Nigeria’s run brings back memories of 1990s team
Nigeria is in position to win the African Cup of Nations again
thanks to impressive performances that have brought back memories
of the 1990s team which dominated African football.
Nigeria will play Burkina Faso at Soccer City on Sunday trying
to win its first title since 1994, when it ruled the continent with
players such as Finidi George, Jay-Jay Okocha and Emmanuel
It was the team to beat in Africa back then, dreaded even by the
traditional European teams when they had to cross paths from time
Today’s Nigeria, coached by the captain of that 1994 team,
Stephen Keshi, is hoping another victory at the African Cup after
nearly two decades will help steer the team back to its glory
Keshi said there’s a lot of work to do before this year’s team
can be compared to the 1994 squad, but he thinks the potential to
make it happen is there.
”The 1994 squad took us five years to build, this team is just
five weeks old,” Keshi said. ”I don’t want you to get it wrong.
We are just growing. Don’t think we are there and that’s it, that
we can’t lose a game. No, sometimes it goes up and down.”
That team captained by Keshi helped Nigeria reach the World Cup
for the first time, in 1994 in the United States, and it also made
it to the 1998 tournament in France. Both times it was eliminated
in the quarterfinals, losing to Italy in extra time in 1994 and to
Denmark in regulation in 1998.
Some of the players at the time were already stars at European
clubs. Okocha was with Eintracht Frankfurt and later joined Paris
Saint-Germain, while George was with Ajax and Amuneke played for
Portugal’s Sporting before joining Barcelona later on. The team
also had Everton striker Daniel Amokachi.
Nigeria also won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta,
beating Brazil in the semifinals and Argentina in the final. In the
1994 African Cup, Nigeria eliminated Ivory Coast in the semifinals
and then beat Zambia to lift the trophy for the second time. It
hadn’t won the competition since 1980.
”That 1994 squad is a wonderful squad,” Keshi said. ”The
spirit in that team was unbelievable, we were just like friends, we
The 51-year-old Keshi said that until he can ”get that same
atmosphere” in the current team he won’t know whether it will be
able to someday achieve the same level of success.
”We are still working on it,” he said. ”There is talent, but
you need strong mentality, you need character. It’s coming
The squad is led by Chelsea duo John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses,
as well as by team captain and Fernerbahce defender Joseph Yobo and
Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike, who is one of the
tournament’s leading scorers with four goals.
The Super Eagles had a disappointing start in South Africa,
drawing with Burkina Faso and Zambia and just barely advancing past
the group stage with a late win against Ethiopia. The team picked
up the pace in the knockout round, though, eliminating tournament
favorite Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals and cruising to victory
against Mali in the semis.
Keshi, who took over the team in 2011, was criticized back home
for bringing too many inexperienced local players to the squad, but
he said he needed to revamp the team to get the players on board
with his philosophy.
”You want team players who are mentally strong, players who can
work well for the team,” Keshi said. ”There is a lot of talent
and potential, but it’s going to take time.”
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