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Nigeria’s AFCON Stories Episode 11 – TUNISIA 1994 By Daniel Amokachi

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Biodata         

FULL NAME: Daniel Amokachi
DATE OF BIRTH: 30th December, 1972
NICKNAME: The Bull
START OF FOOTBALL CAREER: 1989
CLUBSIDES PLAYED FOR: Ranchers Bees, Kaduna; FC Brugge (Belgium); Everton (England); Besiktas (Turkey);Colorado Rapids (USA); Crete (France)
CLUB HONOURS WON: WAFU Cup (1), Belgian League Title (2), Belgian FA Cup (2), Turkish League Title (1), Turkish FA Cup (2), English FA Cup (1).
NATIONAL TEAM HONOURS: 1989 ECOWAS Cup, 1990 Africa Cup of Nations silver medal, 1994 Africa Cup of Nations gold medal, 1995 Afro-Asian Cup, 1996 Olympics
START OF NATIONAL TEAM CAREER: 1989
OPPONENTS (EVENT): Togo (2-0) 1989 ECOWAS Cup in Bauchi, Nigeria.
FIRST NATIONS CUP APPEARANCE: 1990 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria.

THE QUALIFIERS

I DID not participate fully in the qualifiers for the 1994 Cup of Nations in Tunisia because it ran concurrently with the USA ‘94 World Cup qualifiers. And because of this our coach, Clemens Westerhof, raised two national teams; one for the Nations Cup and one for the World Cup qualifiers. I was in the World Cup squad.

Anyway, qualification for the Cup of Nations was easy for Nigeria, and why not when we only had teams like Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda to contend with!

PREPARATION AND SQUAD SELECTION

For the Cup of Nations tournament proper, Westerhof utilized the core of the side that took part in the World Cup qualifiers with the notable exception of Sunday Oliseh who only became one of the lynchpins of the team in Tunisia.
Speaking of the Cup of Nations in Tunisia, it was my second tournament appearance after my debut four years earlier in Algeria. That tournament (in Algeria) was quite memorable for me as I was just 17 years at the time and the youngest player at the championship. But Westerhof  had a lot of faith in me and, in all honesty, he was the one who turned me and most of the players from my generation into the stars that we eventually became.

I remember the very first time I met him in Kaduna at the 1989 WAFU Cup match between Ranchers Bees and ASEC of Cote d’Ivoire. We beat the Ivorians 3-1, and I got two of the goals. After the match somebody walked up to me and said, “There’s a foreigner who wants to see you.” At that point the first thing that crossed my mind was that he was probably a club scout. But when he came around, the first thing he asked me was if I knew who he was and I said, “No.” He then told me he was the national team coach and he wanted me to play for the national team. Then I asked, “Which one,” and he replied, “The Green Eagles.” Then I said, “I’m not even 17 yet,” and he said in that peculiar style of his: “No problem.” He said he was not looking for players to play now, that he was looking for players to go to the World Cup in 1994 which was still five years away then. I can never forget that statement because he did achieve it and we were all part of the experience.

After we spoke in Kaduna, Westerhof told me and four of my Ranchers Bees team-mates to come over to the national team’s camp in Ota, Ogun State. So we drove all the way down to Lagos. It was my first trip to Lagos and we left at first light and still got to Lagos around six in the evening. We then boarded another vehicle to Ota and that journey lasted close to six hours because of the traffic situation. We were camped at the Obasanjo Farms but as the 1990 Cup of Nations approached, Westerhof took our preparations to Papendal and Amsterdam, both in Holland, his native country.

For Tunisia ‘94 we went again to Holland but we also went to Portugal because Westerhof had a lot of connections there and we had a Nigerian government that gave us 100 percent support. Westerhof also brought Jo Bonfrere into the technical crew. He (Bonfrere) was a very tactical man and he taught us a lot of things both on and off the ball and that helped us a lot in Tunisia.
Westerhof understood our mentality and he knew exactly how to handle us and what to do to get the best out of us, me in particular. The whole nation knew I was his boy but he didn’t hesitate to discipline me or any other player whenever we erred.

