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Afcon memories - part 2


Because of a decision by Nigeria's broadcasters at the time, Nigeria’s absence from the Egypt-based '86 tournament meant I never got to watch any of the matches and have not seen them to date.

I remember the shock news reports in the papers after Jules Bocande scored the winning goal as Senegal beat the hosts in the opening match. Egypt, of course, did recover to beat the holders Cameroon in the final.

Maroc '88 was brilliant to watch on TV as the pitch and pictures looked so European and the country's leadership, it seemed, had gone out on a limb to impress the world, bearing in mind that around that time Morocco had put in a bid to host the Fifa World Cup.

Nigeria's preparation was as haphazard as had become the norm during that period. We did not know who was in charge of the team between the German Manfried Horner and Paul Hamilton, who had qualified the team for the competition.

Nigeria's opening match was against hapless Kenya. A vicious Rashidi Yekini shot gave Nigeria the lead. Further goals by the two wingers of Humphrey Edobor and Ndubuisi Okosieme gave Nigeria an easy 3-0 win.

Stephen Keshi flew in for Nigeria's second game against Cameroon from his base in Belgium. Sam Okwaraji stunned everyone, and Antoine Bell in the Cameroonian goal, with a swerving, dipping left-foot scorcher from outside the box to give Nigeria the lead inside the first three minutes. Just like four years earlier, it was as good it got for Nigeria. Cameroon took over completely and it is a mystery how the match finished only 1-1, with Roger Milla scoring a headed equaliser.

This was the tournament that introduced Africa to the delicate skills of Serge Alain Marguy, who was a teenager in an Ivory Coast midfield that included Saint-Joseph Gadji Celi, Omar Ben Salla and the then dreadlocked Francoise Zahoui.

What group A lacked was goals but one of the best goals of the tournament was Zaire's equaliser against Ivory Coast. The skipper, Mutunbilla, turned the Ivorian left-back this way and that before sending over a superb cross on the run to the far post where the big striker, Eugene Kabongo, arrived to meet it with a superb volley down into the bottom corner. The sight of the big striker wheeling away in triumphant celebration brings a smile to my lips even now.

A superb Cameroonian side of Paul Mfede, Makanaky, Kana Biyik and Emile Mbouh ran most matches from midfield. The final will haunt most Nigerians who watched it live and those who played it. Nigeria were by far the better side and ran their opponents ragged.

Okosieme should have scored himself when one jinking run took him clear of all the defenders but he somehow managed to hit the side netting with the goal gaping. A bad miss.

The worst part was the effect the giant Gabonese ref, Jean Diramba, had when he inexplicably disallowed Henry Nwosu's brilliant downward header past Bell and into the net. Stephen Keshi still claims that "we were robbed by a ref who wanted to impress the new Caf president".

Eboigbe fouled Milla for a penalty, which Emmanuel Kunde despatched with a nonchalance that was out of sync with his team's performance overall. The Nigerians were further denied when both Keshi and Nwosu crashed efforts against Bell's cross bar.

The look of anguish on both their faces each time reminds people like us how much it means to these players when they play for their country. Cameroon were the best team in the competition and Africa at the time and deserved to win. In Claude Le Roy they had a coach who drilled his charges brilliantly.

There was something not quite there about Algiers '90, not that I can put my finger on it. It did not help that Egypt showed so much disrespect by not wanting to appear for the competition. They felt they needed time to prepare for the World Cup that summer, so it took threats from Caf and Fifa for them to turn up.

This was Rabah Madjer's tournament and he orchestrated the destruction of a young Nigerian team in the first match 5-1. This defeat was so bad that an instruction went out to the Nigerian Television Authority that no copy of the match was to be kept on tape.

Clemens Westerhof organised his team, took off a midfielder for the next game, employed a third centre-back and the team made it to the final. Rashidi Yekini started his talismanic status for Nigeria with the winning goals against Egypt and Ivory Coast.

Not many gave Nigeria a chance over Zambia in the semifinal but an early Uche Okechukwu header gave Nigeria the lead and a platform to hold on to. In the second half, sub Wasiu Ipaye came on and lofted a pass into the box for Yekini to arrive and slam home for the decisive second goal.

The final was an anti-climax. A Cherif Oudjani long-range effort after a smart turn gave Algeria the lead and the cup. So, ten years after losing in the final in Lagos, the Desert Warriors won at home. It was fitting that Madjer, who was there a decade earlier, would lift the cup for them.

