Super Eagles relive memories of France 98 qualifiers

By Okey Onwugbonu

Nigeria play host to Zambia in Uyo on Saturday and a win would see Nigeria’s flag hoisted at the biggest football fiesta in the world for the 6th time.

A win for the Eagles against the Chipolopolo and Nigeria will qualify with a game to spare with an unassailable thirteen points, six points above her closest rival, Zambia.

In previous qualifiers Nigeria sealed qualification on the last day except for the France 1998 edition where qualification was sealed with a game to spare.

Fans and supporters of the Eagles can look back to that fateful Saturday, 7th June, 1997 at the National Stadium in Lagos where the Eagles thrashed Kenya’s Harambee Stars 3-0 to qualify for the world cup ahead of Guinea.

After drawing bye for the first round as one of the topped ranked African teams, Nigeria was grouped alongside fellow West Africans, Burkina Faso and Guinea while East Africans Kenya were the other team in the group.

Nigeria began qualification for the 1998 World Cup after her heroics in the football event at the 1996 Olympic Games in USA on 9th November, 1996 against the Stallions of Burkina Faso. A brace from Daniel Amokachi settled the contest.

In the second qualification game, Jonathan Akpoborie’s 48th minute equalizer against Kenya at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi ensured the Super Eagles remained unbeaten in the qualifiers as the game ended one a piece.

The Syli Stars of Guinea was Eagles next opponent, at this time the Guineans were the group leaders after picking maximum points away to Burkina Faso and at home to Kenya. Scoring five goals in the process and conceding just one. They were obviously a threat to Nigeria’s world cup aspirations.

A two minute brace for Daniel Amokachi in the 66th and 68th minute, his second brace in the qualifiers saw Nigeria conquer 2-1 against a resolute Guinean side whose goal was scored in the eighty-seventh by inspirational skipper Titi Camara, taking Nigeria to seven points as against six points for the Guineans.
A 2-1 away win in Quagadougou against Burkina Faso on match day 4 and a 1-0 loss for Guinea against Kenya, saw the Super Eagles of Nigeria at the brink of a second consecutive world cup appearance. All that was needed was a win against Kenya.

The legendary Lim Kee Chong of Mauritius was the center referee for the game against Kenya in a chock-full forty-five thousand capacity National Stadium in Lagos, with stadium’s capacity reached hours before kick-off. Fans and supporters eagerly awaited what they prayed would be an easy game for the Eagles.

The Eagles coached by Frenchman Philippe Troussier turned up in style. Playing a fluid 4-3-3 formation as against Troussier favoured 3-5-2.
Philippe Troussier

Abiodun Baruwa was preferred to Atlanta 96 hero Joseph Dosu in goal, a central defensive pairing of captain Uche Okechukwu and Taribo West were complemented in defence by fullbacks Celestine Babayaro and Mobi Oparaku; Mutiu Adepouju, Sunday Oliseh and Austin Okocha manned the midfield while Jonathan Akpoborie, Daniel Amokachi, and Emmanuel Amuneke were the attacking trio. Wilson Oruma came in for Okocha in the 63rd minute, Victor Ikpeba took Amokachi’s place in the 78th minute while in the 86th minute Christopher Ohenhen replaced Akpoborie.

The fans didn’t have to wait to long for their expectations to be met as a debut goal for nineteen year old Sunday Oliseh in the 14th minute set the ball rolling for the Eagles while further strikes by Emmanuel Amuneke in the 43rd minute and substitute Wilson Oruma in the 83rd minute sealed Nigeria’s qualification for only the second time.

Nigeria will go on to lose 1-0 to Guinea in the final qualifying game and Troussier lost his job to “World Cup Coach”, the then Yugoslavian Bora Milutinovic.

Ahead of the encounter against Zambia, Nigerians will hope and pray that the John Mikel Obi led Super Eagles will borrow a leaf from the Eagles of 1997 and deliver the World Cup ticket with a game to spare.
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