We had a father-son relationship and he was very fond of me. But when a coach has that amount of faith in you, you have to work hard to repay that faith. I had a rough time when I first came into the national team because we had a lot of stars and a lot of quality players that could play in my position but, he saw the quality in me and stuck by me. There was a lot of negativity from the media about me but at the end of the day, I was able to justify my selection and I thank Westerhof for having that faith in me. He was a disciplinarian but he also joked around and played with us at the proper time.

I remember one incident that happened in Sweden as we prepared for the 1994 World Cup. We were in a closed camp situation for almost two weeks and we weren’t permitted to go out, even for one minute. But one day we all decided to dress up and hit the town.  Westerhof who was sitting at the hotel’s lobby saw us on our way out and told us that if we left camp we would each pay one thousand dollars as fine which we did. But by very next morning he gave us a double dose of our regular training schedule and after the session he gave us back our money because everyone scaled through.

THE TOURNAMENT

When we got to Tunis we were lodged at the Hotel Independence. It was a beautiful place and I can’t forget it because that’s where I met my future wife, Nadia, again after having met for the first time in Belgium.

The players were paired two-to-a-room and I got paired with Austin Jay-Jay Okocha. We were and still remain best of friends just like his older brother Emmanuel, who was my roommate four years earlier in Algeria. Jay-Jay and I were very close in Tunisia. We talked, laughed, teased and did a whole lot of things together. He was a special player and I learnt a lot of things, skill-wise, from him while he learnt how to be strong on the ball from me.

We also shared other things in common, in particular music and fashion. We listened to a lot of Tu-pac, Biggie Smalls, L. L. Cool J and Cool Moo Dee as well as Snoop Dogg back then. Jay-Jay is a very funny guy and he had a way of lifting our mood when we were down. But he can also make you feel really bad if you get on his wrong side.
We had this game in camp where we tease one another in a circle and Jay-Jay wasn’t even scared of taunting anyone including members of the older generation like Peter Rufai, Uche Okafor, Ben Iroha and Stephen Keshi. Talking about Keshi, he was an exemplary leader both on and off the pitch, which is why he also become so successful as a coach.

He (Keshi) also had a way of getting the FA to be more responsive to our needs because we, the players, from time to time had rows with the FA over a whole lot of issues, most especially finance. If it was not on camp allowances then it was on match bonuses. Sometimes it had to do with flight tickets because now and then they tell a player to fly on Business Class only to give him an Economy Class refund. But Keshi always had his way with the FA officials.

However, we never allowed petty issues like that to affect us on the field of play because we knew what we wanted to achieve in Tunisia, and that was to win the Cup of Nations for our country. That was what every Nigerian back home wanted and we knew we must not disappoint them so we approached all the five matches we played in Tunisia like a final. We started with a 3-0 win over Gabon with Rashidi Yekini grabbing a brace and Mutiu Adepoju scoring the third goal to complete the rout.

We were forced to a goalless draw by Egypt in our last group fixture. We were much better than the Egyptians and Yekini came very close to scoring one of the best goals ever to be captured by a television camera only to be denied by the crossbar. But in the end we could only settle for a draw and Egypt finished ahead of us in the group, having earlier beaten Gabon 4-0.

Zaire were our opponents in the quarter-finals and we beat them 2-0 with both goals coming from Rashidi Yekini. Next were Ivory Coast who came spoiling for revenge after losing out to us in the USA ’94 World Cup qualifiers a few months earlier. They were also the defending champions and were blessed with a lot of quality players. They actually opened scoring against us with their first incursion into our area to show that they meant business.

That was the first goal Peter Rufai conceded after keeping a clean slate in our previous games but we didn’t allow that setback to affect us. Before the Ivorians knew what was happening we had levelled up through Yekini.
But soon after the equaliser, a slip in our defence led to a second goal for the Ivorians by the same guy who opened scoring for them (Michel Bassole). But Ben Iroha, who was playing for ASEC of Abidjan back then, scored a fantastic goal to make it 2-2.

