Super Eagles must defeat Iran, and this is why

Super Eagles must defeat Iran, and this is why
June 16
10:06 2014

The journey to a fruitful outing at a major tournament, like the World Cup, starts with a victory in your first game.

At the 2010 edition, Spain turned this statement on its head after losing to Switzerland in their opening match and still emerged champions at the end. A team that could afford playing without an out-and-out striker and still score goals is not an ordinary team. But there’s more to it. We will come back to that later.

TheCable dusts its books on the World Cup to examine at the first matches Nigeria played in the tournament from their debut in USA ’94 to their fourth appearance at South Africa in 2010, and the implication of making a good first impression.

1994USA ‘94

First game

Nigeria                 3–0 Bulgaria

June 21, 1994

Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Attendance: 44,132

Referee: Rodrigo Badilla (Costa Rica)


Yekini 21′: Yekini taps in at near post from a deep Finidi George pass across the face of goal

Amokachi 43′: Amokachi wins a duel inside the Bulgarian box, pushes the ball beyond goalkeeper Mikhalov and hooks home a left-foot shot.

Amuneke 55′: Amuneke arrives in time on the left to connect a flying header to Finidi’s right wing cross


Nigeria: Rufai, Nwanu, Eguavoen, Okechukwu, Iroha, George (Ezeugo, 76), Siasia (Adepoju, 68), Oliseh, Amuneke, Yekini, Amokachi.

Bulgaria: Mikhalov, Kremeniliev, Hubchev, Ivanov, Tzveranov, Yankvv, Borimov (Yordanov, 72), Letchkov (Sirakov, 58), Balakov, Kostadinov, Stoichkov


It was a challenge for my boys. I told them it was Showtime. We came to show people we can play football in Africa. We are champions of Africa. We must play like that — Clemens Westerhof.

We dominated the game. Our goalkeeper made saves early in the game. We will give him a big champagne for that — Daniel Amokachi.

Final Table

NIGERIA 3 2 0 1 6 2 +4 6
BULGARIA 3 2 0 1 6 3 +3 6
ARGENTINA 3 2 0 1 6 3 +3 6
GREECE 3 0 0 3 0 10 -10 0

Fate of the victor: Nigeria topped the group but were eliminated in the second round after a 1-2 loss to Italy.

Fate of the victim: The Bulgarians also surprised many. Their fortunes changed in the aftermath of the 3–0 defeat by Nigeria in their first game. They finished fourth in the tournament!

Post mortem

The Super Eagles not only qualified for the World Cup for the first time, they played so marvelously at the finals that they became the darling of the fans who voted them as the second most-entertaining team of the tournament, behind the champions, Brazil.

The Super Eagles also finished in a respectable 9th position among the 24 teams at the finals. For a first-timer at the apex of world football, the Eagles’ performance in America was highly remarkable. At last, Nigeria had translated its success at the youth level to success at the senior level. Truly, truly, the Eagles had landed!

Complete Football, July-Sept. ’94


1998France ’98

First game

Nigeria 3–2 Spain

June 3, 1998

Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes

Attendance: 33,257

Referee: Esfandiar Baharmast (United States)


Hierro 20′: Curls a free-kick round the Nigerian box as Rufai stands rooted to the ground

Adepoju 24′: Lawal floats a well-taken kick into the Spanish area and Adepoju beat the defenders and goalkeeper Zubizaretta to the ball, nodding into the net

Raúl 46′: Hierro flicks a long pass into the Nigerian box finding Raul, who closes in on Rufai and shoots past the hapless keeper

Lawal 72′: Lawal evades a Spanish defender and what seemed like a return cross to Yekini was guided into his own goal by Zubizarreta

Oliseh 77′: A hasty clearance in the Spanish area saw the ball in Oliseh’s possession and he unleashed a thunderous swerving half volley into the net


Nigeria: Rufai, Oparaku (Yekini, 69), West, Uche, Babayaro, Oliseh, Finidi, Adepoju, Ikpeba, Okocha, Lawal (Okpara, 90)

Spain: Zubizaretta, Ferrer (Amor, 45), Alkorta, Sergi, Campo, Nadal (Celades, 77), Hierro, Enrique, Raul, Alfonso, Kiko (Etxeberria, 57)


I’m just so happy. It is difficult for an African nation to reach this level and there has been a lot of turmoil. We wanted to win for the 104 million Nigerian people. We deserved the win and they deserved to enjoy it — Sunday Oliseh.