Senegal '92 was a smashing tournament – brilliant football. There were really good individual performances, none so more than Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini and debutant Mutiu Adepoju for Nigeria. There were also Ghana's trio of Abedi Pele, Tony Yeboah and the young defender Isaac Asare. The other stars were Abdoullahi Traore, Joel Tiehi, Sergei Alain Margui and keeper Gouamene for eventual winners, Ivory Coast.

Nigeria really should have won the tournament as the Super Eagles were the best team there. With the new Fifa rule making it easier to get Europe-based players it was a proper competition with the best available to each country. Strangely enough, it was Samson Siasia's first Nations Cup and his partnership with Yekini up front for Nigeria thrilled.

The semifinal with Ghana must rank as one of the best matches in the tournament’s history, while Nigeria's performance in the first half must be one of the best by any national team in any tournament.

How the Black Stars hung on after Adepoju had risen above Baffoe to nod home an Oliha cross even they cannot explain. It was wave after wave of Nigerian attack and, in one instance, only inept refereeing allowed Baffoe to finish that first half after he brought down Yekini as the big striker bore down on goal.

However, when you have Abedi Pele in your team you have a chance. His header from a corner somehow flew past the stranded Agu in goal and that was it. Another corner early in the second half saw Prince Polley smash home what proved to be the winner. Nigeria rallied. Siasia hit the post while Oliha had a goal disgracefully chalked off for no apparent reason but Ajibade got sent off and Ghana held on to win.

The win came at a cost though, as Abedi Pele got booked and was ruled out of the final. The final was a match to forget as 120 minutes of turgid football brought no goal. I still cannot believe how a match that had so many offensive players managed to be so poor.

I lost any semblance of regard I had for Tony Yeboah as he was not able to raise the Ghanaian team to win this match in Abedi Pele's absence. Abedi, by the way, wore a shocking red suit as he sat and watched the final in frustration.

Two years later in Tunisia, the Ivorians were involved in two of the best matches in the tournament. In the quarterfinal two goals by the then rampant Tiehi and Traore took them past Ghana in a 2-1 win. It was such an absolutely fantastic game that it was a pity one team had to lose - a marked departure from the encounter of two years previously.

Nigeria felt they had to win this tournament and were rightly the favourites and reached the semifinal without conceding a goal. All that changed when little Michel Bassolle scored from a free header from a corner with less than 10 minutes played.

Nigeria, with Okocha at his impish best, patiently probed and got their equaliser from a delightful exchange between Okocha and left-back Iroha. Bassolle again cashed in on a defensive mix up to crash home another goal with a truly fine finish. Back Nigeria came.

This time Sunday Oliseh, in his first tournament, threw a cross into the path of Finidi George, who just accelerated past his defender to lay a simple pass for Yekini to tap into an empty net. Pulsating, and it was only the first half.

That the second half and extra time finished goalless was mostly due to Yekini as he missed at least five glorious chances to win the match. Once, in the second half of extra time, the untiring Daniel Amokachi beat the onrushing Guamene but defender Abou Dominique got back and cleared his lines with an overhead kick - he and his classy central defence partner, Armani Yao, had been given a torrid time all game. Nigeria went through on penalties.

The Zambians had done remarkably well to get to the final under the guidance of Ian Porterfield after the plane crash that decimated their great players. Harrison Chongo and Elijah Litana were a superb partnership in the heart of the defence. Kalusha Bwalya's influence and goals drove the team on and to the final.

A corner from Bwalya saw Litan rise above the static Yekini to give Zambia a surprise lead inside the first two minutes. Westerhof had thrown a curve ball by starting with two wingers for the first time in the tournament, with Emmanuel Amunike in place of Samson Siasia.

It was Amunike who equalised for Nigeria within a minute of Litana's goal, heading home an Okechukwu knock down. Game on. Finidi George limped off and Siasia came on.

In the second half another superb cross from Oliseh sent Amunike in and the winger finished cooly inside Phiri's right hand post.

Zambia rallied, with Bwalya crashing a superb effort against the post while Rufai saved bravely from Malitoli in the dying moments. Nigeria held on to win.

Please follow me on Twitter @CalvinEmeka for more memories with #SSFootball


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