THE CLASS OF ‘94
In continuation of the serial on The Class of ’94, today we publish a throwback to Algiers ’90, where the journey of the class of ’94 actually began. Published by former Vice Chairman of the defunct Nigeria Football Association, Tony Nnachetta, The Class of ’94 focuses on the exploits of the national team in Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations and USA’94 FIFA World Cup.94 FIFA World Cup
It is a must read. Excerpts:
WORDS ON MARBLE
“The biggest credits must go to our coaches. For every match after the opening defeat, they suggested various patterns which fooled our opponents. Against Egypt and Cote d’lvoire we used zonal marking, while against Zambia, we choked the centre and our two wingers had to fall back to collect the ball on their own since we didn’t use fullbacks. Against Algeria in the final, we applied man-marking on their star players – Madjer, Menad and Oudjani – and zoned ourselves on the others. Only Algeria scored against us in the tournament.” —Herbert Anijekwu, defender.
“We lost the first match so heavily because most of my colleagues were inexperienced, but I think the result quickly awakened the talent in everybody. Our pattern was chiefly defensive so, up-front, our main strategy was always to catch our opponents on the break and to utilize all set-pieces like corner-kicks and free-kicks. That was why our goals against Egypt and the first against Zambia came from corner-kicks while the one against Cote d’lvoire and the second against Zambia came from counter-attacks. In the final we were too closely marked and we couldn’t score because the referee refused to protect us from rough tackles by the Algerians.” —Rashidi Yekini, striker.
Following Nigeria’s disappointing elimination from the 1990 World Cup finals, Clemens Westerhofs Super Eagles revolution began in earnest when he led Nigeria to the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Algeria.
THE SQUAD AT ALGIERS ‘90
Goalkeepers: Alloy Agu, Pressley Berthold.
Defenders: Abdul Aminu, Uche Okechukwu, Andrew Uwe, Tajudeen Oyekanmi, Wahab Adeshina, Isaac Semitoje, Herbert Anijekwu, Ben Iroha and Toyin Ayinla.
Midfielders: Ayo Ogunlana, Thompson Oliha, Wasiu Ipaye, Moses Kpakor, Emmanuel Okocha,Friday Elaho.
Forwards: Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Baldwin Bazuaye.
Team Manager: Clemens Westerhof.
Coach: Sebastian Broderick.
The team’s preparation was not particularly impressive. January 1990, the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) hosted an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) championship in Bauchi featuring Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’lvoire and Liberia. Nigeria managed to win the trophy but the major benefit was the birth of Westerhof’s new Super Eagles, which he took to the AFCON finals in Algeria two months later in March, 1990.
The emerging stars in that team were striker Rashidi Yekini, left winger Friday Elaho, central defender Uche Okechukwu and an exciting 17-year-old striker Daniel Amokachi played for Ranchers Bees of Kaduna in the domestic league. There were also goalkeeper Alloy Agu, defenders Abdul Aminu, Andrew Uwe, Isaac Semitoje and Herbert Anijekwu;midfielders Thompson Oliha, Tajudeen Oyekanmi, Moses Kpakor, Ademola Adeshina and Ayo Ogunlana; as well as strikers Baldwin Bazuaye and Emmanuel Okocha.
The Nigerian team was dominated by players from the domestic league because the majority of the foreign-based stars had refused to come, citing club engagements. The few exceptions were defender Andrew Uwe and midfielder Ademola Adeshina who played in Belgium and striker Rashidi Yekini who played in Portugal. The others gave Westerhof conditions under which they would report for camp,but the Dutchman told them to stay away instead.
Therefore, most observers were not surprised when Eagles arrived in Algeria and got spanked 5-1 by the host country in the opening game of the tournament on March 3, 1990. Emmanuel Okocha scored Nigeria’s only goal as the Eagles’ inexperience and lack of exposure were brutally exposed.
But rather than lose their heads, the team grouped somehow in subsequent matches negotiated their way into the final.
Narrow 1 -0 victories over Egypt and Cote’Ivoire with the goals coming from Rashidi
‘Yekini squeezed Nigeria into the semi-final where they played their best match of the tournament to beat an enterprising Zambian side 2-0. Uche Okechukwu scored a superb
header from a corner kick to put Nigeria ahead while Yekini finished off a quick counter- attack from a great pass by Wasiu Ipaye to get the second.
By the time the Eagles faced Algeria again in the final at the July 5,Stadium in Algiers on March 16,1990,they were a completely different team from the one that lost 5-1 in the opening game just two weeks ealier.
Elaho had suddenly become a marked man after tormenting Nigeria’s previous opponents with his left foot and Algeria had to detail a man to mark him out.
Yekini was also a big threat having accounted for three of Nigeria’s goals up to that point. Kpakor, meanwhile, had also become a fearsome man-marker himself and he ensured that Algeria’s star player and captain, Rabah Madjer, had little influence on the proceedings.
In the end, though, Algeria managed a 1-0 victory thanks to their home support, but the Eagles were not disgraced. For a team that had started the tournament so badly, reaching the final and winning the silver medal was a great achievement.
The Eagles were received as heroes back home. A huge reception was organized for them by the NFA at the in-door sports hall of the National Stadium in Lagos. As for Clemens Westerhof, nobody was talking about sacking him this time. The Dutchman had won over some of his critics as much for the exploits of the team as for successfully calling the bluff of the foreign-based players.