The Nigeria national football squad at Tunisia 1994 Africa Cup of Nations Cup (AFCON) tournament paraded some notable names that made the squad a fearsome proposition and are arguably the best Eagles squad in the nation’s footballing history.
The team came into the 1994 AFCON tournament as one of the three favourites for the title, which they ended up winning.
This was after their first triumph in 1980.
Though hampered by the baggage of emerging as runners-up in I984 and 88, coach Clemence Westerhof was determined to end Nigeria’s long search for her second AFCON title and it was a perfect timing.
Grouped alongside Egypt and Gabon in group B, the golden generation approached the competition with caution, but the team began their campaign on a bright note as they dismissed Gabon 3-0 in the opener with two goals coming from the late Rashidi Yekini and Mutiu Adepoju.
Their second game was a goalless draw against Egypt to book a place in the knockout stages.
Zaire were not an easy opponent in the second round but Yekini’s brace took Nigeria into the semi-final to face arch-rivals, Ivory Coast.
In what was a pulsating encounter that swung back and forth, the Eagles triumphed on penalties after the 90 minutes and extra time ended 2-2.
It was one man against the world as Zambia earned the sympathy of the football’s global family after its first team perished on the coast of Gabon during World Cup qualifiers.
The Chipolopolo drew the first blood through Elijah Litana but like a rejected stone turned the corner piece of the building, Emmanuel Amuneke scored twice to ensure Nigeria smiled home with the trophy.
Alloy Agu may have watched from the bench, but he described the tournament as one of the best moments in his career.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that team spirit and hard work were key to Nigeria’s success in Tunisia.
“It was a moment I will never forget as a footballer. Yes, we came into the tournament as favourites, but it took hard work and team spirit to win in Tunisia.
“We were one happy family, and it was a time when Nigerian players were getting to the peak. It gave us the confidence to embrace our career with much optimism, and that was exactly what happened at the World Cup,” he added.
The 23-man squad
Goalkeepers: Peter Rufai, Wilfred Agbonavbare, Alloy Agu
Defenders: Stephen Keshi, Austin Eguavoen, Uche Okafor, Uche Okechukwu, Isaac Semitoje, Ben Iroha, Nduka Ugbade
Midfielders: Sunday Oliseh, Mutiu Adepoju, Edema Fuludu, Thompson Oliha, Austin Okocha, Efan Ekoku
Forwards: Rashidi Yekini, Samson Siasia, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Victor Ikpeba, Finidi George
Where are they now?
Regarded as one of the best goalkeepers to man the post for the senior national team.
We remember him for his panache and near-perfect reflexes that astounded opposition teams.
Rufai was the Eagles’ No.1 in Tunisia 94. His ability to organise his defenders and bail them out in any danger makes him arguably Nigeria’s best ever goalkeeper.
The former Stationery Stores and Femo Scorpions goalkeeper also played for Dragon FC of Benin, Lokeren, Beveren (in Belgium). He also had a successful career at Farense (Portugal), Hercules, and Deportivo La Coruna in Spain.
Rufai who jettisoned a chance to be crowned as King of Idimu kingdom currently shuttles between Lagos and Spain.
Once an ambassador of Remita, he runs youth football clinics in Lagos.
Wilfred Agbonavbare (Late)
He was tipped to be No.1 despite his healthy rivalry with Alloy Agu in the qualifiers, but after weeks of training camp in Papendal and Amsterdam, Holland, he dropped to third in the pecking order of goalkeepers.
It was an enormous setback for the former Rayo Vallecano goalkeepers as Rufai rediscovered his mojo to claim the No.1 jersey.
He watched from the bench as Rufai got better with matches. Agbonavbare suffered one of the worst racist abuse in Spain after his penalty save denied Real Madrid the chance of beating Barcelona to the title in 1992.
Madrid fans chanted racist slurs like, “Negro cabron, recoge al algodon” meaning “black bastard, pick the cotton!”
Agbonavbare retired at the early age of 31 and resettled in Madrid, and worked as a baggage and cargo handler at Barajas airport, Madrid.
He also had a brief stint as a goalkeeper trainer. He lost his wife to cancer in 2012 and died of a similar disease in 2015.
