Ok. Let’s talk Nigerian unity.
Let’s focus on something outside killings, kidnappings, bandits, herdsmen, Boko Haram and all sundry evil matters.
Nothing unites Nigerians like football, and it is cool by me to preach unity across the land by playing up the beautiful game.
It thrills me no end that Nigeria nearly won the coveted FIFA World Cup the first time of competing.
I do know, as they say, that “nearly cannot kill a bird”, but being near is far better than being far.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria made an unforgettable World Cup debut with characteristic swagger.
The first goal plays before my very eyes in the present tense.
Following a pass from bull-like attacker Daniel Amokachi, fleet-footed Finidi George speeds down the right wing in the 22nd minute and magically puts a low cross that danger-man Rashidi Yekini taps into the Bulgarian for Nigeria’s first-ever goal in World Cup history.
Yekini runs into the goal, shakes the net maniacally with upraised hands and utters words that nobody has thus far been able to decode.
Yekini’s celebration of that epochal goal got listed amongst the most iconic celebrations of goals in the history of the World Cup.
This happened in 1994 AD.
Incidentally Nigeria made her first appearance in the FIFA World Cup in the year that the fiesta was staged for the very first time in the United States of America.
The Super Eagles made the grand entry into America as the champions of Africa, having won the coveted African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in February 1994.
In April 1994, the Super Eagles was ranked 5th in FIFA’s World Rankings, the highest ranking ever achieved by an African national football team.
From June 17 to July 17, 1994, the 15th edition of the FIFA World Cup took place in nine cities across the United States, a nation where soccer had not hitherto been a popular sport.
Before the hosting of the World Cup by the US, no other FIFA World Cup had exceeded 53,000 spectators in average attendance, yet the Americans produced an eye-popping average attendance of 69,000 spectators.
In the end, the total attendance of nearly 3.6 million for the final tournament broke the record for the highest spectatorship in World Cup history.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria made their historic debut at the FIFA World Cup on June 21, 1994 at the Cotton Bowl Stadium, Chicago in an epic match against the Hristo Stoichkov-inspired Bulgaria.
The game opened up after a cagey start when the Bulgarian skipper Stochkov hammered a free-kick into the Nigerian net, but his jubilation was cut short because the referee had spotted an infringement.
Then in the sweeping move highlighted at the beginning, Finidi George fed Rashidi Yekini to score Nigeria’s historic World Cup debut goal.
Daniel Amokachi scored Nigeria’s second goal just before halftime and Emmanuel Amunike put the match to bed in the second-half with the last goal of a resounding 3-0 victory.
The Super Eagles then squared up with Argentina, complete with Diego Maradona on June 25 at the Foxboro Stadium, Massachusetts. Samson Siasia gave Nigeria an early 8th minute lead which was eventually overtaken by two strikes from Claudia Caniggia.
The 2-1 victory of Argentina over Nigeria was marred by news that Argentine legend Maradona had failed a drugs test.
At Foxboro Stadium on June 30, the Super Eagles defeated Greece 2-0, with goals coming from Finidi George and Daniel Amokachi.
The epic clash of Nigeria and Italy in the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup took place at Foxboro Stadium on July 5.
The Super Eagles took the lead in 25 minutes with a goal from Emmanuel Amunike.
The Italians, relying on cynical tactics, injured Daniel Amokachi who had to be replaced by Mutiu Adepoju in the first-half and goal-scorer Amunike who was replaced by Thompson Oliha in the second-half.
Italy’s Gianfranco Zola was given a red card in the 75th minute.
The Super Eagles were within two minutes of wrapping-up a historic victory when Roberto Baggio exploited a strange loss of concentration by Nigeria to score the equalizer. Baggio then scored the match-winning goal in the 102nd minute of extra-time.
It was the most heartbreaking of losses.
Bulgaria that Nigeria had beaten 3-0 eventually got to the semi-finals of the competition while Italy that only managed to survive a Nigerian humiliation ended up losing to Brazil via the lottery of a penalty shootout in the final match.
The World Cup could well have been won by the Super Eagles.
In the end, Nigeria was adjudged the most entertaining team of the 1994 FIFA World Cup.