By Emeka Obasi
From Tanganyika to Zanzibar, Emmanuel Amuneke is man of the moment. Just like Christ Jesus performed miracles, the Nigerian manager of the Tanzanian national soccer team led his wards to confirm the country’s first nations cup ticket in 39 years.
What a coincidence that Jesus is called Emmanuel and Amuneke was born on a Christmas day, December 25, 1970. The coach, could be likened to a saviour. He did it for Nigeria as a player, he has done it for the East Africans.
Amuneke’s two goals gave the Super Eagles a first Africa Nations Cup triumph away from home. His brace snatched victory from the Chipolopolo of Zambia who had scored first, in the grand finale of Tunisia ’94. And that was his first match in the tournament.
At the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games, the left winger scored the winning goal in Dream Team One’s 3-2 defeat of Argentina in the grand finale. Atletico Madrid coach, Diego Simone, is still in shock.
Amuneke joined the Taifa Stars on August 18, 2018, and it was like a mission impossible to take Tanzania to a second Nations Cup after their debut at Nigeria ’80 which the Eagles won.
The new coach began well with victory over Cape Verde in a group that also had neighbours: Uganda and Lesotho. The Cranes sat comfortably on top and before the last game against Tanzania, had qualified for Egypt 2019.
The Ugandans had not conceded a goal in the group matches, and Taifa stars needed victory to qualify. Thanks to Amuneke, Tanzania scored, one, two, three goals to book a place. The table toppers did not find the net. Lesotho and Cape Verde ended it scoreless.
To understand Amuneke’s miracle, one must look at Uganda’s pedigree. The Cranes are the strongest of the East African national teams. They did not only debut at the nations cup before Eagles, Uganda beat Nigeria 2-1 in the semi finals of the Ghana ’78, Nations Cup.
It came as a shock because hosts, Ghana were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw against Nigeria in their Accra group game. The Cranes of Philip Omondi and Dan Musenze had earlier pounded defending champions Morocco,3-0 in Kumasi.
Uganda played at Ethiopia ’62, Ethiopia ’68, Egypt ’74, and Ethiopia ’76 before Ghana’78. Nigeria’s first time was at Ghana’63. Tanzania debuted at Nigeria ’80 and slumped 3-1 to the Eagles.
It is striking that Tanzanians are going to the Nations Cup again, 39 years after, thanks to a Nigerian.
And Uganda must come to respect Amuneke. Beyond the 3-0 loss to Tanzania, the Nigerian was part of the U-23 squad that made All Africa Games history when they hammered Uganda 8-1 at the Cairo ’91 Games.
Amuneke scored a brace, so did Patrick Mancha and Tijani Babangida. John Zaki and Jide Oguntuase completed the massacre with a goal each. It happened in Ismailia.
Amuneke had also scored against hosts Egypt who lost 2-1 to Nigeria. Babangida made it two. The U-23 team came back with the silver medal. Cameroon grabbed the gold in a match Amuneke was sent off.
However, Egyptians did not forget. Two years later, Zamalek signed him from Julius Berger, Lagos. That was a good deal. Zamalek won the CAF Champion’s League in 1993.
It is obvious now that Amuneke is going back to Egypt, where the days of glory began. This time, his profile is tall. Coach of a national team. Then, he was just a player.
In Tanzania today, the most prominent names are: Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, first President of the country, Filbert Bayi, one of the world’s best long distance runners in the 1970s and perhaps, Salim Ahmed Salim, one time Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity [OAU], now African Union.
Amuneke was a mere 10-year-old in one of the Lagos suburbs when the Taifa Stars debuted in Lagos. The much Nigerians remember of that country’s football would not be more than two acrobatic goalkeepers, with high sounding names :Mambosasa and Pandimali.
Like Tanzania, their coach is also going for a second Nations Cup. He never had the opportunity to appear again after defending champions Nigeria withdrew from the 1996 championships in South Africa.
What Taifa Stars lack in experience, Amuneke has in exposure. We are talking of a man who played for Sporting Lisbon, Portugal and Barcelona, Spain. A star who was named African Footballer of the year.
He won Africa’s first Olympic soccer gold medal. He lifted the Nations Cup and became the second Nigerian to kiss the CAF Champions League. The first was Ibrahim Sunday, from Kano, who captained Asante Kotoko, Ghana in 1970.
Amuneke broke a 39 year-old jinx with Tanzania. He scored twice in Nigeria’s 8-1 disgrace of Uganda at the Cairo ‘91 All African Games. The match took place in Ismailia.
Enyinmba broke Nigeria’s 36–year-old CAF Champions’ League jinx in 2003. And where did it happen? Ismailia,where Amuneke scored a brace for Nigeria, against Uganda in 1991.
When you talk of the only Nigerian to have scored at the World Cup, Olympic Games, Nations Cup and later became African Footballer of the year, think Emmanuel Amuneke.
This same man won the FIFA Under 17 World Cup with the Golden Eaglets as coach in 2015. He had earlier won the same trophy as Assistant coach.
Amuneke hails from Eziobodo, Owerri, Imo State. Many think the correct spelling of his surname is Amunike. That’s an error, made by an official of the Nigeria Football Federation.
The same happened to Super Eagles captain, Michael Obi, who became Mikel Obi. Another Nations Cup winner, Adokiye Amiesimaka, did not like the mistake of Amasiemeka.
What an irony that at the Egypt 2019 Nations Cup, the Nigerian coach will be a French man. It is good news then that a Nigerian will lead Tanzania.
And that was what Stephen Keshi did with Togo in 2006 and Mali in 2010. Big Boss came back to lead Nigeria to the Nations Cup in 2013.
Possibly, Amuneke will find his way back home to coach the Eagles to another Nations victory in the near future.