Posted by News Express | 2 May 2019 | 1,003 times
The eighties’ generation of Nigerian children, who followed the football adventures of the national team, the Green Eagles, will be filled with nostalgia at the mention of the name of each of these football legends:
Peter Rufai - Goalkeeper
Patrick Okala - Goalkeeper
Rashidi Yekini - Forward
Christian Chukwu - Defender
Stephen Keshi - Defender
Mudashiru Lawal - Midfielder
Ademola Adeshina - Midfielder
Alloy Agu - Goalkeeper
Clement Temile - Midfielder
Best Ogedengbe - Goalkeeper
Segun Odegbami - Midfielder
Henry Nwosu - Midfielder
Those names were just some among several players - teenagers and young men - who rocked the eighties international football scene, thereby endearing themselves to millions of citizens and football fans.
These young players were chosen from mostly state and privately-owned football clubs in Nigeria and the African continent.
The performances and style of play of the players on the pitch captivated football lovers.
Football, as a sport, provided much fun for the spectators and players alike.
Gone are those days we played football for the fun of it. As for me, when I was playing I just wanted to play and I loved to play for Nigeria.
The fanbase of the Green Eagles among children reached a peak during an international tournament.
Three international games in the middle and late eighties ~80s in which the Green Eagles soared were:
1984 CAF African Cup of Nations
1985 FIFA World Youth Championship
1988 CAF African Cup of Nations
For the duration of this reminiscent piece, African Cup of Nations will be stated as AFCON, her acronym.
Children, too young to experience the qualifying matches live in the stadium, got the best of the fiesta through live-televised relays of the sport. The stadium was not a place for the faint-hearted during any local match, let alone an international playoff.
It was one thing to gain access to the venue; leaving at the end of the game was another hustle entirely.
AFCON 1984 qualifiers saw Ghana, the title holders, qualify automatically.
A year earlier, Green Eagles commenced their qualifiers with a 2-0 win against Angola at home in Surulere Stadium, Lagos.
Ademola Adeshina kept the faith by scoring one of the goals.
Away in Angola, the legends conceded a goal.
In the second round of matches and following two goalless draws, the Green Eagles took home the points in a 4-3 penalty score against Maroc in Rabat.
The home game was played at the stadium in Benin City, now in Edo State.
In the AFCON finals of Maroc ’88 and Côte d’Ivoire ’84, the Green Eagles encountered archrivals Cameroun.
In both tournaments, Nigeria lost to Cameroun 0-1 and 1-3, respectively.
The outcomes were tears and heartbreaks for Nigerians and friends of Nigeria.
Neighbouring Cameroun have since been a respected football opponent.
Of course, there are Nigerians who attribute any loss to Cameroun to foul play.
Such allegations of corrupt practices have never held against scrutiny.
Critical is the observation that in every final between Nigeria and Cameroun, whether in the eighties’ or more recently, Cameroun had to excel in their Group matches.
Moreover, to countenance allegations of irregularity behind the scene, conspiracy theorists forget such corruption will need the complicity of not just the referee, but also the Green Eagles.
Football conspiracy theory is a disrespect to the legends of Green Eagles.
In AFCON '84 Group B matches played at Stade Bouaké, Bouaké, Nigeria had another football opponent Ghana.
Nigerian residents in Côte d’Ivoire attended the games in a show of support for the Green Eagles.
Among supporters of the Green Eagles were Bouakéens, some of whom recall the matches played by the Green Eagles.
By the time each team had played all Group games, the Green Eagles ranked second in the Group.
That has been a pattern observed in several football outings of the national team.
On this occasion, Group rivals Ghana did not proceed into the knockout stage.
The Green Eagles lost none of the games neither did Algeria the Group leaders, who obtained one winning match more than Nigeria.
Cameroun deserve the credit for skills and dedication, both of which yield the necessary results on the field of football.
This Author pays deserved respect to Cameroun’s legend, Roger Milla, a household name in Nigeria.
In both finals, Nigeria demonstrated the same skills and dedication.
One team had to go home the winner.
The determination of the Green Eagles can be illustrated best in Maroc ’88 semifinal against Algeria in which Nigeria were down to ten men, following the exit of Ademola Adeshina with a red card.
Bright Omokaro was brought from the bench and, in a hard tackle, he reduced the match to ten a side [10-10].
The zeal for excellence, four years earlier, produced a goal from each of:
Mudashiru Lawal, in the final against Cameroun;
Stephen Keshi and Ali Bala, against Egypt in the semifinal;
Chibuzor Ehilegbu and Henry Nwosu, against Ghana.
In that tournament, Nigeria’s highest goal scorer was Clement Temile with two goals, both of which was delivered at the Group game against Malawi, the second within two minutes of the first.
Contrary to expectations and much to the horror of fans, Malawi led with two goals for the better part of the first half, until seven minutes to the end of half time when Clement delivered his first goal.
This tendency of the Green Eagles to rise from a goalless score to equalise was repeated in the game against Egypt.
The Green Eagles of AFCON 1984 was a star-studded team consisting of nineteen ~19 players.
Green Eagles ’84
Sunday Eboigbe - Defender
Yisa Shofoluwe - Defender
Humphrey Edobor - Forward
Paul Kingsley - Defender
James Etokebe - Midfielder
The players were inspired by Festus Onigbinde, the Team Coach.
On earning silver in the last major international event of the decade in which they participated, the legends of Green Eagles metamorphosed into the Super Eagles, a name the players adopted and to which national authorities assented.
Team Nigeria ’85
Christian Obi - Goalkeeper
At the opening of the decade in 1980, the Green Eagles won the African Cup Of Nations.
In the middle of the decade, a different set of football players not yet the Green Eagles took out Canada, Australia and Mexico at USSR ’85.
At that FIFA event, Team Nigeria conceded to the Soviet Union and Brazil, though the Team later defeated the Soviets on penalties at the third-place playoff.
For these games, a fresh Team of young football legends were recruited.
To qualify the Team won the African Youth Championship by defeating Tunisia.
After a successful show in Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics], in which Team Nigeria won bronze, all the players were inducted into the Green Eagles Family, a family of legends.
This Author pays well-earned respect to each Green Eagles legend, and to Rashidi Yekini who holds the title of highest goal scorer of all time on the national team with 37 goals.
It was a wonderful time playing in the national team. With this, whenever I am called to serve my country, I will do it with utmost joy and sacrifice to contribute to the development of the game in the country.
•Umm Sulaim is the Publisher of Umm Sulaim’s Thoughts (https://iamummsulaim.wordpress.com).
Copyright © 2019 Umm Sulaim. All rights reserved.
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