Were The Super Eagles Dared

Posted in Guest Posts,What's going On on December 2nd, 2013 By Tinashe Mabasha

On a winter night in early July 1994, my brothers and I switched off our old Panasonic TV after a disappointing loss for the Nigerian Super Eagles. It was way past our bedtime but we didn’t care. Plus I think my parents were out and made it easier to watch the game.  Pajamas and all we were excited to see how the Super Eagles could fair against a world class, albeit struggling, Italian outfit. I was gutted when the final whistle was blown. The Super Eagles were not dominant but had taken the mighty Azzuri to the brink of elimination.

Arguably the Best Nigerian Football Team of all time.

The Super Eagles had been brilliant throughout 1994. They went through the 1994 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) with relative ease. The only exceptions being a 0 – 0 draw with Egypt and 4 – 2 penalty shootout win over the Ivory Coast in the semi-finals. The Super Eagles won their second AFCON title with a 2 – 1 win over Zambia.  At AFCON, the Super Eagles unleashed attacking, athletic and physical line ups. They used an unconventional 4 – 2 – 4 formation (Today it would be a 4 – 2 – 2 – 2). The squad was comprised of Peter Rufai, skipper Stephen Keshi (Current Super Eagles coach), Sunday Oliseh, George Finidi, Emmanuel Amunike, Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha, Dan Amokachi, Austin Eguavoen, Peter Rufai, Uche Okechukwu, Uche Okafor, Rashidi Yekini and Emeka Ezeugo. Most of these players had established themselves in some top European leagues.  Dan Amokachi, Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike and George Finidi were scintillating in attack. Yekini was the top scorer at AFCON with 5 goals.

Great celebration after a goal

At FIFA World Cup USA ‘94, Nigeria was grouped with Argentina, Greece & Bulgaria. The Super Eagles showed their immense attacking ability. They started by blowing away the eventual semi-finalists, Bulgaria 3 – 0. Rashidi Yekini’s celebration left an indelible mark on my life as a football fan. The Super Eagles then beat Greece 2 – 0. They did lose to Argentina but they were very competitive and were defeated by the last brilliance of Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia. The Super Eagles finished top of the group and advanced to the second round to face Italy.

The Italian team had limped into the knock out phase. Their uber-superstar, Roberto Baggio was struggling and hadn’t scored at the tournament. Franco Baresi, their captain, was going to miss the match. After Nigeria’s performances, I was cautiously optimistic, that the Super Eagles could win and match Cameroon’s quarter final appearance in 1990. My optimism was validated when Emmanuel Amunike scored via a tap in in the 25 minute. Afterwards, the Italy dominated and created all the opportunities but Nigeria held on until an 88th minute equalizer by Baggio. When Italy scored I knew that Nigeria had lost the game even though Italy was 10 men at that stage of the game. Italy secured their victory with an extra time penalty by Baggio and 1994 Super Eagles were relegated to history books as another failed African world cup campaign.

Rashidi Yekini’s famous celebration.

As I walked to my room that night, I lamented at a lost opportunity by the best African teams I had ever seen. I began to rationalize what had happened and asked myself a few questions. Why wasn’t Paolo Maldini sent off for a professional foul on Rashidi Yekini when he was the last defender? Why did the ref cheat like that? How could the Super Eagles lose to a 10 men team? Why can’t an African team advance and win a world cup? Would the Super Eagles ever get this close again? Why did Nigeria produce such a lackluster performance after producing entertaining, attacking football in the group stages? I had no answers. All I had was despair and anger (particularly at Paolo Maldini as believed he cheated). At AFCON 2013, the Nigerian Super Eagles won their 1st major title since that legendary 1994 team and with respect to the 2013 Super Eagles they are not even in the same stratosphere as the 1994 team. I don’t think I will ever see an African team this dominant but I sure hope I do.

-Tinashe (@NashCarter)

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