As the Eagles get set to fly at the World Cup in Russia for the sixth time, IKENWA NNABUOGOR remembers the stars who flew Nigeria’s flag for the first time in the Mundial and within minutes of a quarter-final in USA.
Peter Rufai – Go Ahead Eagles (Holland)
The first-choice goalkeeper stood out in the pack, his biggest highlights coming out of his line and heading clear a danger in Eagles emphatic 3-0 victory over Bulgaria in the Group D’s first game in Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas.
He played in all four games, keeping clean sheets against Bulgaria and Greece. His biggest test was indeed against Argentina where he let in two Claudio Caniggia’s goal as Eagles lost 2-1. Held the captain’s band in Stephen Keshi’s absence.
Augustine Eguavoen – Unattached
He was the undisputed number one choice at right back, having locked down that position since coach Clemens Westerhof converted him from midfield. His major highlight was teasing Gianfranco Zola to commit a foul on him to earn a red card few minutes after coming on as substitute.
Wrestling Antonio Bennarivo for Italy’s penalty condemned the high-flying Eagles to a pulsating 2-1 defeat, was a low point to his illustrious contribution on his country’s World Cup debut. He played in all four games, lasting the entire duration of 390 minutes.
Benedict Iroha – Vitesse Arnhem (Holland)
Exciting left back who was forced out of the team due to injury he suffered against Bulgaria in the first game. Had a competent outing in the emphatic 3-0 and his exit opened the World Cup doors for Michael Emenalo.
Stephen Keshi – Unattached
The team’s non-playing captain, was in the swan song of his career and managed just a game – against Greece in the group’s final game. His commanding presence was fast failing him, but the duo of Chidi Nwanu and Okechukwu Uche held out for him creditably well.
Okechukwu Uche – Fenerbache (Turkey)
Rock in the heart of Eagles’ defence, keeping things tight at the back and preparing the much-needed cover for ‘keeper Rufai. Enjoyed the best of partnership with Chidi Nwanu and together frustrated Stoichkov in the Eagles’ first ever World Cup game.
Played all the four games, lasting the entire duration of the games, with a play time of 390 minutes.
Chidi Nwanu – Anderlecht (Belgium)
One of the gatecrashers into the team and kept his shirt ahead of Keshi and Uche Okafor. Was lively in his tackles and superb ball passing, while also keeping things as tight as ever, combining well with Uche.
Played all the games. His best game was the Bulgaria game where he conspired with Uche to make life difficult for Barcelona striker Stoichkov.
Finidi George – Ajax Amsterdam (Holland)
The team’s flying winger whose darting runs and precise crosses were interesting headaches for the opponents. His assist for Eagles’ first ever World Cup goal scored by Rashidi Yekini is still talked about till date. He netted against Greece in Eagles’ 2-0 win and his celebration was the first of its kind in modern football. He played in all the four games and accumulated 371 minutes of play time.
Thompson Oliha (Africa Sport, Côte d’Ivoire)
He was the one of the two players playing on the African continent in the Eagles’ squad. Played as a substitute, a stop-gap measure for injured Emmanuel Amuneke in the 2-1 loss to Italy in the second round, for his only game of the tournament.
His composure helped contained the bruised Italians in the midfield for the better part of the game until the late minute Roberto Baggio equaliser. He only accounted for 63 minutes on the pitch.
Rashidi Yekini – Vitoria Setubal (Portugal)
It was only going to be the hotshot to open scoring for Eagles in their debut World Cup in the US and the prolific scorer didn’t disappoint as he went into the history books when he scored his country’s first goal in their 3-0 victory against Bulgaria in Dallas.
He also assisted in the second goal scored by Daniel Amokachi. He held down his top 9 shirt and was prevented from scoring against Italy by the combined efforts of Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, who were yellow carded for their troubles in the second round.
He played all the games and accounted for 370 minutes of play time.
Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha – Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
The team’s skill workshop who enjoyed sub’s roles but made the most impact in the second round against Italy, the only game he played full time. The Italy game was his best, selling his sublime skills to the world and earning rave reviews. He played in three games, lasting 143 minutes on the pitch.
Emmanuel Amuneke – Zamalek (Egypt)
His bullet of a header goal in the Eagles’ 3-0 win against Bulgaria in the debut World Cup outing is still a talking point. Amuneke had all going for him at US’94 and his overall contribution helped propel Eagles to the second round.
Was badly missed when it mattered most as he hopped off the pitch injured in the crucial second round game against Italy but not after he put his country’s noses in the front. He was on the pitch for 327 minutes in four games.
Samson Siasia – Nantes (France)
Siasia’s eighth minute stunner against Argentina in the group’s second game charged the Argentines to come back strongly to turn the game around, with the commanding influence of Diego Maradona, winning 2-1.
Siasia’s skill and all-round performance continued to propel the Eagles attack, but was conspicuously missed in the second round ouster by Italy. Only Westerhof could explain why he excluded him in the crucial encounter. He played three games and lasted 216 minutes on the pitch.
Emeka Ezeugo – Budapest Honved (Hungary)
He came charging like a bruised bull spotting a brand hair-do in the 77th minute, replacing Finidi George in the opening game and that was only his contribution to the team.
Daniel Amokachi – Club Brugge (Belgium)
His dance steps celebrating his goal against Bulgaria summed his glorious outing for his country at US’94.
Was solely missed due to injury in the second round loss to Italy, otherwise, Eagles appeared so good to go on to the quarter-finals. Amokachi bullied, harassed and engaged defenders with his size and bull-strong disposition as propelled his team in the Mundial. He played in all four games, accounting for 305 minutes of play time.
Sunday Oliseh – RC Liege (Belgium)
The team’s dependable defensive midfielder who shone brightly, cutting opponents’ rhythms, winning balls and launching attacks. Oliseh was everywhere, but would be remembered for kicking out the ball without any Italian challenge and from the resultant throw-in, Baggio nicked the equalizer in the ill-fated second round game.
Played in all four games, accounting for 388 minutes of play time.
Alloy Agu – RC Liege (Belgium)
He was a substitute goalkeeper. Played no part as Rufai held sway.
Victor Ikpeba – RC Liege (Belgium)
Was confined to the bench as strikers Yekini, Amokachi and Siasia were trusted to get the goals.
Efan Ekoku – Norwich City (England)
The only England-based player in the squad and he played no part even when the Eagles were searching for goals against Italy in the second round.
Michael Emenalo – Eintracht Trier (Germany)
A surprise inclusion in the team, replacing injured Iroha at left back and came good in the tournament. Had his hands full stopping Claudio Caniggia and company in his first game against Argentina, but improved as the tournament progressed.
Ran himself to the ground against Italy, getting booked as early as the second minute for his well deserved troubles. Had a play time of 300 minutes from three games.
Uche Okafor – Unattached
Played no part as Uche and Nwanu held down the central defence.
Mutiu Adepoju – Racing Santander (Spain)
One of the team’s main man in the midfield, though as a regular substitute. Replaced Samson Siasia in the first game against Bulgaria and went on to play the remaining games as a substitute.
Thrown in as a stop-gap measure for injured Daniel Amokachi in the 2-1 second round loss against Italy at Foxborough Stadium, as he completed his sub’s role in the World Cup.
He played all games and lasted 145 minutes on the pitch.
Wilfred Agbonavbare – Rayo Vallecano (Spain)
Substitute goalkeeper who played no part just like Alloy Agu.