Nigeria

Nigeria

  • Capital: Abuja
  • Official Languages: English
  • National Languages: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba
  • Nicknames: Super Eagles [men’s]; Super Falcons [female’s]
  • Association: Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)
  • FIFA Code: NGA

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (1994, 1998 & 2014)
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Quarter-Finals (1999)
  • Best AFCON/CAN Result (Men): WINNERS (1980, 1994 & 2013)
  • Best AFCON/CAN Result (Women): WINNERS (11 times)
  • Best CHAN Result (Men): Finalists (2018)
  • Best WAFU Nations Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (2010)
  • Best WAFU Zone B Cup Result (Women): WINNERS (2019)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 5th (April 1994)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 23rd (July 2003)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 82nd (November 1999)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 39th (December 2018)
  • Most Capped Players: Vincent Enyeama, Joseph Yobo & Maureen Mmadu – 101 caps
  • Top Scorer: Perpetua Nkwocha – 80 goals

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the powerhouse of Africa, being the most populous country and having the largest economy on the continent, with its former capital Lagos being one of the largest cities on Earth. Situated in western Africa, it has land borders with four other countries; Benin to its west, Niger to the north, Chad to its northeast, and Cameroon to the east, with the Gulf of Guinea running along its southern coast. As the country was originally part of the British Empire, football was brought to the region by the colonists, with evidence of “Proposed Football Association” for Nigeria being as early as 1933, although it is officially considered the current NFF was founded later in 1945. Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, and joined FIFA in the same year, although they had joined CAF in the previous year.

As well as being an economic ‘powerhouse’, they are also considered a ‘football powerhouse’ in African football. The Super Eagles have won the Africa Cup of Nations on three occasions, first winning it in 1980 as hosts, followed up by their second in 1994, and their most recent victory coming in 2013, whilst finishing as finalists on another four occasions, and earning a third-place finish a further eight times – most recently in the 2019 AFCON tournament. Nigerian football didn’t flourish on the international scene until the early 1990s when an incredibly talented generation of players progressed into the national squad. They qualified for their very first World Cup in 1994, where they excited international supporters, before confirming their ‘golden era’ by winning the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics tournament, beating a star-laden, talented Brazil side on route to the medal.

Since their first World Cup in 1994, the Nigerians have participated in every World Cup (bar failing to qualify for the 2006 tournament in Germany) and have reached the Last 16 stage on three occasions, most recently achieving that feat in 2014. In the 2018 World Cup, they were incredibly unfortunate not to progress beyond the group stage after conceding a 86th minute winner against regular opponents Argentina in the final group game, however it would prove to be a bad tournament for African football overall with no African teams progressing to the knockout round.

Nonetheless, the Nigerian team looks to be one of the most exciting teams in international football once again and verging on the cusp on a second ‘golden era’. With a vast array of talented young players, playing regularly at some of Europe’s top sides, progressing into the national team, and the Super Eagles qualifying for the 2021/22 AFCON undefeated in their group, they will certainly be considered one of the strong favourites to lift the continental title in February 2022. In addition, having been drawn in a qualifying group alongside Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, and Liberia, they will be strong favourites to progress as group winners and eventually qualify for their seventh World Cup.

Talking about a side who have won three Africa Cup of Nations titles and are currently one of the most potentially exciting-looking teams in international football, we interviewed the excellent Nigeria Football Weekly. They are a superb account who reports on all things involving Nigerian football, whether it is domestically and its national leagues, Nigerian players playing in overseas leagues, or on the Super Eagles national team. To find their social media accounts and YouTube account, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Jay-Jay Okocha

Big respect to our all time men’s top goal scorer Rashidi Yekini, John Mikel Obi, and Nwankwo Kanu who’s the second greatest in my opinion, but Nigeria’s greatest Super Eagle has to be Jay-Jay Okocha who starred for Eintracht Frankfurt, PSG, Fenerbahce, and Bolton Wanderers with his one of a kind array of skills and tricks delighting crowds all over the world in his iconic number 10 jersey including the 1993 iconic Bundesliga Goal of the Season against Oliver Kahn while playing for Frankfurt. On the international stage was where he truly shone as he was part of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations winning side before starring in Nigeria’s debut World Cup in USA ’94 alongside Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, and Stephen Keshi where the Super Eagles won 3-0 in their debut match against eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria before narrowly losing 2-1 after extra time to eventual finalists Italy in the Round of 16 after the Azzurri equalised in the 89th minute. He was then part of the Atlanta ’96 Olympics football gold medal winning team alongside Nwankwo Kanu before they both also played in the France ’98 World Cup where the Super Eagles surprisingly lost 4-1 to Denmark in the Round of 16 after beating Spain 3-2 in the group stage. Jay-Jay also scored a great goal to equalise in the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final against Cameroon after the Super Eagles went down 2-0 on home soil before ultimately losing on penalties although Jay-Jay would get his revenge four years later by scoring in the 2004 AFCON Quarter Final against the same opponent in a 2-1 victory. Jay-Jay Okocha has an ‘Icon card’ on the FIFA games, and you can still easily find Jay-Jay Okocha Nigeria merchandise online today, which pretty much says it all when it comes to the man who was “so good that they named him twice“.

