The Good, bad and ugly for Nigeria at previous World Cups

By Okey Onwugbonu

Nigeria’s Super Eagles’ participation at five World Cup tournaments since 1994 has been characterized by good, bad and ugly moments. From breath taking goals and eye catching celebrations to heart breaking and disdainful moments.

Fans and supporters of the team have had wobbly moments following the Eagles through five continents in five World Cups.

First in North America, USA 94 were the team had unarguably her best performance.

Next was Europe in France 98 were over confidence ruined the party after an unanticipated start.

The gods of soccer were obviously against Nigeria pitting her in the ‘group of death’ in Asia, Korea/Japan 2002 the first and only World Cup to be co-hosted.

Then came the nightmare on African soil in South Africa 2010 where the Eagles failed to traverse a seeming easy group; before recording an average performance despite reaching the second round in South America with the Samba nation Brazil as host in 2014.

Although in some parlance people would prefer the bad news first, in this case the ugly news, probably before the bad then the good. So the good news may take away the effect of the bad news. But as the topic of this write up suggests, we would savor the good, growl about the bad and get livid about the ugly. Here we go.

Breath Taking Goals

The Super Eagles scored 20 goals at the World Cup, averaging 5 goals in each tournament where her green and white flag was hoisted. Out of these twenty, three of them are at the peak of the pack for me.

Sunday Oliseh’s stunner against Spain in 1998, Daniel Amokachi’s pile driver against Greece in 1994 and Ahmed Musa’s curly volley against Argentina in 2014.

Oliseh’s stunner against Spain in France 98
Sunday Oliseh scores against Spain

Sunday Oliseh’s volley from 25 yards after the Spaniards failed to clear the lines was a beauty to behold.

The Spanish side complete with World Class stars and champions league winners in Raul Gonzalez and captain Fernando Hierro to mention a few, were the favourites in a group that also had Paraguay and Bulgaria.

In the group’s opening game Spain went ahead twice through Hiero and Raul only to be pegged back through equalizers from Mutui Adepoju and goalkeeper Zubizaretta’s own goal before Oliseh’s moment of magic came in the 78th minute.

Nigeria won a throw in on the left side close to the Spanish 18 yard box, Austin Okocha took a long throw that found Fernando Hiero’s head but the clearance only met Oliseh who released a rocket from 25 yards with his right foot that went in off the post leaving Zubezarretta with no chance. Nigeria won 3-2 and Spain never recovered from that stunner.

Amokachi’s pile driver against Greece in USA 94

Nigeria was expected to overrun Greece, after all Greece had suffered two 4-0 bashings against Argentina and Bulgaria.

Finidi George scored in the dying moments of the first half before Amokachi’s late second sealed the win and top spot in the group for Nigeria.

Amokachi received the ball about 35 yards from goal and went on a mazy run leaving four Greek defenders in his wake before unleashing a rising shot from 20 yards that sailed into the roof of the net with the Greek goalkeeper rooted to the spot.

Musa’s curling shot against Argentina in Brazil 2014

It took Lionel Messi just three minutes to open the scoring against Nigeria in Brazil but Ahmed Musa responded promptly just eighty seconds later to put Nigeria back on level terms.

A beautiful work in midfield by Ogenyi Onazi, holding off three Argentine players before releasing Musa on the left of Argentina’s box was perfected with sublime curling shot by Musa after a cut in that left Pablo Zabeleta chasing shadows.

Musa would go on to equalize another Messi’s goal before Nigeria succumbed to a 3-2 defeat.

Beautiful Goal Celebrations

Beautiful celebrations most times follow beautiful goals in the beautiful game of football.

Few celebrations have come close to Finidi’s crawling, Amokachi’s hip-hop flavor dance moves and Yekini’s net celebration and these three for me are at the pinnacle of goal celebrations for Nigeria at the World Cup.

Finidi’s crawling

After chipping the Greek goalkeeper to open the scoring in Nigera’s 2-0 win against Greece in USA 1994, George Finidi surprised football fans the world over with his celebration. He went down on all fours, crawled a few yards before lifting his right leg mimicking a dog taking a leak, hilarious to say the least.

Amokachi’s hip-hop flavor dance

When Amokachi rounded the Bulgarian goalkeeper to score Nigeria’s second goal against Bulgaria in USA 94 few had expected the well-orchestrated celebration that followed.

