Nigeria as an independent nation has had over 50 years worth of amazing football. Ups, downs and everything in between. Laced with such legendary names as Jay Jay Okocha, Segun Odegbami, Mercy Akide and Nwankwo Kanu, Nigerian football has given followers and fans many great memories. These are few that are bound to bring smiles to all Nigerian faces that witnessed them.
Inspired by such greats as Muda Lawal, Best Ogedengbe, Christian Chukwu and Segun Odegnami, Nigeria claimed their maiden African Nations cup while hosting the tournament. In a final held at the National Stadium in Surulere Lagos, the super eagles fielding a team made up almost entirely of home-based players triumphed over Algeria with 3 unreplied goals. 2 from Odegbami and 1 from Lawal crowned the efforts of the National team to banish memories of 2 consecutive 3rd place finishes in previous tournaments.
Nigeria is a country that takes it’s youth football very seriously as evidenced by it’s 5 U17 World Cup wins and 2 U20 World Cup silver medals, but one of Nigeria’s proudest moment in youth football and indeed in football as a whole came in the 1989 U20 World Cup where they pulled off something special. Trailing 4-0 in the quarterfinals against the Soviet Union, the flying eagles perpetrated what became known as the miracle of Dammam, scoring 4 second-half goals to draw level before winning 5-3 on penalties to advance to the semifinals. Even though they eventually lost the final to hosts Portugal, the tournament will always be remembered for the resilience shown by the young Nigerians as well as the unearthing of such talents as Mutiu Adepoju and Nduka Ugbade.
Algeria 1-1 Nigeria 08/10/1993: Nigeria Qualify for the World Cup
After suffering the agony of narrowly missing out on the 1990 World Cup, Nigeria progressed from a group containing Ivory Coast and Algeria to qualify for their first-ever FIFA World Cup and join Morocco and Cameroon as Africa’s representatives at USA ’94. A goal from Finidi George was equalized, but the draw was enough to see Nigeria through.
Nigeria 2-1 Zambia 10/04/1994: Nigeria Kings of Africa once more
2 goals from Emmanuel Amunike helped Nigeria come from behind to defeat a strong Zambian side to claim their 2nd AFCON title and 1st away from home. A much-changed team now featuring players like Peter Rufai, Stephen Keshi, Okocha, Oliseh, Amokachi, Yekini, and Siasia were able to secure the title in Tunis in what has been regarded as Nigeria’s most dominant period in African football, and by the end of April, they were crowned as the number 1 footballing nation in Africa and the 5th best in the world (still their highest ever ranking)
Rashidi Yekini wrote his name into Nigerian football folklore by becoming the first Nigerian to score in a World Cup finals tournament and gave a momentous celebration to boot. Further goals from Amokachi and Amunike helped Nigeria to a 3-0 win over Bulgaria who has Barcelona great Hristo Stoichkov in their ranks. Despite a 2-1 loss to Argentina, Nigeria still topped their group thanks to a stoppage-time goal against Greece by Daniel Amokachi which ensured Nigeria finished top of the pile on goal difference sending Maradonna and Batistuta powered Argentina out of the competition. They would eventually bow out to Italy in the second round following an 88th-minute equalizer and extra time penalty from Roberto Baggio put an end to Nigeria’s World Cup dream at least for that year. RIP
Nigeria 4-3 Brazil 31/07/1996
So great was this triumph over a seemingly vastly superior Brazil side which has the likes of Dida, Bebeto, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Ronaldo that it inspired a catchy song about their Brazilian stars who were left in tears.
— ƎVEL (@Mhagayr) October 2, 2015
It wasn’t just the victory or the opponents that made this such a fairytale moment for Nigeria but the manner in which the victory came. 3-1 down with 12 minutes to go and Brazil bringing off their star player Ronaldo perhaps certain of their victory, Victor Ikpeba scored what seemed to be a consolation goal before Nwankwo Kanu made himself an instant legend with a 5-minute display of brilliance. A 90th-minute equalizer putting all of Kanu’s calmness and composure on display was followed by a golden goal winner in extra time to send Nigeria through to the finals where they eventually beat Argentina 3-2 to come away with Olympic gold in Atlanta, USA.
By now Nigeria had been known for their penchant for the dramatic and unexpected but few would have predicted the outcome of their opening game at the France 98 World Cup. Playing against Spain, Nigeria came from behind twice and capped off their win with a screamer of a goal Sunday Oliseh and secured all three points on their way to topping their World Cup group once again ahead of Paraguay, Spain and once again Bulgaria. Nigeria eventually crashed out at the second round once again this time they were walloped by Denmark 4-1 amidst distractions caused by unpaid wages and a dream matchup against Brazil.
Nigeria’s Super Falcons were in the middle of dominating Africa when they hosted the first African Women’s Championship to be held in a single country. Inspired by players such as Mercy Akhide, Stella Mbachu and Nkiru Okosieme they won the tournament convincingly defeating Ghana 2-0 in the final to win their 3rd consecutive Championship. They would go on to win the first 7 editions consecutively. And 10 editions in total. The next year in 1999 they represented Africa at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and survived to be on the wrong end of a 7-1 drubbing by eventual champions the USA to qualify for the quarterfinals where they lost to Brazil 4-3 via a golden goal a reverse of the Atlanta 96 game between the male teams. That would, however, be their best showing at a FIFA World Cup.
After losing out at the semi-final stage for 3 straight tournaments and picking up Bronze medals between 2002 and 2006, Nigeria crashed out at the quarterfinals in the 2008 edition, won another bronze medal in 2010 and failed to qualify for the 2013 Championship. Coupled with their failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany which was sandwiched between group stage exits from the 2002 and 2010 world cups, it appeared as though Nigerian football was entering a serious slump, but all that was forgotten when Sunday Mba’s sumptuous goal handed Nigeria their first AFCON since 1994. Qualification for the next World Cup and a second-round berth would be seen as a marked improvement and it looks like the future could be very bright for the Eagles with qualification for the 2018 World Cup almost wrapped up.
In a country struggling in so many areas, we can usually count on such pleasurable times with football to help lessen anxiety and tension. So here’s to more of such blissful moments in Nigerian football.
Happy independence Nigeria!
Article By: Ayoola Kelechi, @Ayoola_Kelechi