AMUNEKE MAKES THE MARK By Complete Football
Match No.20: Nigeria 2(1) Zambia 1 (1)
El-Menzah Olympic Stadium, Tunis. 10-04-94. 17:00 Hours.
GOALS: Elijah Litana 3rd (ZAM), Emmanuel Amuneke (2) 5th, 46th (NGR).
NIGERIA: P. Rufai, A. Eguavoen, B. Iroha, U. Okechukwu, U. Okafor, G. Finidi, (S. Siasia), R. Yekini, A. Okocha (N. Ugbade), E. Amuneke, D. Amokachi, S. Oliseh. Subs not used: A. Agu, E. Ekoku, S. Keshi.
ZAMBIA: J. Phiri, A. Chongo, E. Litana, K. Mulenga, M. Malitoli, T. Sailed, E. Sakala, K. Bwlaya, K. Maiito, A. Ctiiyargi J. Bwalya. Subs not used: H. Siohikoio, J. Bwalya, T. Chilumba, M. Nwamba, L. Makwaza.
Referee: Lim Kee Chong (Mauritius).
A BEFITTING FINAL to two weeks of the best of African soccer. The feisty Zambians entered the final, the only team yet to concede any goal in this championship and their line up was largely unchanged. James Phiri returned in goal after missing the semi final and defender Kapambwe Mutenga was introduced in midfield to help ward off the menace of Jay-Jay Okocha and Rashidi Yekini. For the Super Eagles, Augustine Eguavoen and Uche Okafor returned in defence after the shaky outing of Stephen Keshi and Isaac Semitoje in the previous match. But it was Clemens Westerhof’s introduction of Zamalek forward, Emmanuel Amuneke that turned out to be a masterstroke.
Having gotten out of the slow, measured build ups that characterised their earlier matches, the Eagles stormed into attack right from the start and Daniel Amokachi’s shot came off the upright after Phiri had dropped a looping Yekini header.
But two minutes later, the breakthrough came at the other end when Litana nodded Kalusha’s corner firmly past Peter Rufai.
But for the third time in two matches, the Eagles hit back almost immediately.
The shock of the Zambian goal had hardly sunk in when Uche Okechukwu nodded back Okocha’s corner kick for Amuneke to force past Phiri on the line. The early fireworks promised much more but by the 25th minute the game had settled into a discernible pattern. The Zambians, tight and organised in defence hardly gave the Eagles any space to move forcing them to use high, long balls which were easily cleared.
But before then, the pace of Amuneke – appearing for the first time in these finals – had troubled Zambia down the left and the huge Mordon Malitoli had his work cut out keeping him in check. Yekini had not been quiet too. In the 20th minute, he beat both Chongo and Phiri to a Finidi George through pass but his effort from an acute angle was cleared on the line. Then he saw his vicious 30 yard free kick tipped away for a corner kick two minutes later.
The second half got off to yet another explosive start. The mercurial Sunday Oliseh picked out Amuneke in the box with a precise left foot pass. The Zamalek star controlled the ball on his knees, dashed across the box and put his drive into Phiri’s right hand corner to put the Eagles ahead for the first time. Only two minutes had gone bye.
In the very next minute, Oliseh again found Yekini in the box but Phiri blocked his shot bravely. The big striker stumbled as he tried to get up to finish the job, and the danger was cleared.
Phiri again denied the Eagles after Okocha’s curling free kick had eluded the wall and Amokachi missed the rebound. But then Zambia were hardly finished. As the game wore on so did Kalusha, their captain, grow in stature. Despite the close marking of Eguavoen, he twisted and turned, prompting his side forward with that delightful left foot. By now, the Zambians had taken over the midfield but the Eagles still fought back. Samson Siasia forced another fine save from Phiri and Yekini shot just wide after chasing a delightful long ball from Okafor.
With 15 minutes to go, Okocha left the pitch for Nduka Ugbade, just after twisting past Sekala to create another opening for the luckless Yekini. Then the Zambians truly stepped up the pace and deserved to score. But first Kalusha delayed too long with Rufai at his mercy, then the Eagles ‘keeper pulled off an instinctive save on the line from Malitoli and Kalusha, again, smacked a 20 yard shot against Rufai’s left hand post. The Eagles hung on tenaciously and when Yekini hit the upright with four minutes left, it was obvious they had weathered the storm.
With two minutes on the clock, the smile on Westerhof’s face told the story. Yekini came close yet again, electing to chest the ball when it would have been easier to head, but nothing could take away Nigeria’s glory when Lim Kee Chong blew off the match.
Worthy champions they were, at long last.