I was too young to understand what was happening when the Super Eagles set the world alight at USA ’94. Due to time difference, my parents deemed it too late for me to stay up to watch Nigeria beat Brazil and then Argentina to win Gold at the Olympics in 96. In fact, Nigeria had been banned from the ’96 African Cup of Nations, so France ’98 was my first real experience of watching my country play the game I loved. We had just moved back to Nigeria a year earlier and the level of football hysteria shocked me from the moment I got back.
In the build up to the World Cup, the daily Manchester United and Arsenal arguments were put on hold to support the Super Eagles. The team had not impressed in the friendlies leading up to the tournament and confidence in coach Bora Milutinovic was not high. However, the boys had pulled off miracles before, so we were all hopeful.
Power supply was a constant problem in those days but it never seemed to be an issue when the Super Eagles were playing and thank God for that. Many of us had only read about Raul, Hierro, Zubizaretta and co as not everyone had satellite TV to watch the Champions League. Now we got to see our own gems Ikpeba, Okocha, Kanu and a returning Yekini go up against them.
It didn’t start very well. Right from the first whistle, Spain were all over us. Chance after chance came for the Spaniards and it made us all very nervous. Then came the opening goal. Hierro scored with a calmly dispatched freekick and I feared a drubbing was on the way.
I was wrong. Nigeria stormed back into it with a header by Mutiu Adepoju. Early in the second half Raul scored a sensational volley from a diagonal pass and I lost hope again. The Olympics should have taught me that our boys possessed remarkable skills of recovery. The team attacked with reckless abandon forcing Spanish legend Andoni Zubizaretta into scoring an own goal to tie the game up at 2-2. I looked around at the excitement amongst my family. I was content with a draw but everyone was cheering the team on to get a third. I thought they were crazy. Everyone else around me was having fun, but I was sick with nerves. Then, a few minutes later, up stepped Sunday Oliseh, and I heard the words I’ve never forgotten since:
“Oliseh, oh my word! Nigeria in front for the first time, and how!”
As soon as the hit the back of the net, the apartment building shook with joy. My street erupted in jubilation. We went on to win the match, the Super Eagles of Nigeria defeated the illustrious Spain. My brother and I ran to the window to see what was going on outside. Strangers hugged, drinks were shared, and the dancing began. The game may have been played in France, but the party was definitely in Lagos.