He was the second goalkeeper in the 1994 squad that Clemence Westerhof listed for the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
He was one of the first Nigerian goalkeepers to feature in the Dutch Eredivisie before calling it quits with active football. Agu is currently under the payroll of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) as Super Eagles’ goalkeeper trainer.
Converted from a midfielder into a full-back, ‘Cerezo’ was a dominant part of the back-four that took the Eagles to the 1994 AFCON title.
He combined well with the late Uche Okafor, Uche Okechukwu, and Ben Iroha to keep opposing strikers at bay. Westerhof handed him the responsibility of leading the Eagles in the finals after injury ruled out skipper Stephen Keshi.
He worked as Super Eagles manager at Egypt 2006 AFCON where Nigeria settled for Bronze. He currently works with the NFF as a member of the technical committee.
He was the preferred choice ahead of Nduka Ugbade, given the embarrassment of talents at Westerhof’s disposal, and he justified his inclusion in the squad with his ability to combine his defensive and attacking instinct.
His one-two pass gave Nigeria an early lead against Cote d’Ivoire in the semi-finals and kept a watertight defence to ensure Nigeria overran the stubborn Zambians in the finals.
Iroha had an unsuccessful stint overseas and retired in 2000. He was an assistant coach when Nigeria won THE 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea and was once on the payroll of Heartland and Dolphins. He currently lives in the US.
The ‘Gentle Giant’ will be forever remembered as the towering presence behind Nigeria’s successful stint at Tunisia 94.
The former Brondby and Fenerbahce centre-back also featured for Ocean Boys and Bayelsa United after a successful stint in Europe.
Uche retired from active football at 41 and neither embraced coaching nor featured in club events because of his shyness. He is currently based in Owerri running his business.
The ‘Big Boss’ is one of the best centre-backs Africa has ever produced.
Although late Keshi got injured weeks into the tournament, coach Westerhof opted to pick him because he was an inspirational captain of the squad.
He was seen whispering and charging his teammates to go to this kill as Nigeria went to win her second AFCON in Tunisia.
With a successful career in Belgium, Ivory Coast, and France, Keshi retired from active football following a nagging ankle injury and embraced coaching. He was in charge when flying Eagles Eagles crashed out of African Youth Championship in Ethiopia but he was part of the Eagles coaching crew that qualified Nigeria for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.
Keshi also qualified Togo for her first World Cup and handled the Eagles of Mali before returning to tinker Nigeria to the 2013 AFCON title in South Africa before leading the Eagles to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Keshi died of cardiac arrest on June 7, 2016, in Benin City.
The former Super Eagles and Iwuanyanwu sweeper sat on the bench through the tournament, given the pedigree of other defenders in the team.
Westerhof dropped him from the USA 94 squad. Semitoje is currently based in Benin and he is into personal business.
Popularly known as Sao Paulo by his Eagles teammates, the former U-17 skipper also watched from the bench as Nigeria emerged as African champions after beating Zambia 2-1 in the finals.
He had a short stint in Israel and retired from active football because of injury. Ugbade enjoyed a successful spell as a youth coach after he assisted Garba Manu to U-17 World Cup glory in 2013.
He currently handles the NNL side, Giants Brillas.
This mercurial midfielder was one of the best playmakers Nigeria ever produced.
He gave the world a slice of his talents in Tunisia 94 and combined well with Sunday Oliseh to propel Nigeria to her second AFCON glory.
Jay-jay played for PSG, Fenerbahce Bolton Wanderers, and retired too early according to his teeming fans.
He went into business after retirement. Okocha is the brand ambassador for a long list of companies.
The ‘Headmaster’ was part of the squad in Tunisia and he was on the score sheet in Nigeria 3-0 win over Gabon in the group opening match.
Mutiu Adepoju [PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]The former 3SC team manager spent most of his career in Spain, where he scored 22 goals from 175 matches. He is the current Spanish La Liga ambassador in Nigeria and also manages his personal businesses.
Ekoku featured in Nigeria’s 2-0 win over Zaire in the quarter-final of Tunisia 94 World Cup and had to be replaced when he struggled to have a single shot at goal.
Efan Ekoku [PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]The former Norwich and Bournemouth striker once worked as a commentator for Premier League production. He is based in the UK and works as a soccer pundit.