Stephen Keshi

The best Nigerian manager has to be Stephen Keshi aka ‘The Boss‘ who won the Africa Cup of Nations as captain in 1994 before leading the Super Eagles to victory as manager in the 2013 edition of the tournament. The pressure on the Super Eagles to win the AFCON tournament is generally constant and similar to what the English press expect from their team at every tournament, and prior to the 2013 tournament in South Africa, the Super Eagles had finished in 3rd place in three of the previous four editions of the tournament while also failing to win it since the ’94 edition where Stephen Keshi was the captain. We also beat our West African rivals Ivory Coast led by Didier Drogba in the quarter-finals en route to winning the tournament, with Victor Moses, and Emmanuel Emenike starring in attack for the side marshalled by Joseph Yobo in defence, and John Obi Mikel dominating the midfield alongside home-based Super Eagle Sunday Mba who scored the winner in a 1-0 victory against Burkina Faso. Stephen Keshi then followed this up by taking the Super Eagles to the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where we lost 2-0 to France after beating Bosnia & Herzegovina in the group stage and losing by a single goal to Argentina as we tend to do in every World Cup. He sadly passed away in June 2016 after he had a heart attack unfortunately, but he is revered in Nigeria in a way no other manager is.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

Kelechi Ịheanachọ

The current number 1 cult hero has to be ‘Senior ManKelechi Ịheanachọ who has always showed glimpses of his full potential when playing for the Super Eagles following his breakthrough debut campaign with Manchester City in 2016 but is now finally establishing himself as a lethal marksman in England with 17 goals for the season so far [for Leicester City] in all competitions and he’s just generally well liked by all Nigerians for his bubbly character. It’s safe to say we expect big things from him going forward as he continues to fly the flag for Nigeria starting with the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.

Julius Aghahowa

One particular cult hero for the Super Eagles was Julius Aghahowa who was a super striker who made his national team debut at 18 in the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations and scored 12 goals in his first 19 caps between 2000-2002. He had a particular knack of scoring important goals for the national team including an extra time winner in the quarter final of the same competition before scoring the only goal for Nigeria at the dismal 2002 World Cup campaign. He was also very well known for his signature multiple backflip celebration like Lomana Lua Lua used to do for Portsmouth in the English Premier League.

Sunday Mba

Sunday Mba, who was a home-based central midfielder amassed 21 caps for the Super Eagles but is virtually unknown outside Nigeria and even amongst a section of casual Nigerian football fans but he lays claim to the most important Super Eagles goal of the past 25 years because he scored the winning goal of Nigeria’s 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign against Burkina Faso so that gives him automatic cult hero status

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Nigeria national side currently?

Wilfred Ndidi

Wilfred Ndidi! Since being signed to replace N’golo Kante in 2017 by Leicester City from Genk, he has become one of the best defensive midfielders in the English Premier League and European football in general; consistently finishing 1st or 2nd in the tackles and interceptions charts in the Premier League over the past 3 seasons. His game has also noticeably become more well-rounded since Brendan Rodgers took over at Leicester and it gives me immense pride to hear top pundits and fans rave about how good and underrated Ndidi is. He should get a chance to showcase his ability to an even bigger audience in the Champions League next season and I personally expect one of the so-called ‘Big Six‘ to sign him either this summer or next summer.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

The current status of the national team is good but there is room to fulfil the team’s huge potential considering how talented the squad is; particularly in attacking positions. We are currently ranked 3rd in Africa and 32nd in the FIFA World Rankings but in all honesty I believe this team should be consistently ranking in the top 20 with the population, obsession for football, and prominence of youngsters in the current team in Africa.

