Great Moments In Nigerian Football

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Great Moments In Nigerian Football

– By Olatubosun Omotayo

The typical Nigerian football fan, and indeed the football world, has come to expect all teams from Nigeria – national or club side – to succeed by winning each tournament they play in, or at least put up a good show. While you might think that this expectation is sometimes misplaced, it is not entirely baseless. Indeed, it is rooted in the illustrious history of our football clubs and national teams accomplishments in Africa and on the global stage.

Here are some of the epochal moments which established Nigeria’s reputation as a formidable football nation, and make the fans bitter if anyone plays for the “Giant of Africa” and fails to rise to the occasion like his or her idolised predecessors deemed “fit to wear the shirt”:


China ’85: The Golden Eaglets

Nigeria’s arrival on the global football stage was undoubtedly announced through the exploits of the Golden Eaglet – simply called the Eaglets at the time – at the maiden edition of this age-grade tournament. A mere experimental championship for young lads 16 years old and below, only the country’s football officials and a few soccer buffs took any notice of the Sebastian Broderick quietly assembled squad. Preparations for the championship must rank as one of the leanest in our football history in terms of resources made available to the team. All of that changed though when the Nduka Ugbade-led boys exploded on the football pitches of China.

Played in two halves of 40 minutes each, the Eaglets defeated Italy in the first group match and dispatched fellow Africans, Guinea, on penalties in the semi- final.

Against Western Germany in the final match on August 11, 1985 Nigeria scored first through Jonathan Akpoborie. Playing 10 against 11 after losing Tenworimi Duere to the red card in the 60thminute, Nigeria striker, Victor Igbinoba, got the second goal in the 79th minute. It was over for the Western Germans. It was the first time Nigeria, and indeed any African country, would lift a global football trophy. Juju maestro, Ebenezer Obey, immortalized the Golden Boys in an album and the Eaglets got their “golden” moniker!


Some Stats:

Played in most final match: ‘85, ‘87, ‘93, 2001, 2007, 2009, 2013

Country with most final wins: 4 trophies, ’85, 93, 2007, 2013.

Team with most matches: All time third with 56; W40 L 5 D11.

Most matches won: All time best; 71.4%.

Least loss among top five country with most matches played, 5.

Matches with most goals: All time Fifth best, NIG 8 : CAN 0; Japan ’93.

Most matches played by players: All time fourth, Fatai Atere, 10 matches; ’85, ’87.

Nigeria’s highest goal scorer at the maiden championship was Bella Momoh. He scored four goals.


Saudi ’89: Damman Miracle

Team: Flying Eagles

Tournament: FIFA U-20 quarter final match

The Opponent: Union ofSoviet Socialist Republic (USSR)


This was the marker for any country or club sides playing against a Nigerian opposition. The lesson is: It is never over with the Nigerians even if you are a basket-load of goals up. The ultimate test of mental strength for a star-studded team at the brink of a humiliating exit from a global football showpiece, this match continues to play in our individual and collective psyche and perhaps, it is a strong reason Nigerian fans don’t often storm out of a match venue of viewing centre if our national or club teams are taking a spanking; we all can’t forget the “Damman Miracle” when the Flying Eagles turned a match they were losing 4:0 on its head to emerge victorious!

The city of Damman and the football world had never seen anything like it from Africans until that humid Saturday! At half time the USSR were two goals up. Thirty minutes to full time, the Flying Eagles were four goals down. Then from only God knows where, our boys kicked off the class act: Nigeria got a free kick and Chris Ohenhen blasted home 4-1. Another free kick Chris Ohehen again blasted it home 4-2. Central Defender Samuel Elijah threw caution into the winds, went deep upfront to latch on to a through pass and into the Soviet’s nets, 4-3. An injured and limping Nduka Ugbade got the better of the Russian goalkeeper in a 50-50 contest to make it 4-4! When the Russians came for kick-off for the fourth time under 30 minutes, half of the shell-shocked team were crouched on the pitch in disbelief, with one of them caught by the camera counting ‘1-2-3-4’ on his fingers!

After a gruelling extra-time play during which the Nigerians still ran rampage, the Flying Eagles went on to win 5-4 on penalties, and qualified for the semis!

Some of the ‘miracle workers’: Christopher Ohenhen, Samuel Elijah, Nduka Ugbade, Bawa Abdulahi, Mutiu Adepoju, Dimeji Lawal, Mike Onyemachara, Chinedu Odiari, Christopher Nwosu and Peter Ogaba .

Coach: Tunde Disu

Team Psychologist: Dr. Seun Omotayo, now a professor of Sports Psychology of international repute; brother to yours truly.
World Cup ’94 Qualification: The Super Eagles

Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa” and kings of age-grade football had never been to the World Cup proper. With many “nearly there moments” in our past, it was a big embarrassment and a bogey that loomed large over the qualification for the Mundial slated for the United States in 1994.

As usual, the Super Eagles were at the final hurdles and Algeria were the wall we needed to climb to land in the U.S. The battle royale was fought in Algiers, Algeria on October 8, 1993. All Nigeria needed was a draw to be at USA’94. Things started well enough as Nigeria scored first through a George Finidi strike in the first half. But then the “Desert Foxes” of Algeria equalized at about 15 minutes to regulation time. It was the longest 15 minutes in our football history. The waves of attack from the Algerians were unrelenting, to the great discomfort of all Nigerians. Dutchman Coach Clement Westerhof in charge of the Nigerian side smoked like a chimney to ease the tension of these last minutes between us a first appearance at football biggest showpiece on Earth. The Stephen Keshi led history-making team held on though to take Nigeria there at the final whistle. The nation celebrated as if we had won the World Cup itself. It was great and memorable day!


Atlanta ’96 Olympics: U-23 National Team

In this semi-final match played on July 31, 1996 Nigeria was 3-1 down against Brazil. The match was looking good for the Brazilians as Bebeto, Ronaldo De Lima, Juninho, Aldair and Flavio Conceicao were having a field day. Brazil scored first but Celestine Babayaro got the equalizer by forcing Roberto Carlos to score an own goal. Victor Ikpeba reduced the tally for Nigeria on 78th minute and it was 3-2 .Thirty seconds to go Nigeria got a throw-in Austin “Jay Jay” Okocka threw the ball to Teslim Fatusi who did not connect strongly but managed to get it to Kanu Nwankwo. The predatory “Papilo” must have quickly thanked the “god of soccer” in his heart as loping the ball beyond the reach of Dida, the Brazilian goalkeeper, and between the legs of another defender 3-3 at full time.

It was extra time, and the biggest stage, then, to test FIFA’s now rested “Golden Goal” rule: The match would end if any team scored, no time to respond if you concede. The Brazilians, who were uncharacteristically wasting time feigning injuries and all what not, resumed the match with gusto. A great chance soon went wide for them.

But then it was meant to be Nigeria’s day. A harmless pass got to the lanky Kanu who sold a dummy to Aldair the central defender of Brazil. Dida was out to narrow the angle but Kanu release a ferocious left footer to the left of the Brazilian goalie, and Nigeria sailed to the final, where we played Argentina in another pulsating match to win 3-2 for the Gold medal on August 3, 1996! It was the first time an African country would win it!

Nigeria’s goal scorers in the final match: Celestine Babayaro, 28’; Daniel “the Bull” Amokachi, 74’; Emmanuel Amunike, 90’

 …To be continued.


Omotayo teaches in the Department of Sociological Studies, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ijebu Ode Ogun State.

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