A fringe member of the Tunisia 1994 AFCON winning team, Edema was respected for his hard work and business-like approach to matches.
The former Julius Berger star played his last active game for Turkish side Always SK before retiring from football.
He lives in Delta and is actively involved in politics.
Thompson Oliha (Late)
He was known as the team warhorse for his tireless play.
He came as the best replacement for Moses Kpakor, who quit the scene because of a career-ending injury. Whenever Westerhof saw danger from the opposition, he deployed Oliha to keep such a player at bay.
Oliha was Westerhof’s beloved player because of his work rate and dedication. Oliha worked with the Kwara football academy before his death in 2013.
‘Da Bull’ was a key member of the winning side, and his tenacity and work rate played a huge role in ensuring that Nigeria emerged champions in Tunisia and he featured in two AFCON and World Cup tournaments.
Daniel Amokachi PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]
Amokachi won the English FA Cup with Everton under manager Joe Royle and joined Besiktas in Turkey and tinkered Nasarawa FC and was the assistant coach to late Stephen Keshi as Nigeria won her third AFCON in 2013.
Amokachi is currently the special adviser on sports to President Muhammadu Buhari. He is also an ambassador for a couple of brands.
Amuneke scored Nigeria’s two goals in the finals after Westerhof deliberately confined him to the bench throughout the group matches and knockout stages.
He took the pressure off top players like Keshi before the “Dutchgerian” threw the former Zamalek winger into the fray. He justified his inclusion by ensuring Nigeria rallied back from a goal down and later scored the winning goal.
He retired from active football after a brief stint at GC Barca.
Amuneke had a successful career in coaching after he led Nigeria U-17 to a World Cup triumph in 2015.
He ensured Tanzania qualified for its first AFCON in Egypt in 2019, and he is the current youth coach at Misr Lel Makassa in Egypt.
The former Ajax winger was one of the finest wingers that emerged from the tournament. Although he had a quiet tourney, his contribution cannot be overlooked.
Finidi George PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]
The former Ajax winger played for Real Betis and was known for his matador’s style of celebration after scoring a goal. He once applied for the Golden Eaglets’ job and he currently lives in Spain.
Rashidi Yekini (Late)
CAF adjudged the goalsfather as the dreaded striker at Tunisia 94, where he scored five goals.
Rashidi Yekini [PHOTO CREDIT: goal.com]Yekini was on duty in Nigeria’S 3-0 win over Gabon in Group B opener, scoring two goals with Mutiu Adepoju on the scoring sheet.
Gangling Yekini also bagged a brace in Nigeria’s 2-0 win over Zaire in the quarter-finals and a goal against Cote d’Ivoire in the semi-finals.
The former Shooting Stars striker gave in to depression in the latter days of his life, although his death is still a mystery to many that were close to him.
Siasia is regarded as one of the most skillful strikers of the golden generation, even though he failed to score a goal in the competition.
Siasia had a successful career as a coach leading Nigeria to silver in the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup. He went on to lead the Dream Team to another silver in the 2008 Olympics.
The former Nantes and Lokeren striker is currently out of coaching after FIFA banned him for alleged match-fixing.
He was also one of the fringe players that Nigeria paraded at the Tunisia 94 AFCON.
Victor Ikpeba [PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]Ikpeba was a part of the Nigeria Dream Team that won Olympic gold in Atlanta 96. A discovery from Nigeria’s youth system, he had stints in Belgium with Standard Liege, Monaco where he was at his most prolific and won Africa’s best player award in 1997.
He now works as football pundit with Super Sports.
Oliseh played a vital role in ensuring that Nigeria emerged as African champions in Tunisia 94.
Sunday Oliseh [PHOTO CREDIT: Goal.com]His combative style of football paved way for the likes of Okocha and Mutiu Adepoju to attack without restraint.
The former Juventus and Ajax midfielder had a successful coaching career with Fortuna Sittard FC before coming over to manage Super Eagles in 2015. He is a member of FIFA’s technical team and also works as a soccer pundit.
Uche Okafor (Late)
The former Michelin FC and Hannover 96 defender combined well with Uche Okechukwu at the heart of the Eagles defence. Kizito was not as flambouyant as other members of that team and kept a low profile.
Okafor went into coaching in Texas after retirement and died in 2011.