The Super Eagles finished 3rd in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after Riyad Mahrez scored a last-minute free-kick to knock us out in the semis so the only acceptable progression would be winning or at the very least making the final of the next Africa Cup of Nations, which will be hosted by Cameroon in January 2022. Since winning our 2nd tournament in 1994, Nigeria have entered 8 editions of the tournament and finished 3rd on five occasions while only making the final twice including the 2013 win versus Burkina Faso and the 2000 final loss to Cameroon on home soil, so the tournament provides a perfect opportunity to exact ‘sweet revenge’ on Cameroon’s home turf and to end Nigeria’s worrying habit of losing semi-finals in the tournament.

On the world stage, the team’s goal has to be reaching the Quarter Finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, especially after being 10 minutes away from making the 2nd round in the 2018 World Cup before Marcos Rojo’s winner for Argentina to break Nigerian fans’ hearts. We have a generally decent World Cup record having qualified for the 2nd Round in 3 of our 6 appearances at the tournament but breaking the 2nd round ceiling has to be the priority for taking the national team to the next level and enhancing our reputation on the world stage (thankfully also being helped by our unbelievably good Nike kits). I also believe for African countries to gain the respect of the world, we need to improve on the overall dismal showing of no team from the continent progressing from the group stage of the 2018 World Cup and Nigeria (alongside Algeria and Senegal) are perfectly positioned to lead the push with Osimhen, Ịheanachọ, Ndidi, Zaidu, and Chukwueze all starring for top sides in Europe while all being on the right side of 20 age wise, so there is renewed hope going into the next decade.

Q. Are there any Nigerian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Kelechi Ịheanachọ is unbelievably still just 25-years-old and has finally seen his career explode this season with 17 goals in all competitions for Leicester City this season including 12 since the start of March. Couple that with him being named Premier League Player of the Month for March and scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup semi-final and the sky is the limit as his confidence must be through the roof. He also looks a much more well-rounded player who is as good as any striker in Europe at the minute so his potential is frightening

Victor Osimhen

Victor Osimhen, who’s the 22-year-old record signing of Napoli and was Nigeria’s top goalscorer in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, which was recently concluded is another one to watch. He is another previous U-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner (He won it in 2015 and Kelechi Ịheanachọ did in 2013) and he exploded into wider European football consciousness last season after scoring 18 goals in 38 apperances for Lille in their Covid-19 shortened season in Ligue 1 before Napoli splashed the cash last summer to sign him for a club-record fee of €70 million potentially rising to €80 million with add-ons. His Napoli career initially went off to a slow start due to injury and a bout with Covid-19, but he is finally fulfilling his potential in 2021 as he’s scored 4 goals in his last 6 games for Napoli, and 7 in an all competitions so far. With Napoli also looking likely to qualify for next year’s Champions League, it’s safe to say I think he will be well-known in all footballing circles by 2022 and a Ịheanachọ/Osimhen partnership will be up there with the very best by the 2022 World Cup

Samuel Chukwueze

Samuel Chukwueze is an exciting pacy and skilful 21-year-old winger for Villareal who is one of the most promising young wingers in Europe’s top 5 leagues, and I expect him to be more well-known after facing Arsenal in the Europa League semi-final. He was part of the U-17 World Cup winning squad alongside Victor Osimhen and they’ve forged a strong bond both on the pitch for the Super Eagles and also off the pitch as they are really good mates. In terms of his playing style, his pace and close-control make him an absolute nightmare for defenders and he has finally started to add more end product to his game in April, with him scoring 3 goals in 7 games and he’ll be expected to continue to significantly improve at just 21.

Terem Moffi

Terem Moffi is a 21-year-old striker playing for Lorient in Ligue 1 and he’s currently the 5th top scorer in the division with 14 goals in 28 games for the relegation threatened club, including 6 in their past 3 games, so he could conceivably get close to 20 Ligue 1 goals in his debut campaign after only signing for the club in October 2020. He is also represented by the same management agency as Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka and as evidenced by the masterstroke in moving him to Lorient, I believe his career is set to explode over the coming seasons so watch out for him and I expect him to make a move in the summer to a more creative team.

Q. Looking at Nigeria’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?

Without being technical, Nigeria’s 4-3 Semi-Final Golden Goal win over a Brazil side that included Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Bebeto, and Dida in the Atlanta ’96 Olympics is the most memorable game in the national team’s history and it cemented Nwankwo Kanu‘s legend in Nigeria forever. The Eagles were down 3-1 but clawed their way back to equalise in the 90th minute courtesy of ‘Papilo‘ (as Kanu is affectionately called) and then he scored the golden goal in the 93rd minute to take Nigeria into the final, so the sheer drama of the game and the opposition being Brazil makes it the most memorable game for Nigerian fans. What makes the victory even more memorable is that Nigeria went on to beat Argentina 2-0 in the final to win the Olympics gold medal and this really consolidated the good work of making the 2nd round of the 1994 USA World Cup two years prior and it really put the Super Eagles on the map globally. I also know it was a huge source of pride for Africans to see a team dominate on the global stage.

