Nigeria broke the World Cup jinx in 1994, when she finally qualified for the biggest footballing event on planet earth.
This was after several futile attempts, by the then Green Eagles to grab the elusive ticket. The closest attempt was in 1978, when an unfortunate own goal by defender Godwin Odiye in a qualifying match against Tunisia, sent Nigeria crashing out of the race to represent Africa at the 1978 Mon-dial.
The team had before then, secured a 0-0 draw against the Cartage Eagles of Tunisia in Tunis, and all they needed was a win, to secure her first ever ticket. That was not to be, as they were given the shock of their life, when dependable defender- Godwin Odiye, headed in an own goal into his own net.
Subsequent efforts by the Eagles to qualify for the 1982 Mon-dial hosted by Spain, did not yield any positive result, as they were denied the lone ticket by the desert Warriors of Algeria, who defeated the Green Eagles at their own backyard 2-0 and capped it with a 2-1 defeat in far away Algiers, thus ending Nigeria World Cup dream.
In 1986, the National team once again failed to qualify for the Global fiesta, which was hosted by Mexico. They once again fell to the superior powers of the North Africans. This time around, it was the same Tunisians which denied the Eagles the precious ticket eight years ago, that once again inflicted a 2-0 defeat on the Green Eagles in Tunis, to put a stop to their World Cup ambition. The story was not different in 1990, as the Super Eagles were dealt a serious blow, by close neighbors Cameroon.
Needing at least a draw in their last group match, the Super Eagles were beaten 1-0 by their perennial rival Cameroon. The Italia 1990 qualifier would be best remembered for claiming the life of Nigeria’s enterprising midfielder Samuel Okwaraji, who died in the World Cup clash with Palancas Negras of Angola on August 12th 1989 at the National stadium Lagos.
Nigeria eventually announced her arrival at Football biggest stage, the World Cup in 1994, when she reached the world cup for the first time, after many previous unsuccessful attempts. They started their journey to their very first World Cup outing, with a 4-0 trouncing of Bafana Bafana of South Africa in their first World Cup qualifying match.
They however suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat in the hands of Congo in their second World Cup qualifying match. In the return leg of their encounter with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa tagged “the battle of Johannesburg”, the Eagles braved the high altitude to record an impressive barren draw before a packed crowd at the Johannesburg Soccer City.
Nigeria scaled through to the group stage with an emphatic 2-0 victory over Congo, in the last match of the first phase of the qualifiers.
Paired in group A alongside Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria, Nigeria began her World Cup final journey on a shaky note, as they suffered a 2-1 defeat in the hands of Cote d’Ivoire, in an away fixture, before restoring some hope of qualification with a resounding 4-1 defeat of Algeria. The flood gate of goals was opened by a certain Austin Okocha, who mesmerized the Algerians with some wonderful dribbling skills and capped his brilliant performance with a stunning goal scored from a free kick. Cote d’Ivoire were the next to fall, and they went home empty after suffering a 4-1 defeat in the hands of the rampaging Super Eagles.
It was a fairy tale adventure, and one match was standing in between Nigeria, and a World Cup ticket. In the battle of Algiers, the National Senior team needed either a Win or at least a draw to seal a World Cup ticket.
Before a vociferous and hostile crowd at Algiers, the Super Eagles got the result they needed when Finidi George equalized for Nigeria after the Algerians had taken the lead, to force the Desert Warriors of Algeria to a 1-1 draw.
It was a historic result, as Nigeria booked her ticket to appear at the World biggest football fiesta for the very fist time. All over Nigeria, there was celebration, and the entire country was united in her moment of ecstasy.