A Chance To Redeem Himself Godwin Odiye Hopes To Alter His Dubious Standing In Nigerian Soccer.

Posted: April 28, 1994

Godwin Odiye is very famous in Nigeria. He is the man who kept his country out of the World Cup.

In 1978, Nigeria was about to qualify for its first World Cup when, with just 10 minutes left in its final game, catastrophe struck. A ball skimmed off Odiye's head and into Nigeria's net. He had scored an own goal, the ultimate in soccer blunders. And that blunder kept Nigeria from qualifying for World Cup play.

Odiye left the country the next year, but the country never forgot.

"In Nigeria, his name became synonymous with own goals," Segun Adeyemi of the Nigerian News Agency said. "You don't call it an own goal. It's an Odiye."

All these years later, Odiye has his chance for redemption.

Now 38 years old and a mortgage banker in San Francisco, Odiye found out two days ago that he will get a tryout for Nigeria's team, which finally has

qualified for the World Cup. He has a flight Saturday night for the Netherlands, where the Nigerian team is training.

"I can finally put it behind me," Odiye said of his goal in a telephone interview yesterday from San Francisco. "It doesn't go away."

Odiye said what pained him the most was that nobody got angry with him. He was the team's top defender and was covering for a teammate who had been out of position when the fatal error was made.

"I broke down and cried after the game," Odiye said. "Nothing bad actually happened. I was carried off the field by the people. . . . They told me, 'If it had been another player, we would kill you.' "

Odiye left Nigeria the next year and went to school in the United States. He returned in 1980 and started for a team that won the African Nation's Cup, but he never went back after that. He has kept playing soccer, though. He played for a team, the Greek-Americans, that won the 1985 U.S. Cup.

And Odiye never gave up the dream of playing for his country again. He had prayed that Nigeria would qualify for the World Cup and that he would get a call. The captain of his old team is now a coach, and he made the call.

It turns out that Nigeria needs defensive help.

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