The men’s national football team of Nigeria is the most adored and followed sports team in Nigeria. In a country of over 200 million people, that is a great accolade.
Literally, the players are worshipped; so when the Green Eagles, as we knew them in 1980, went all the way to the final and beat Algerian 3-0; the team and the individual players became history makers and idols.
Before the 1980 triumph, Nigeria had attended the 1963 edition but did not qualify from the first stage group. They did not reappear until the 1976 edition held in Ethiopia, and this was where the potency of the players and the team as a group came to the fore.
Players like Christian Chukwu and Segun Odegbami came to national prominence, especially as they represented the two powerhouses local clubs-Enugu Rangers and IICC Shooting Stars. The team, coached by Yugoslav, Tiko Jelisavcic, better known as Father Tiko, came third by defeating Egypt 3-2.
Ghana hosted the Nations Cup in 1978, and again the Eagles could only attain third place with an awarded 2-0 win over Tunisia after the North Africans abandoned the match at 1-1, but the core of the 1980 squad was being formed and just needed some youthful additions like Henry Nwosu and Frank Nwachi.
The 1980 edition coincided with Nigeria’s return to democratic rule with President Shehu Shagari at the helm. Eagles started the tournament on March 8, 1980, with a 3-1 win over Tanzania with goals from Muda Lawal, Ifeanyi Onyedika, and Segun Odegbami. The Eagles were forced to a 0-0 by Cote d’Ivoire and then got a 1-0 over Egypt in the third group match courtesy of an Okey Isima goal.
🗓 𝗢𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗦 𝗗𝗔𝗬:
Goals were scored by 2 Nigerian legends, Segun Odegbami (2) and Mudashiru Lawal 🦅 pic.twitter.com/e0ZNO3ENEC
— CAF (@CAF_Online) March 22, 2020
Felix Owolabi scored the goal through which the Eagles got the better of Morocco 1-0 in the semi-final to set up a final against Algeria. With President Shagari in attendance with over 85,000 fans, the Eagles took the Algerians to the cleaners 3-0, to claim a first Africa Cup of Nations Cup trophy.
Nwosu, the prodigiously talented midfielder and youngest member of that history-making team, told Premium Times the players still talk as frequently as they can. “The 1980 AFCON title is always a thing of joy for me, and I am glad to be part of that wonderful squad,” Nwosu said.
“As much as I can, I still keep in touch with my teammates, I spoke with Moses Effiong a few days ago, he is Uyo and I reach out to the likes of Emmanuel Okala, Christian Chukwu, and the likes who are all in the East.”
I know Segun Odegbami shuttles between Lagos and Ogun while Owolabi is in Ibadan, we are a big family and we still keep in touch with ourselves,” Nwosu added.
The 1980 history-making team:
Goalkeepers: Best Ogedegbe, Emmanuel Okala, Moses Effiong
Defenders: David Adiele, Johnny Orlando, Sylvanus Okpala, Okey Isima, Tunde Bamidele, Godwin Odiye, Christian Chukwu
Midfielders: Mudashiru Lawal, Alloysius Atuegbu, Henry Nwosu, Kadiri Ikhana, Frank Nwachi
Forwards: Ifeanyi Onyedika, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Martin Eyo, Charles Bassey, Shefiu Mohammed
Where are they now?
Best Ogedegbe: Late. He was the goalkeeping coach for the silver-winning U-23 team to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Emmanuel Okala: Alive and living in Enugu.
Moses Effiong: Alive. Living in Calabar.
Christian Chukwu: Alive. ‘Chairman’ Chukwu followed up his glorious playing career with a long stint as coach and administrator. He was a part of the coaching crew that helped Nigerian win the inaugural U-17 championship in 1985. Also coached Nigeria between 2003 and 2005. Now lives fully in Enugu.
David Adiele: Alive and lives in the US.
Johnny Orlando: Alive. A Ghanaian who somehow found his way into the Eagles team and he now lives in the US.
Godwin Odiye: Alive. Now a coach in the US.
Tunde Bamidele: Late. He also became a coach before he passed.
Sylvanus Okpala: Alive. Became a coach and was in the national team setup in 2011, where he helped the late Stephen Keshi to achieve another Nations Cup title in 2013.
Okey Isima: Late. One of Nigeria’s first professional football players-he had a career in Portugal and settled in the US.
Kadiri Ikhana: Alive and living in Benin. Led Enyimba to become the first Nigerian club to win and defend the CAF Champions League.
Mudashiru Lawal: Late. He played in five Nations Cup tournaments–the first African to achieve the feat.
Aloysius Atuegbu: Late. Became a coach and worked with the U-17 setup before he passed on.
Henry Nwosu: Alive. The youngest member of the 1980 team, he retired to coaching, and he has been part of the U-17, U-21, and national men’s and women’s teams. He was an assistant to Festus Onigbinde at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Ifeanyi Onyedika: Another junior player who gate-crashed the 1980 squad and now lives in the US.
Segun Odegbami: Alive. ‘Mathematical’ is a graduate of the Ibadan Polytechnic and was an integral part of the backroom staff when the Eagles qualified for their first FIFA World Cup in 1994. He also helped Chioma Ajunwa on the road to winning the long jump gold at the Atlanta Olympics. He is a writer and regularly pens columns in some national dailies.
Adokiye Amiesimaka: Alive. The erudite and no-nonsense lawyer who rose to become Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Rivers State.
Shefiu Mohammed: Alive. Living in Taraba State.
Martin Eyo: Late. He was killed in March 2002 in FESTAC Town, Lagos and the murder has not been solved to date.
Frank Nwachi: Alive. One unknown in that 1980 team. He graduated from the University of Lagos in 1978 with a Banking and Finance degree. He now lives in the US.
Charles Bassey: Alive. Present occupation unknown and living in Calabar.
Felix Owolabi: Alive. Became a club administrator at his beloved Shooting Stars and a Ph.D. holder in Physical Education.
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