like taking back the hand of time each time he recalls his experience in the world’s biggest club championship, the UEFA Champions League.
West was the latest UEFA Champions League emeritus to grace the planet on the last match day, and he described his experience in the world’s most prestigious clubs competition as akin to planetary trip. He said: “It’s really one of the greatest experiences any footballer can wish to have.
“The ambience as well as the extraordinary attitude of the fans, especially when you are playing away from home, gives you a feeling that you have come to another planet.
“It was a great honour for me to have played alongside global football greats like Roberto Baggio and the Brazilian Ronaldo when I was featuring for Inter Milan and later AC Milan. Baggio had extraordinary talent with his ability to inspire other team members.”
Many Nigerians will not easily forget the inspirational role that Baggio played in the elimination of the Super Eagles at the round of 16 of USA ‘94 World Cup. With barely 90 seconds to end the game, Baggio struck to cancel Nigeria’s 1-0 lead and went ahead to smash in the winner through an extra time penalty kick.
Even though Taribo did not make the Super Eagles’ team to the USA ‘94, two years later, he was part of the history-making Nigerian side that became the first team outside Europe in 68 years to win the gold medal in the football event of the Olympics. The high point of their feat was the semi-final encounter with Brazil.
“Even when we were down 1-3 at half time, Bonfere Jo (the coach) inspired us in the dressing room, telling us we could still make it,” he recalled. “Remember that Brazil had some of the great players like Bebeto, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo; we too had stars like Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba and Daniel Amokachi.
“We grew from match to match and that gave us the edge that we can match Brazil, having lost to them in the group stage. We eventually leveled up at 3-3 and scored the golden goal in the extra time.
“After Brazil, we were more confident that we could take on Argentina, which also had great players like Ortega, Diego Simone, Roberto Ayala and Cresco. My wish is that Nigeria can raise soon another formidable squad like the one I featured for in the 1990s.”
Taribo, who has been a regular visitor at the Heineken Champions Planet, marveled at the aesthetic value of the exclusive venue on his first visit this season, saying it could only get better if Heineken could sustain the tempo and continue to raise the bar.