Nigeria may not be the most successful footballing nation in the world, but it has produced many outstanding players in five appearances at the World Cup since 1994.
There are some players who have made their marks as far as Nigeria’s participation in the World Cup is concerned.
Nigeria will be appearing at the finals for the sixth times at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.
From Rashidi Yekini to Jay-Jay Okocha, here are five players that have made Nigeria’s outing in the World Cup memorable.
Rashidi Yekini’s incredible feat, where he notched up a record 37 goals in 58 appearances for the Super Eagles remains a tough act to follow even up to this day.
The now deceased legend had announced himself on the world stage with his historic inside –the-net celebration at the USA ‘94 World Cup after he scored the first goal for the Eagles against Bulgaria in their opening group D match.
Nigeria would go on to win that game 3-0 with Yekini the main threat in the Nigerian forward line.
The imposing striker’s World Cup goal climaxed an incredible run of form which saw him scoring more than half of Nigeria’s goals en route to her first qualification for the Mundial.
This was aside from being the top scorer at the Tunisia ’94 African Nations Cup a few months earlier.
Yekini may not have recorded his name for Nigeria on the scorer sheet for Nigeria at France ’98, but he had done enough to etch his name in the folklore of Nigeria’s greatest World Cup performers as his record remains unbeaten till this day.
It is the considered opinion of many football fans that Austin Jay-Jay Okocha did not fully maximize his abundant football talent considering the depth of his flair for the round leather game.
The midfielder on account of what he could do with the ball was easily the cynosure of all eyes each time the Super Eagles took to the field.
Jay-Jay, as he was fondly called by fans, was not the average footballer who played mechanically. Jay-Jay was the player that loved to entertain.
The essential hallmarks of his game were his showboating, dribbling feints and thunderous shots as Okocha matured in the game, he perfected the art of scoring world-class goals from free kicks at the country or club level, from very difficult situations.
Examples were the pile driver of a shot he fired against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the National Stadium in the final of the Ghana/Nigeria 2000 African Nation Cup final.
The Super Eagles had been trailing 1-0 after Patrick Mboma beat Ike Shorunmu in goal before Okocha came in to snatch the equalizer immediately after the game resumed for the second half.
And it was his telepathic pass that primed John Utaka for the winning goal against same Cameroon at the quarter-final of the Tunisia 2004 African Nations Cup.
He had been pivotal to Nigeria’s qualification to their first ever World Cup in 1994 as he scored a sensational free kick to level for the Super Eagles against the Desert Foxes of Algeria after trailing 1-0. Nigeria would go ahead to win the game 4-1, courtesy of Okocha’s superlative performance.
In 1994, he was a member of both the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and the World Cup squad who made it to the second round before they lost in a dramatic match against eventual runners-up, Italy.
In the 1998 World Cup, Okocha’s entertaining football skills made him be included in the FIFA World Cup All-Stars
Okocha never won the African Player of Year award, becoming arguably the best player never to win the award despite coming second twice in 1996 and1998. He did, however, win the inaugural BBC African Footballer of the Year and the successive one, becoming the only player to retain the award and win it more than once. In 2004, he was listed in Pele’s FIFA 100 football legends, a list of the greatest 125 living players of all time
Okocha is the fourth Super Eagles player to make three World Cup appearances, in 1994, 1998 and 2002 after Kanu Nwankwo, Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama.
Vincent Enyeama made his World Cup debut in the 2002 FIFA World Cup as a cover for Ike Shorunmu. He made his competitive debut in that tournament, keeping a clean sheet against England in the third group match.
Enyeama made his second FIFA World Cup appearance in the 2010 tournament in South Africa and was named the man of the match on the strength of his heroics in keeping Lionel Messi and co at bay in Nigeria’s first game against Argentina at the tournament.
His performance was even hailed by Argentina coach, Diego Maradona despite their slim 1-0 win over Nigeria. The former Enyimba FC goalie would also post another man of the match performance in their next game against Greece.
In June 2014, Enyeama was named in Nigeria’s squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In the Super Eagles’ first fixture, he kept the second FIFA World Cup clean sheet of his career as Nigeria drew 0–0 with Iran. He repeated that performance with another clean sheet against Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the Eagles picked their only win of the group.
But Nigeria’s safest pair of hands would finally be broken by the Argentines who put three goals past him in their 3–2 victory over Nigeria.
He and Joseph Yobo remain the most capped Nigerian players after over a century of appearances for the Eagles.
Joseph Yobo gatecrashed into the Super Eagles World Cup team following his performance in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship and he got his first senior debut in Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers against Zambia in March 2001.
He is known for his doggedness and knack for organizing the defence line. His first World Cup outing for the Super Eagles saw him providing an assist for Julius Aghahowa to score against Sweden at Korea Japan 2002. Nigeria would end up losing that game to the Swedes 2-1 but not without Yobo proving his mettle as one of the country’s most promising talent at the time.
He returned to the South Africa 2010 World Cup as the team captain following the retirement of Kanu Nwankwo. He would not be lucky to lead the team past the first round as the Super Eagles picked two draws and one loss against teams like Argentina, South Korea and Greece.
Yobo made his third World Cup appearance for the Super Eagles in 2014.
He was a late inclusion in the late Stephen Keshi’s squad for the Mundial.
His presence in the Eagles backline helped to ensure stability as the team were able to hold Iran in their first game as well as beat Bosnia in their second.
He would go on to make his 100th international appearance when he featured as captain for Nigeria against France in the second round at Brazil 2014. That game incidentally marked his last as Nigeria crashed out of the tournament courtesy of a 2-1 loss.
Emmanuel Amunike is the joint Super Eagles highest goal scorer in the FIFA World Cup. The others are Daniel Amokachi, Uche Kalu and Ahmed Musa.
He was part of the first Nigerian players to feature in the World Cup in 1994. He scored against Bulgaria and scored the lone goal that would have seen the Super Eagles defeating Italy but Roberto Baggio’s brace would undo his 26th-minute effort as Nigeria crashed out in her first knock out the match at the Mundial.
He was unable to make it to the 1998 World Cup after a knee injury ruled him out, thus ending his run with the team after just 27 appearances for the country. He retired in 2001.