The rest of the players did very well in my absence. I am okay if asked to sit on the bench against Bulgaria in the next game because honestly a winning team should not be changed — Daniel Amokachi.

Final Table    

NIGERIA 3 2 0 1 5 5 0 6
PARAGUAY 3 1 2 0 3 1 +2 5
SPAIN 3 1 1 1 8 4 +4 4
BULGARIA 3 0 1 2 1 7 -6 1


Fate of the victor: Eagles topped the group but got eliminated in the second round after losing 4-1 to Denmark.

Fate of the victim: Spain didn’t recover from that defeat, as they finished third despite beating Bulgaria 6-1 in the last game.

Post mortem

France ’98 offered the Super Eagles a brilliant opportunity to write an amazing story in World Cup history. One of heroic deeds, gallantry, valour, epic conquests, not by the usual traditional World Cup heroes the world expected, but feats accomplished by players who only weeks before the tournament kicked off were the laughing stock of the football world and had been written off by most Nigerians.

Sadly, there was no happy ending to Nigeria’s France ’98 adventure, as the Super Eagles forgot all about making history and settled instead for making money. Bora Milutinovic’s reputation as a World Cup coach came under doubt. The hero status the players had achieved after the surprise win over Spain was traded for villainy, following their humiliating loss to Denmark. When history of Nigeria’s participation at France ’98 is written, it will not end with a tale of an epic conquest but one of failure.

Complete Football, July ’98


2002Korea/Japan 2002

First game

Argentina            1–0         Nigeria

June 2, 2002

Kashima Soccer Stadium, Ibaraki

Attendance: 34,050

Referee: Gilles Veissiere (France)


Batistuta 63′: Veron sends a left-wing corner to the far post where Batistuta climbs above his own player Pochettino to head into the net from a very tight angle


Argentina: Cavallero, Placente, Sorin, Pochettino, Samuel, Zanetti, Simeone, Veron (Aimar, 78), Ortega, Lopez (Gonzalez, 45), Batistuta (Crespo, 81).

Nigeria: Shorounmu, Yobo, Babayaro, Okoronkwo, West, Sodje (Christopher, 73), Ogbeche, Okocha, Lawal, Kanu (Ikedia, 48), Aghahowa.


Perhaps a win today could have made the players feel complacent…now we know we have to win the next two games to dream of going further — Adegboye Onigbinde.

We had great potentials but something went wrong, which I really don’t understand — Joseph Yobo.         

Final table



SWEDEN 3 1 2 0 4 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 1 2 0 2 1 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 1 1 1 2 2 0 4
NIGERIA 3 0 1 2 1 3 -2 1

Fate of the victor: Argentina couldn’t build up on the win. They lost 1-0 to England in the next game. A draw with Sweden in the last condemned them to third position.

Fate of the victim:  Super Eagles were not yet in superb form after losing again to Sweden 2-1, which sealed their elimination. A 1-1 draw with the already-qualified England was scarcely a consolation.

Post mortem

Six months before the commencement of the World Cup when the draws for the championship were made in Busan, South Korea, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were easily dismissed and regarded as the whipping boys in a difficult group which pundits described as ‘Group of Death’ featuring Argentina, England, and Sweden.

Led by 64-year-old FIFA instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde, Nigeria, renowned for their shoddy preparations before major sporting events, however began to ruffle some feathers, posting impressive pre-tournament friendly matches results. The cookies duly bust in the Mundial proper.