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

After making our World Cup debut in 1994, Nigeria have qualified for every World Cup since with the exception of Germany 2006, and as a World Cup obsessed nation, this really felt like the end of the world in October 2005 after we were knocked out of qualifying. The game in question was the 8th game of a 10 game qualification campaign in June 2005 with Nigeria vying for top spot alongside Angola where a head-to-head tiebreaker was to be used ahead of goal difference. Nigeria had lost the reverse fixture 1-0 in Luanda so they needed to better the result at home but drew 1-1 to Angola after conceding a 60th minute equaliser. We won our subsequent final two group games 5-2 away to Algeria and 5-1 at home to Zimbabwe but Angola scored a 79th minute winner in their final match away to Rwanda to go level on 21 points meaning they qualified for the World Cup despite having an inferior goal difference of +6 compared to +14 for Nigeria.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Nigerian national team?

Best thing about being a fan of the national team is knowing that the Super Eagles are the only one true thing that unites all of Nigeria no matter what as a multi-ethnic and multi-religion country. The country almost comes to a standstill for national team games, and with a population of over 200 million people, and a sizeable diaspora population, it means that the national team is also a point of reference for all Nigerians globally which is awesome.

I also love the fact that we always have a great chance of winning the Africa Cup of Nations and we tend to have iconic kits including the 2018 World Cup version, which you can argue has even influenced the rise in experimental away/3rd kits seen all over European and national football since.

The worst part of supporting the national team is the constant unfulfilled potential of talented teams due to either poor coaching, government interference, or NFF administrative issues over the years including outstanding player bonuses for example, which led to players not being able to focus squarely on performing for the national team sometimes. Another evidence is the fact that Nigeria have won the U-17 World Cup a record five times but has never successfully translated that success to the World Cup, which is damning.

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

The Nigeria Supporters Club are renowned for always travelling with a band to home & away games playing rhythmic anthems with horns and one of the most famous sings is a reference to the Brazil match and goes like this “When Nigeria beat Brazil…..When Nigeria beat Brazil oooo….Bebeto come dey cry….When Nigeria beat Brazil

Also whenever the Super Eagles need to score a goal or are significantly dominating a team, the fans start chanting “All we are saying…..give us more goals“.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

The Nigerian home shirts of 1996 Olympics (left), 2018 World Cup (centre), and the current 2020-21 version (right)

The Olympics 96 home kit is the classic kit loved by all generations and is just a beautiful ode to the Nigeria flag, but I have never seen an international kit create a buzz like our 2018 World Cup home kit, which was a global bestseller and smash hit. I even had to go to Nike Town 3 times just to get my hands on a pair and there was a strict purchase limit of 1, crazy! so the 2018 World Cup kit is a favourite.

Also check out our current 2021 kit which is pretty beautiful.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Nigerian national team?

2021 is all about the World Cup qualifiers, which kick off in June and we will be expected to make the World Cup in Qatar next year. We’ve been drawn in a group alongside Cape Verde, Central Africa Republic, and Liberia before the group winners from the 10 groups face-off in a two-legged tie. With all due respect to our opponents, we should be qualifying from our group and as one of the top 5 ranked African teams, we should be drawn against one of the 5 lower-ranked group winners, which should hopefully make qualifying just a little bit easier

Ebere Eze

And then 2022 will be the biggest year for the Super Eagles in recent history in my opinion with very high expectations set for the team when you consider the talent level in the squad and the possibility of the likes of Michael Olise [19-year-old attacking midfielder/winger with English Championship side Reading, who was born in England and has been capped for France’s U18s, but can qualify for Nigeria via his father as well as Algeria via his French-Algerian mother] or Ebere Eze [22-year-old Greenwich-born forward currently with Crystal Palace who has been capped for England U20s and U21s but has Nigerian parents] joining the fold. With the Africa Cup of Nations in January and the World Cup starting in November, the aim has to be to win the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon and to make the World Cup Quarter Finals in Qatar while pushing our World Ranking into the top 20 and remaining there on a consistent basis.

I also hope the Nigeria Football Federation learn to provide high quality content and highlights packages via their social media and YouTube channels as well as their European, South American, and North American national team counterparts, which will help foster the sense of pride in the national team and deeper knowledge of the players.

A massive thank you very much to the superb Olu from Nigeria Football Weekly for answering our questions on the Super Eagles. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts and podcast in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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