The Class of ’94 is the latest addition to the ever-growing literature on Nigerian football; it’s rich history, heroes and villains. Published by former Vice Chairman of the defunct Nigeria Football Association, Tony Nnachetta, The Class of ’94 focuses on the exploits of the national team in Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations and USA’94 FIFA World Cup.
It did not end there. The Class of ’94 also traces the rise of Nigeria football from Algiers ’90 and Senegal ’92 AFCON tournaments and the lows of the post ’94 era. It is a must read. Excerpts:
Nigeria’s eventual qualification for the first ever finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1994 came against the background of several missed chances and national heartbreaks.
Nigeria lost closely in the final stages of the 1970 World Cup to Morocco. An own goal by defence ace Godwin Odiye in the National Stadium, Surulere, became literally the end of the world for Nigeria in the 1978 edition. Algeria ended Nigeria’s quest to qualify for the 1982 World Cup. Perennial contenders Cameroon beat Nigeria to the post of representing Africa for the 1990 World Cup. It was in view of the past underachievement that the quest for qualification through to the 1994 World Cup became a national cause.
The grand total of 40 Confederation of African Football (CAF) teams entered the 1994 qualification rounds. Eventually, the Burkina Faso, Malawi, Sao Tome’ and Principe, and Sierra Leone national teams withdrew before the draw was made. Of course, the African Zone had been allocated three places, out of 24, in the final tournament by FIFA.
The final qualification could only be earned after two rounds of play. In the first round, the 36 teams were divided into 9 groups of four countries each. The teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis, with the group winners automatically advancing to the Final Round.
The nine teams that eventually qualified for the Final Round divided into three groups of three teams each. The teams played against each other on a home-and-away basis, with the group winners qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup proper.
Nigeria was put in Group D alongside South Africa that was entering into the global sporting terrain after the upending of Apartheid. The other country in the group was Congo, given that Libya and Sao Tome and Principe did not participate.
In the first match of the first qualifying round, the Super Eagles thumped Bafana Bafana of South Africa 4-0 at the National Stadium, Surulere, with goals coming from Richard Owubokiri and Samson Siasia, and a brace from Rashidi Yekini. In all, Nigeria played four matches, won three, drew one against South Africa in Johannesburg, and lost none, thereby topping the group with seven points against South Africa’s five. Nigeria thus advanced to the final round of the qualification series.
In the Final Round of the qualifiers, Nigeria was put in Group A alongside Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria. Nigeria played her first game away to Cote d’lvoire in Abidjan where Rashidi Yekini gave the Super Eagles an early lead through a breakaway goal. Nigeria would have doubled the lead if Samson Siasia had not uncharacteristically taken a selfish potshot at goal instead of squaring a pass to the better-placed Yekini. That error cost Siasia his place in the team for the rest of the qualifiers. Cote d’Ivoire came from behind to win the game 2-1. Nigeria went ahead to pound Algeria 4-1 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos on July 3,1993.
It was in the heady days following the annulment of the June 12,1993 elections and the entire nation was tense, especially Lagos. There was so much security presence at the National Stadium, with soldiers on alert everywhere, even on the top of trees, and a police helicopter hovered over the stadium. Algeria took the lead early in the match following a defensive mix-up that exposed Wilfred Agbonavbare in the Nigerian goal. The tension in the stadium was killing until Augustine Jay-Jay Oko-cha curled in a textbook freekick for the equalizer.
Rashidi Yekini scored a brace in the 25th and 38th minutes while Daniel Amokachi netted the last goal in the 88th minute. The Super Eagles won 4-1 to keep hopes alive. Nigeria also beat Cote d’Ivoire 4-1 at the National Stadium, Lagos on September 25, 1993. Thompson Oliha opened the floodgates of goals in the 20th minute. Amokachi added the second goal barely four minutes later. Yekini scored from the penalty spot in the 57th minute and scored the final goal in the 79th minute.
For the final qualifying match, the Eagles traveled to Algeria on October 8,1993 to earn a hard-fought 1-1 draw to qualify for the World Cup for the very first time. Finidi George scored the all-important goal in the 20th minute while Tasfout scored the Algerian equalizer in the 66th minute. Nigeria had five points, the same as Cote d’Ivoire, while Algeria came last with a paltry two points. The Super Eagles had a superior +5 goals difference that dwarfed Cote d’Ivoire’s -1 goal difference.