Remembering the AFCON 1994 Cup-winning Super Eagles

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Ever since Nigeria won the 1980 African Cup of Nations on home soil in Lagos with Christian Chukwu as captain, and legends such as Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Aloysius Atuegbu and Adokiye Amiesimaka as pivotal players, Nigeria’s national team almost always failed until the 19th edition of the competition in Tunisia 1994. 

Nigeria desperately needed to win its second championship, especially away from home. 

The original hosts as ordained by CAF had been Zaire, but Tunisia had to take over as hosts in the last minute. 

In the manner of the1992 Cup of Nations hosted by Senegal, the field of twelve teams that qualified was split into four groups of three national teams. Nigeria was in Group B together with Egypt and Gabon. 

The first match took place on March 26, 1994 at the magnificent Stade El Menzah in Tunis with some 30,000 spectators in the stands. Nigeria dominated play from the first whistle of referee Mohamed Bahar of Morocco. 

Prolific striker Rashidi Yekini scored Nigeria’s first goal in the 18th minute of the action-packed match. Mutiu Adepoju added a second goal in the 72nd minute before Yekini wrapped up the scoring with his second goal in the 88th minute. 

Nigeria’s celebration of the 3-0 score was cut short when on March 28 Nigeria’s main rival in the group, Egypt, beat Gabon 4-0 to edge ahead of the Eagles on goal difference. 

Nigeria needed to beat Egypt to gain top place in the group. In a pulsating match on March 30 in Stade El Menzah the Eagles settled for a goalless draw with the Pharaohs of Egypt, even as Yekini rattled the Egyptian goalpost with a beautifully executed effort. Nigeria qualified from the group into the knockout stages as second-place finisher. 

On April 2, 1994 Nigeria engaged Zaire in the quarterfinals at Stade El Menzah with Lim Kee Chong of Mauritius as the referee. In a match that boasted of a paltry spectatorship of 2,000 the drab first-half ended scoreless. The match somewhat opened up with Yekini scoring the curtain-raiser in the 51st minute. The striker added a second goal through a penalty-kick on the 71st minute, earning Nigeria a qualification to the semifinals with a 2-0 victory. 

Cote d’Ivoire beat Ghana 2-1 on April 3 to guarantee a semifinal matchup with Nigeria. 

The April 6 semifinal encounter between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire started badly for the Eagles as the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire took the lead in the 19th minute through Bassole. Overlapping left wing-back Ben Iroha equalized for Nigeria in the 26th minute. Bassole shot Cote d’Ivoire ahead yet again in the 31st minute only for Yekini to equalize for the Eagles in the 40th minute. 

With four goals being scored in the first-half, the expectation was that the second-half would teem with more goals. Nothing like that happened as the match ended on the note of a 2-2 draw after extra-time. The otherwise accurate Yekini wasted a hatful of chances. 

Referee Ali Bujsaim of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had to settle for a penalty shootout to settle the encounter. Finidi George scored Nigeria’s first kick. Koame scored for Cote d’Ivoire. Millions of Nigerians had their hearts in their mouths when Samson Siasia missed Nigeria’s next kick, while Follet scored for the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. Daniel Amokachi somewhat restored parity by scoring Nigeria’s third kick. Almost incredibly, Bassole who had scored two goals for Cote d’Ivoire in the course of the match lost his penalty-kick. Ben Iroha put Nigeria ahead by scoring his kick. Then Amani lost Cote d’Ivoire’s penultimate kick. It then stood that if Yekini scored Nigeria’s last kick it would be enough to put the Eagles into the final. Yekini did not miss, thus sending Nigeria into the final against Zambia, the team that thrashed Mali 4-0.

The final was a very emotional affair because the Zambian team had only been just constituted, following an air disaster off the coast of Gabon in which 18 players and several staff members of the previous national team had been killed. 

So when both teams filed out on the lush field of Stade El Menzah on April 10, 1994, the emotions of the watching world were with the Zambian underdogs. The majority cheers of the 25,000 spectators stayed with Zambia, led by the influential captain Kalusha Bwalia. 

It was barely three minutes after the kick-off blast of Mauritian referee Kim Lee Chong’s whistle that Elijah Litana rose up to head past Nigerian goalie Peter Rufai for the opening goal of the match. Nigeria’s equalizer came quickly in the 5th minute through Emmanuel Amunike who was playing his very first match in the entire competition. The first-half ended on an even note at 1-1. Early in the second half, in the 47th minute, Amunike scored his second goal of the match that eventually turned out the match-winner. 

It had taken Nigeria all of 24 years, from 1980 when the CAF Cup was lifted in Lagos by then captain Christian Chukwu, for the Nigerian national team to again be the champions of Africa. 

It was indeed fitting that Nigeria’s captain on the field of play, Augustine Eguavoen, handed over the armband to the veteran captain Stephen Keshi who was then nursing an injury to lift the cup. 

Nigeria’s Rashidi Yekini emerged the highest goal-scorer of the competition with 5 goals. 

Five of Nigeria’s star players were listed in the CAF team of the tournament, notably: Uche Okechukwu, Benedict Iroha, Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh and Rashidi Yekini.
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