Amokachi ran to the side lines and danced rhythmically to the snapping of his fingers while wiggling his hips and rotating in a dance move he called “the hip-hop flavor”.

Yekini’s net celebration

Ye-king has scored some astonishing goals for Nigeria but none in my estimation will go down as the late goal poacher’s most memorable like the goal against Bulgaria in USA 94, being Nigeria’s first at the World Cup.

Amokachi released Finidi on the right and Finidi ran about 20 meters to the line before squaring the ball for Yekini to tap home. Yekini followed the ball into the net, grabbed the net, screaming to the high heavens; a scene that has been etched in the memory of Eagles supporters and fans forever. Lip readers had deciphered what he screamed as – Rashidi Yekini! Rashidi Yekini! N-I-G-E-R-I-A!

Other Good Moments

Enyeama’s man off the match performances in South Africa

The Super Eagles of Nigeria were largely disappointing in South Africa 2010, failing to qualify from a supposedly easy group that had Greece, South Korea and Argentina.

Losing to Argentina and Greece before drawing with the Koreans a game where a win would still have qualified the team for the next round.

Supporters of the team though had something to cheer when goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was voted man of the match twice against Argentina and Greece despite the Eagles losing both games.

Enyeama stood between Messi and his cohorts ensuring the score line remained 1-0. He did same against Greece despite being reduced to tears after spilling the ball for the Greek’s second goal.

Topping the group with a game to spare in France

In preparation for the World Cup in France 1998, the Super Eagles of Nigeria suffered some serious bashing in friendly games, losing scandalously 5-1 to Holland and 3-0 to Yugoslavia.

Grouped alongside Spain, Paraguay and Bulgaria fans were not expecting much from the team.

They criticized the appointment of Bora Mulitinovic who was referred to as a “World Class coach” by the Nigeria Football Association.

But a surprising 3-2 win against Spain and a 1-0 win against Bulgaria and with every other game in the group as at that time ending in goalless draws, the Eagles were already assured of a first placed finish just after two games with an unassailable 6 points.

Nigerians began to dream again.

Winning her first World Cup game

Nigeria finally qualified for the World Cup in USA 1994 after many near misses and were grouped alongside Argentina, Bulgaria and Greece. The Eagles first game was against Bulgaria and supporters eagerly awaited that game.

Finally it was time and stand in captain Peter Rufai led out the Eagles dorning white shirts over green shorts. Goals from Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke took Bulgaria to the cleaners. Although till date I still wonder why Hristo Stoikov’s free kick was disallowed.
Nigeria not only won that game but is was done with an attacking flair and beautiful display of football.


I’m sure we have relieved some fun memories, now it’s time to growl. The Super Eagles five World Cup participation had its own fair share of painful moments.

Top on the list for me is letting Roberto Baggio steal an equalizer for Italy with just two minutes left on the clock when the Eagles were already dreaming of a quarter final berth.

Losing to Greece was equally painful as well as failing to make the Round of sixteen in 2010, Yobo’s own goal and Peter Rufai’s blunders in France 98 are worthy of mention.

Heart breaking Losses to Italy and Greece


The Azurri’s had had a bad tournament in USA 94 before the second round game against the Super Eagles.

They finished third with four points in a group that had Norway, Ireland and Mexico.

Although all the teams in that group finished with the same points, the Italians had been anything but spectacular.

Nigeria on the other hand topped a group that had Argentina and Bulgaria, so fans fancied the Eagles chances against the Azurri.

The Eagles not playing particularly well scored first against the run of play and when Gianfranco Zola was sent off it seemed Nigeria would be in the last eight.

Forced substitution of Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke due to injuries changed the Eagles pattern of play.

Coach Clemens Westerhof opted for a change of formation to 4-5-1 from 4-4-2. He brought in Mutiu Adepouju and Thompson Oliha thereby killing the Eagles attacking instincts and encouraging the Azurri’s to attack.

The Italians obliged and equalized in the 88th minute through Roberto Baggio and went on to win in extra time with Baggio scoring from the spot.
Fans were left to rue what might have been had Westerhof not taken the conservative approach despite having the numerical advantage. My most painful world Cup moment by a mile.


After losing by the odd goal to Argentina, the Eagles desperately needed to win against Greece to stay in the tournament.

