It took an age for the most populous country in Africa to appear at the gathering of football kings. Prior to 1994, it was so much heartache for Nigerian football fans after near misses in 1978 – a misdirected header from Godwin Odiye at the National Stadium in Surulere; the recall of Christian Chukwu that backfired spectacularly against Algeria at the same National Stadium in Surulere in 1982; and a confirmation of Cameroon dominance in 1990.
But finally, Stephen Keshi led a band of die-hards but a powerfully skillful set of players to do the hard part away to Algeria in 1993. And the Super Eagles had landed. Since that showing, the country has missed just one World Cup due to negligence and FIFA magic in 2006. Through all these, there have been great, good and bad moments for the team. PREMIUM TIMES has tried to choose the best five and the worst five moments from the last five World Cups attended by Nigeria.
The 5 Best Moments
Rashidi Yekini’s goal against Bulgaria 
It was a novelty and the adrenaline was pumping. That shot through the roof on 21 minutes when Finidi George’s low cross was tapped into the Bulgarian net. After this, there was no turning back as the Eagles convincingly beat the East-European opponents 3-0.
Samson Siasia’s chip against Argentina 
The second match in the 1994 World Cup was against two-time champions, Argentina; and again Nigeria took the lead. And what a sublime goal it was from Samson Siasia, who chipped Argentina’s goalkeeper from outside the box off a pass from Yekini. That goal was scored in the eighth minute – the fastest ever by the Super Eagles at FIFA World Cups. Claudio Cannigia however scored twice for the Argentines to forge a 2-1 win.
Sunday Oliseh’s goal against Spain 
Spain dominated possession and took the lead twice, only to be pegged back by goals from Mutiu ‘Headmaster’Adepoju and an error from Andoni Zubizarreta even though Garba Lawal continues to claim the goal as his own. Then it happened on 78 minutes. A corner kick not completely cleared from danger fell into the mid-half of the Spaniards’ half and Oliseh happened to the ball. Before Zubizarreta could blink, the ball had zinged past him at his right post. It was a goal for the ages and a worthy one with which to beat the better-rated Spaniards.
Julius Aghahowa’s goal and celebration against Sweden 
The 2002 Super Eagles squad has been chosen as the worst to represent Nigeria at any of their five appearances of the FIFA World Cup. In fluorescent green jerseys, the Eagles failed to fly or shine and scored just one goal. The goal, though not in any way spectacular – the celebration was. A cross from the right by Joseph Yobo was glanced past the Swedish goalkeeper by Julius Aghahowa who then proceeded to perform 12 summersaults to the delight of the match commentator, who said “…on and on and on…”
Ahmed Musa’s brace against Argentina 
This is on this list because it is and has been the only time a Nigerian has scored a brace in a single match at a FIFA World Cup. Though the pressure was less in the match because the Eagles had already qualified courtesy of four points picked up against Iran and Bosnia, Musa’s goals were quality goals and could have earned a draw against the eventual finalists.
Five Worst Moments
The 87th-minute concession to Italy 
Nigeria were a man up and a goal up with three minutes left on the clock in their second round match against Italy when Oliseh tried to be cute with a clearance in the Nigerian box; a ricochet and the ball fell at Roberto Baggio’s feet. The next thing Peter Rufai knew was picking the ball out of his net. Italy had equalised and then went on to win a penalty, which Baggio duly converted in the first half of extra time. That was a golden chance lost and since then, the team have not been as close to nicking a quarterfinal place as they were on July 5, 1994, at Foxboro Stadium in Boston.
The 4-1 thrashing by Denmark 
Having topped their group, the Super Eagles were said to have looked past the Danes and were thinking of a match-up against Brazil in the quarterfinal. That did not happen as a rampant Danish team led by the Laudrup brothers – Michael and Brian, blew the Eagles away. Ebbe Sand scored the third goal less than 30 seconds of coming on as a substitute while an aged Rufai assisted on two goals.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s miss of an open goal 
He was Nigeria’s most assured goal scorer at that time but the miss against South Korea would be on many ShowTime reel for the worst misses in FIFA World Cup tournament. A good run and cross from Ayila Yusuf down the left on 66 minutes left Aiyegbeni [the goalkeeper had been taken out by the cross] with the easy task of just tapping the ball into the net but his effort lazily rolled by the right post. What a miss! Nigeria needed to win the match to progress but the 2-2 result meant they were eliminated.
Sani Kaita’s red card against Greece 
The Eagles lost their opening match 1-0 to Argentina but many expected them to beat Greece in their second game. It was going according to script with Kalu Uche’s 16th-minute goal then Sani Kaita lost his head and kicked out at Vassilis Torosidis. Kaita was sent off in the 34th minute and the Eagles subsequently collapsed – conceding goals in the 44th and 71st minutes to Dimitrios Salpingidis, whose shot took a deflection off Lukman Haruna and wrong-footed Vincent Enyeama and the winner by Kaita’s victim, Torosidis.
Joseph Yobo’s own goal 
On the day when he won his 100th cap for his country, the Super Eagles captain against France in the 2014 second round, Joseph Yobo confirmed his retirement by scoring an own goal to knock out the Eagles. Yobo took part in three World Cup tournaments – 2002, 2010, and 2014. A bad way to end a national career that spanned 14 years.