Nigeria 90s, the Golden Age of the Super Eagles

The Golden Age of the Super Eagles. The last decade of the 20th century cannot be defined in any other way, because it was precisely in that period that Nigeria football made its name indelible for posterity, demonstrating to the whole world that it possessed a national team capable of winning the Olympics and coming close to reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup, in USA 1994: before that came the triumph in the African Cup of Nations, in the same year, but above all after that came the Olympic Gold, in Atlanta in 1996.

Even for the top bookmakers, as recalled by the sports betting website, it was a real surprise: they defeated Argentina of Zanetti, Simeone, Ortega and Crespo in the final. Not bad for an African nation still in great difficulty from a political and economic point of view.

Who Were the Stars of that National Team?

The names of that Nigerian national team make one shudder, for the physical and technical qualities with which they were imbued: number 10 Jay Jay Okocha, but also Amokachi, Amunike, Babangida, Babayaro, Ikpeba, Kanu, Lawal and Oliseh, over the years.

A team able to entertain and excite, keeping the concept of football as a child’s passion innate, and to make an entire continent dream. It doesn’t matter how rich you are or where you grew up, if you have a ball, imagination and technique to sell you can get to the top of the world. By having fun, by entertaining and without ever going over the top.

Under-17 World Cup and USA 94

Speed, pace of play and, for the first time for an African national team, a skilful tactical mentality were the workhorses of the Super Eagles: many of the players who formed the backbone of the senior national team in this decade had achieved important results with the Nigerian under-17 national team, above all winning the 1993 World Cup. The habit of playing together proved fundamental in the American World Cup, the first ever for Nigeria.

In the United States, after beating Bulgaria 3-0 and losing by a narrow margin to Argentina, Okocha and his teammates defeated Greece 2-0, thus qualifying for the round of 16 as first place in their group. Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy were in front of them: although favoured by Gianfranco Zola’s expulsion in the 75th minute, the African national team put the Italians in serious difficulty and were only eliminated by two feats by Roberto Baggio, who first answered Amunike’s goal in the 88th minute, taking the match into extra time, and then overturned the result to make it 2-1, in the 102nd minute. Although online betting did not yet exist, bookmakers went crazy at that match.

A splendid transition to then triumph at the Olympics two years later, on the same American soil, becoming the first non-European or American national team to win a competition of such importance and thus entering history.

Where are Those Players Now?

Looking through the best news in the African continent, we discover that:

Peter Rufai: the goalkeeper of the legend, shuttles between Nigeria and La Coruna, Spain, where he has opened a football school.

Michael Emenalo: Former technical director of Chelsea, he is a sports manager.

Stephen Keshi: captain of the 1994 national team and then long-time technical commissioner, passed away in 2016 at the age of 54 following a heart attack.
Jay Jay Okocha: chose a political career, elected as a councillor in the Nigerian Football Association.

Sunday Oliseh: the former Juve player took up a coaching career, first as coach of Nigeria and then in Holland.

Daniel Amokachi: coach and assistant coach.

Emmanuel Amunike: match winner in the Olympic final against Argentina, he is technical commissioner of Tanzania.

Finidi George: has left the football world.

Victor Ikpeba: has left the football world.

Rashidi Yekini: He suffered from bipolar disorder and other neurological health problems. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 48.