Ex-Super Eagles recount best Mundial moments

The FIFA World Cup is regarded as the pinnacle for every footballer no wonder some former Nigeria internationals would not forget in a hurry the joy of featuring at previous Mundial often regarded as the biggest sporting event in the world. Reports TUNDE LIADI.

Former Real Madrid midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju is among the first set of Super Eagles players to play at the FIFA World Cup where Nigeria made her debut at the USA 1994 edition.

Adepoju recalled with nostalgia how he felt when he was named among those travelling to the United States for the World Cup, adding all the three World Cups he attended between 1994 and 2002 brought him immense joy.

“I was happy to be among the first set of players to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup,” Adepoju told NationSport. “It was a great experience for me. I still remember all three World Cup editions I attended.

“It is every player’s dream to play at the highest level. The first one I attended in 1994 was one of the greatest experiences we had.

“The 1998 edition was to consolidate on the experience got four years earlier. I participated fully in that one as I played in most of the games.

“I was happy to have represented Nigeria out of the so many players we had,” he added.

Despite making the squad to Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, Adepoju did not get to play any part in the three games the team played and the former Racing Santander midfielder stated he was just happy to have been part of the Super Eagles contingent.

“It was a very tough experience for me not getting to play at all in Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup but I am always happy to represent Nigeria,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 51-year-old revealed that it was unfortunate the Eagles lost the chance to play at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

He said the present Eagles players would feel the heat for not qualifying for the first World Cup in the Middle East knowing that a chance at being there would have boosted their market worth and other inherent positives.

His words: “The present crop of players will miss playing at the highest level which would have improved their market value. Being in the World Cup is unique and is the ambition of every player to be there. Not being in the World Cup this time around will definitely be a hard one for the players in the Super Eagles. They missed a lifetime opportunity. We hope they are still able to get it.

“I wish things are done the right way. We should try and work more on early preparations and youth development programmes should be paramount.”

Similarly, former Super Eagles left-back, Ifeanyi Udeze who played for the senior national team between 2000 and 2005, appeared at the 2002 and 2004 AFCON competitions and the 2002 Korea /Japan World Cup had fond memories.

The former PAOK Salonika of Greece defender expressed joy at being part of the 2002 World Cup but regretted sadness at missing out on the 2006 edition.

So pained was Udeze over the manner of Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup after being denied the ticket by ambitious Angola albeit on the head-to-head rule that he did not stick around for long as he called it to quit with international games after the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers.

“I was thrilled to be part of the 2002 World Cup team with the Super Eagles,” Udeze stated. “We tried to qualify again in 2006 but we lost due to the head-to-head rule. I was devastated because I really wanted to attend my second World Cup finals but it didn’t happen.”

The ex-West Bromwich Albion defender noted that the then Super Eagles players started feeling the effect of their non-qualification about a month or thereabouts before its start and that they deeply regretted the episode that led to their ouster when they discussed it among themselves.

He added that the present Eagles players could not be happy with what has befallen them. However, Udeze said that they can use Nigeria’s absence as a springboard to achieving greater things for the team in the near future.

“When I started feeling it was when it was time for that World Cup. Like three or four weeks to the World Cup we started speaking to ourselves and we felt the heat of not qualifying,” Udeze revealed.  “The present Eagles stars are definitely not happy. They will feel bad. But it is football. You win some and lose some. They just have to keep working hard and ensure they prepare adequately for the coming World Cup.”

Equally, Garba Lawal who took part in two World Cup finals playing five games at France ’98 and Japan/Korea 2002 altogether has shared his World Cup experiences.

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Lawal expressed his gratitude for the ability to play for Nigeria at four AFCON competitions and two World Cup finals racking up 54 appearances and scoring six goals including three at AFCON tournaments as well as two assists.

He said from the first game he played for the Eagles against Kenya in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers until he decided to call it quits in 2007 he had enjoyed every bit of his involvement and won’t love to alter anything from his worthwhile, surreal experience.

The former Roda JC midfielder rued the Eagles’ absence at the 2006 World Cup where he could have joined the list of Nigerian players who attended the world’s soccer fiesta three times but stressed that having the privilege to grace the Mundial at all was enough to last him a lifetime.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime for me to get that privilege to represent my fatherland. It stays with me forever; it was an experience I will like to repeat all over again,” Lawal said.

“I played in two World Cup competitions. It was great getting to go and also to play some games. I was not able to make it three despite being so close. We gave our all to qualify in 2006 but some early mistakes we made later haunted us.”

Lawal, however, faulted the commitment of the current Super Eagles especially in the   2022 World Cup playoffs against the Black Stars of Ghana.

The former Esperance of Tunisia player pointed out that the Super Eagles that faced Ghana in Abuja in the all-important second-leg tie did not display the right attitude nor the Nigerian spirit.

“It is not about just playing the game; you must have the right attitude and character but the Eagles that faced Ghana weren’t ready at all and they didn’t play with the determination to win,” Lawal, who said he watched the tie live in Abuja, stated. “At times you play better but results will fail to come.

“It wasn’t like that on that day in Abuja against Ghana. It was the reason why Nigerians were unhappy with the Eagles after the game.

“When we had a similar experience in the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. We lost to Angola 1-0 in Luanda and in the reverse fixture in Kano we were unable to beat the Palancas Negras and had to settle for a draw.

“We were eliminated based on the head-to-head rule because we proved superior to Angola on goals difference and the number of goals scored. It was better but we couldn’t get the job done at home.”

Former Enyimba and Lille FC Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama attended three World Cup finals and also made 24 appearances in five AFCON competitions with the Super Eagles.

He described his experience at his debut appearance in Japan/Korea in 2002 as very special and that to get the chance to go twice more was something he found difficult to explain.

“I will say it was a massive honour done me to play for the Super Eagles. Right from the start against Kenya in a friendly match in 2002 till my last game, I will say I am blessed and highly honoured,” Enyeama said. “There are so many wonderful experiences and absolutely nothing can pass up for that.

“I enjoyed all that I have achieved as a player and look forward to recalling them with fondness now that I am no longer playing actively.”

Enyeama who played eight games at the World Cup finals and additional three games at the FIFA Confederation Cup in 2013 said it was difficult to fathom how the Eagles failed to nick the World Cup ticket in 2006.

He said just like the Eagles took responsibility for their inability to qualify for Germany’s 2006 World Cup, the current crop of the senior national team should also own up to Nigeria’s inability to bag the Qatar 2022 World Cup ticket.

“We win together and lose together as well. The Eagles must take responsibility for the country’s inability to play in Qatar 2022 World Cup just like we did in 2006 when were eliminated by Angola,” Enyeama enthused.

He added: “It is that time to face the future and keep moving. We cannot continue the blame game because we cannot have another Vincent Enyeama. What I did for Nigeria it is only time that can tell. There is only one Vincent Enyeama and it is not worth it putting the current goalkeepers under pressure.

“They are under tremendous pressure and we must support them. It is painful that we are not going to Qatar for the World Cup.

“The players won’t be able to showcase their talents; it is a huge loss.

“But we must believe in the entire team including the goalkeepers namely Maduka Okoye, Francis Uzoho, Daniel Akpeyi and others so that they can come good,” he posited.

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