Victor Nosa Ikpeba, born on June 12 1973 in Benin City, had his career breakthrough at the 1989 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Scotland from where European football scouts signed him up for Belgian side RKC Liege.
He would go on to feature for bigger clubs, notably AS Monaco of France where his performances crowned him as African footballer of the year 1997.
Victor Ikpeba made his AFCON debut at Senegal ’92 and also featured at Tunisia ’94, Ghana/Nigeria 2000 and Mali 2002 winning one gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Victor Ikpeba, popularly called Prince of Monaco, told his remarkable AFCON story in a podcast for www.naijaSuperfans.com
My story of the AFCON started in 1991. I went abroad after the U-17 championship in Scotland ’89 to sign for Liege on Belgium and two years after I was invited to the national team by Clemens Westerhof.
Credit to him, I think I had the platform to be invited because I was playing for Liege in Belgium even though I wasn’t a regular for them. But I think Westerhof saw me in Scotland where I was named one of the future stars to watch from Nigeria.
It was a moment I will never forget, being invited alongside the big boys of the national team like Stephen Keshi, Alloy Agu, Uche Okechukwu, Austin Eguavoen, the great Rashidi Yekini.
It was a dream come true for me because as a young player you always aspire to play for your national team. I wasn’t a regular because the team was star-studded so you have to fight for position with the Amokachis, Samson Siasia etc who are great players with quality.
I didnt play much at Senegal until the third place game against Cameroon and I will never forget that match because they were out rivals and we always want to play each other. I think I had a good game.
Then I was part of the squad that went to Tunisia ’94 though it was difficult to get into the first team due to the quality again.
I played against Egypt and I think one other game because Yekini was irreplaceable in the team, we had Emmanuel Amuneke, Finidi George etal. All these names would give you an idea of the greatness in that team.
We won the AFCON for the first time since 1980 when we won on home soil and it was a great feeling to be a part of it. Fantastic set of players, the best in Nigeria and probably the best in Africa at the time.
We took African football to another level and went to the World Cup where we played some of the best football on display at the World Cup.
We could have won the AFCON in South Africa 1996 but for political wranglings that saw us miss out and then were suspended in 1998.
We had the opportunity to come back in 2000 as co-hosts with Ghana. I started brightly, scored twice against Tunisia, I had some issues which is part of life, came back in the semi-finals against South Africa and then in the final against Cameroon.
The final was one dramatic moment I will never forget in my life. We all remember what happened when it came to penalty kicks and if we had VAR my penalty would have counted.
It was a sad moment for me and the team. I left Nigeria that same night for London. I’d never seen Lagos so quiet and its a moment that will stay with me forever.
I was a regular penalty kick taker at AS Monaco so I was confident that I was going to score but we all know there’s never a guarantee that you would score. We have seen great players missing penalties.
Considering the lighting at the National stadium that day, it was difficult for me to see if the ball actually cross the line. I saw that the ball hit the crossbar, landed and came back but Ike Shorounmu, our goalkeeper, saw it and there was the linesman also close by.
People have complained about my reaction but I think that was normal from a footballer’s perspective. I thought the ball didn’t cross the line so I reacted with my hands on my head and everywhere I go till today people still asked why I put my hands on my head?
We see players do the same thing everytime so I don’t think my reaction informed the referee’s decision. If he had got his decision spot-on then my reaction would have been immaterial and we might have won the AFCON but there were no guarantees because Kanu Nwankwo missed his own penalty too.
I think by bringing VAR into football, FIFA have helped referees to get their decisions right but it’s one moment I will never forget. People still talk about that incident 20 years now and maybe in 50 years time they will still be talking about it.
My last AFCON was in Mali 2002 where I wasn’t involved until the latter stages of the competition where we won bronze.
I think I’ve been privileged to play with the best set of players Nigeria have ever produced. I might not be regular in every game but I certainly had my own playing times. In 10 years with the national team, I feel blessed to be a part of history for Nigeria.
It was unfortunate we didnt play in 1996 and 1998 or else we could have added one or two titles to our AFCON cabinet.
The generation from 1990 to 2002 was fantastic. Look at the statistics: finalists in 1990, semi-finalists in ’92, winners in 1994, finalists again in 2000 and bronze medalists in 2002.
I didn’t play as much as I would have wanted but given the calibre of players with everyone wanting to play, all I can say is that it was a privilege to play for Nigeria for 10 years.