Complete Football, July 2002

Beset by poor preparation and with new caps who failed to gel, they never found their attacking stride after the opening loss to Argentina. Defeat by Sweden meant that the final game against England was academic. Injury to Nwankwo Kanu didn’t help, but Julius Aghahowa did his transfer-market value no harm.

World Soccer, July 2002


2010South Africa 2010

First game

Argentina            1–0         Nigeria

June 12, 2010

Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg

Attendance: 55,686

Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)


Heinze 6′: Veron sends a corner close to the penalty spot and Heinze, making a late run, launches himself to power the ball with his head into the top corner


Argentina: Romero, Gutierrez, Demichelis, Samuel, Heinze, Veron (Rodriguez, 74), Mascherano, Di Maria (Burdisso, 85), Messi, Higuain (Milito, 79), Tevez.

Nigeria: Enyeama, Odiah, Yobo, Shittu, Taiwo (Uche, 74), Kaita, Etuhu, Haruna, Obinna (Martins, 52), Yakubu, Obasi (Odemwingie, 60).


I am a little disappointed with the result although I am proud at how my players performed. Unfortunately, we made an error that led to the corner they scored from, and at this level if you lose your concentration for a second you pay for it. That’s exactly what happened. If we hadn’t made that mistake, we might have come away with a draw — Lar Lagerback.

World Cup is the biggest stage and at a big stage like this, you make a little mistake and you get punished. That’s why the World Cup is special — Joseph Yobo.

Final table

ARGENTINA 3 3 0 0 7 1 +6 9
SOUTH KOREA 3 1 1 1 5 6 +1 4
GREECE 3 1 0 2 2 5 -3 3
NIGERIA 3 0 1 2 3 5 -2 1


Fate of the victor: Argentina made it to the quarter finals where they lost to Germany 4-0.

Fate of the victim:  The Super Eagles lost to Greece in their next game and drew their last one with South Korea.

Post mortem

Nigeria’s exit could only be laid at their own door. They threw away leads against both Greece and South Korea. Sani Keita’s foolish expulsion proved a turning point against the Greeks, while things could have been very different against South Korea but for Yakubu’s howler of a miss. There was also discontent in the camp, with Peter Odemwingie left out against South Korea after criticising coach Lars Lagerback.

World Soccer, July 2010


Implications as Eagles’ face Iran on Monday

It is obvious that there is no sense in looking beyond the first game because statistically, using the four games above, the chances of the Super Eagles advancing beyond the group stage is the ability to get three points or a point from their first game.

Bulgaria in 1994, like Spain in 2010, lost their first game yet made it to the second round because the group had a whipping boy in Greece who were there to make up the numbers. In three games, the Greeks conceded 10 goals without scoring one.

Let’s go back to Spain in 2010 and their Group H matches.

Honduras            0–1         Chile

Spain     0–1           Switzerland

Chile      1–0           Switzerland

Spain     2–0         Honduras

Chile      1–2         Spain

Switzerland        0–0         Honduras

SPAIN 3 2 0 1 4 2 +2 6
CHILE 3 2 0 1 3 2 +1 6
SWITZERLAND 3 1 1 1 1 1 0 4
HONDURAS 3 0 1 2 0 3 -3 1


The Spaniards enjoyed the luck of the draws here. Had Switzerland faced we-are-here-to-make-the-number-side, Honduras, in their second game and not Chile, Spain would most likely have gone out in the first round.

So much for Spain.

For the Super Eagles, experience should be the best teacher and if success depends on history repeating itself, Nigeria will win their first game because they are not playing Argentina.

However, if they manage to lose, their World Cup might already be over, because Nigeria has never survived the group stages after losing the opening match.

Iran, in 2014, may well be the Greece of 1994.

Go ahead Eagles, and let’s have a good post mortem after Brazil!



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1 Comment

  1. Dr. Boniface Chizea
    Dr. Boniface Chizea June 16, 13:43

    It would be good to start on a high note. And in this case it is imperative we do so if we are going to make any good impression at the tournament particularly as we are up against Iran which is supposedly the weakest team in the group. But even if the contrary is the case we must not let our head down because in football you never can tell!

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