We had a lot of opportunities to win the game in the second half but we were denied by some excellent goalkeeping from Alain Gouamene and the game eventually went into extra time, then penalties where Rufai came to our rescue.
Zambia were our opponents in the final and they scored first only for Emmanuel Amunike, who was making his first appearance at the tournament, to immediately equalize before scoring the winning goal later in the second half to give us the cup. Some of the Zambian players later confessed that they were already intimidated by some of our pre-match antics which we utilized to great effect throughout the tournament.

A day before every game, our training sessions were always on the light side. We’ll later come together, talk about the upcoming game, sing praises and the next day we went for the match. By the time we got to the stadium, we were all fired up and our opponents usually got scared of us when they saw us getting off the bus because we made a whole lot of noise. These continued on our way to the locker room where we would bang on anything that we could lay our hands on. These had an unsettling effect on our opponents and by the time we stepped onto the pitch, half of the job had already been done. This tactic worked like magic on the Zambians.

THE AFTERMATH

We returned home to a heroic welcome and for once, everyone forgot about the political tension that was pervading the country at that time. We flew first to Lagos, where thousands of joyous Nigerians were on hand to welcome us back home. From there we went to Abuja where we met with the Head of State, General Sani Abacha who promised every member of the team a house in Abuja, the Federal Capital City.

One remarkable thing that happened to me on our return from Tunisia was that for the first time in a very long while, the newspapers were saying nice things about me. I had always had a cat and mouse relationship with the media and everywhere I went controversy trailed me. But I had a wonderful tournament and a lot of the media were comparing my performance to that of the late Muda Lawal. For me, it was a great honour getting compared with one of the greatest African players of all-time.

But I didn’t let that get into my head because we had the 1994 World Cup coming up. The commitment, the passion and the zeal within the team continued after the Cup of Nations because there was absolutely no room for laxity. If you slacked for just one bit, you lost your shirt to someone else because there were so many top class players both on the bench and outside the team. That kind of situation made you work harder to the point that even if you were brought on five minutes to the end of the game you wanted to work hard to justify your place. Our team was star- studded. It’s no wonder that a lot of commentators still consider the 1994 team as Nigeria’s best ever.
So, winning the Cup of Nations in 1994 will always remain evergreen for me because I played with a fantastic generation of players who were ready to go to any length to defend the honour of our national flag.

THE SQUAD:

GOALKEEPER: Peter Rufai (Go Ahead Eagles, Holland), Alloy Agu (RTFC Liegeois, Belgium), Wilfred Agbonavbare (Rayo Vallecano, Spain).
DEFENDERS: Augustine Eguavoen (Kortrijk, Belgium), Uche Okechukwu (Brondby, Denmark), Stephen Keshi (cpt) (Molenbeek, Belgium), Uche Okafor (Unattached), Isaac Semitoje (Iwuanyanwu, Owerri), Ben Iroha (Vitesse Arnhem, Holland), Nduka Ugbade (Rovers, Calabar)
MIDFIELDERS: Thompson Oliha (Africa Sports, Cote d’ Ivoire), Sunday Oliseh (RTFC Liegeois, Belgium), Augustine Okocha (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Mutiu Adepoju (Racing Santander, Spain), Finidi George (Ajax Amsterdam, Holland), Emmanuel Amunike (Zamalek, Egypt), Edema Fuludu
FORWARDS: Samson Siasia (Lokeren, Belgium), Daniel Amokachi (Bruges, Belgium), Rashidi Yekini (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal), Victor Ikpeba (Monaco, France), Efan Ekoku (Norwich City, England).
COACH:Clemens Westerhof (Holland)
ASSISTANT COACHES: Johannes Bonfrere (Holland), Christian Chukwu, Bitrus Bewarang.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


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