Kalu Uche put the Eagles ahead before Sani Kaita needlessly lashed out on a Greek defender and the Eagles were reduced to ten men.

Greece came from behind to win 2-1 and Nigerians have never stopped blaming Kaita for the loss.

Failing to qualify for the second round in South Africa

Nigeria lost her first two games to Argentina and Greece in South Africa 2010, but a win against South Korea in Durban would have seen the Eagles still qualify for the next round if Argentina beat Greece in the other group game.

Argentina obliged but Nigeria goofed, drawing 2-2 despite taking the lead through Kalu Uche. Ki Sung-young and a Park Chu-young free kick gave the Koreans a 2-1 lead before Yakubu Aiyegbeni restored parity from the spot. The Eagles were made to rue missed chances in a game they played better and deserved to win.

Yobo’s own goal
Yobo scores own goal v France

Super Eagles captain to Brazil 2014 Joseph Yobo had lost his place in the team to young star Kenneth Omeruo. But when Omeruo got injured in the game against Iran, Yobo’s place was restored and he responded adequately, marshaling the defense superbly.

In the second round game against France, Yobo was bagging his 101st cap for the team, he was the first player to record a century appearance for the Eagles. In a game that turned out to be a swansong for him.

Unfortunately for Yobo the game ended in the worst possible way for him. He suffered the ignoble act of putting the ball through his own net in the 90th minute for France’s second of the game.

What a way end a glorious career.

Rufai’s blunders in France 98

Peter Rufai was heralded as a savior heading to France 98 with the Eagles facing some goal keeping issues.

Olympic hero Joseph Dosu suffered a career ending injury in a motor accident, coupled with Abiodun Baruwa’s loss of form and Ike Shorunmu’s injury so Rufai was turned to, to salvage the situation.

France 98 can be tagged as a comedy of errors for Rufai, as his performances in goal had many regretting his recall to the team.

First he misjudged Hierro’s freekick against Spain thinking the ball was harmlessly going wide only to gift the Spaniard a goal.

Against Paraguay he was at fault for the third goal failing to tip away routine shot. He was also badly at fault for two goals against Denmark spilling balls he should have caught or parried to safety.


We have gone through good and bad moments, now it’s time to get livid about some really ugly moments for Nigeria at the World Cup. None comes close to Sani Kaita’s dismissal against Greece in South Africa, though Yakubu’s miss versus South Korea in the same tournament came quite close in my ranking. And then the disgraceful loss to Denmark sums up my ugly moments.

Kaita’s red card
Kaita red card

The Super Eagles were on course for a win against Greece in South Africa 2010, a win that would have put the Eagles on course for qualification into the round of 16.

Leading 1-0 and playing quite well before Sani Kaita’s moment of madness. An altercation between Kaita and Kostas Katsouranis of Greece in the 33rd minute saw Kaita pointlessly lash out at the Greek player with his right foot earning an early bath.
The Eagles crumbled thereafter losing 2-1 and Kaita’s sin was never forgiven.

Yakubu’s Miss

Tagged as the miss of the 2010 World Cup by some pundits was Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s miss from just three yards in front of a yawning net.
Yusuf Ayila’s cross field pass beat the South Korean goalkeeper, so all the Yak had to do was guide the ball into the net. Surprisingly he played the ball back to the keeper who was stranded at the other end of the goal post.

The goal would have brought the game against South Korea to 2-2, and with 25 more minutes to play a winner would have been possible, which was what the Eagles needed to stay in the tournament.

Yakubu did score from the spot few minutes later and the game ended 2-2, but that miss was simply unpardonable.


Nigeria had the best possible start in France 98, beating Spain and Bulgaria, gaining an unassailable 6 points before her last group game against Paraguay.

With Brazil a likely quarter final opponent, the Eagles looked past Denmark anticipating a mouthwatering clash with the Samba nation.

Unfortunately that moment never came as the Eagles suffered her worst World Cup defeat to the Danes, a 4-1 thrashing that exposed the frailties of the team.

The team was disgraced and fans have learnt never to count their chicks before they are hatched.


Russia 2018 awaits us, and I’m sure we would love more good memories, but we should brace up for bad memories and maybe ugly memories. Whatever the future holds for the Eagles, I’m looking forward to an amazing tournament

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