Nigeria first appeared at the World Cup in 1994 and have attended five editions since then. However, some prominent players didn’t or haven’t had the chance of representing the country since her debut in the global event 20 years ago, writes Idris Adesina
Born on April 23, 1988 in Lagos, West Bromwich Albion striker Anichebe spent only a year before moving to Liverpool. But he chose Nigeria over England and won his first cap for Nigeria in 2008, under then U-23 coach, Samson Siasia, in an Olympic qualifying match against South Africa, where he came off the bench to score in the match won 3-0 by Nigeria.
The powerful forward went on to play at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where the country won a silver medal after losing the final match 1-0 to a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina. Anichebe scored a goal at the tournament, hitting the winner in the 2-1 win over Japan.
Before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Anichebe was in a good form, but was left out despite putting up a good show in a pre-World Cup friendly match against Saudi Arabia.
However in 2012, Anichebe said he was quitting the international scene to focus on his club career, which cost him a place at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and subsequently the World Cup in Brazil. But the 26-year-old forward could still make it to the next World Cup for Nigeria if given the chance.
Midfielder Obodo currently plays for Portuguese Primeira Liga side Olhanense and is regarded by many as one of the most skilful and talented midfielders to play for the Super Eagles since the 1994 era. His style of play earned him the nickname ‘Bundle of Skills’.
He began his senior national team career in 2003, after playing in the Flying Eagles, at a friendly tournament — the LG Cup— which had Ghana and Cameroon.
Having impressed at the tournament, Obodo became a regular in the Eagles team and scored his first goal for the national team in a 5-2 win over Algeria in a 2006 World Cup qualifier.
He made six appearances out of 10 in the 2006 World Cup qualifying matches but he was unable to feature at the Mundial due to Nigeria’s non-qualification. He last played for the Super Eagles in 2008.
Former Nigeria forward Akpoborie grew from the Nigeria team, which won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985, where he scored in the final match against West Germany, to the Flying Eagles in 1987, featuring at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Chile.
A prolific striker in his days in the German Bundesliga, many Nigerians still find it difficult to understand why Akpoborie never really got the chance to lead the Eagles’ strike force.
He was surprisingly dropped from Nigeria’s squad for the 1998 World Cup by Bora Milutinovic, despite playing in five of the six World Cup qualifying matches and was joint second top scorer in the 1997/98 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup tournament.
Akpoborie featured in a number of games ahead of the 2002 World Cup, scoring once in the Eagles’ 4-0 rout of Eritrea in Lagos, but he was again left out of the party to the Mundial hosted by Japan and Korea.
As a home-based player, Dosu was included in Bonfrere Jo’s squad to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics team, where he was the preferred first choice goalkeeper, ahead of favourite, Emmanuel Babayaro, who had kept most of the African qualifiers for the event.
But Dosu took charge in Atlanta and gave a good account of himself, as Nigeria won the men’s football gold beating giants Mexico, Brazil and Argentina on the way to a historic triumph.
He was highly tipped as one of the Eagles keepers to the 1998 World Cup in France but an auto crash— which left him paralysed— after the Eagles final qualifier against Guinea, put paid to the hopes of the towering keeper.
Tall, lanky forward, Agali, was Nigeria’s men’s U-23 team top scorer at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games with four goals as the defending champions crashed out in the quarterfinals.
The former Olympique Marseille striker was immediately invited to the national team. He may not have spent much time in the national side, but the little time he spent, he maximised it, with his goals helping Nigeria qualify for a third consecutive World Cup in 2002.
But the Okpanam-born player, alongside Sunday Oliseh, Tijani Babangida and Finidi George, was shut out from the trip to Korea/Japan after a bust-up between players and officials at the 2002 AFCON in Mali.
While the other players had previously featured at the World Cup, Agali didn’t get a second chance to play at the Mundial and finally quit the national team in 2004 in controversial circumstances.
Even though he was on the bench throughout the tournament, the player popularly known as Shagari was part of the gold-winning Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games Nigerian U-23 team.
He graduated to the senior national team and helped the Eagles in winning the 1998 Carlsberg Cup but despite his impressive performances; he was dropped by coach Bora Milutinovic from his final list to the 1998 World Cup in France because of an injury he sustained.
He is however hopeful of making it to football’s biggest stage as a coach.
Obiekwu told SUNDAY PUNCH, “All hope is not lost. I am a coach and by the grace of God, I can still find myself there one day. With God, miracles can happen; I may be the first coach that would win the World Cup for Nigeria. Yes, that is my dream.”
After captaining Nigeria’s U-17 national team to victory in the maiden FIFA U-17 World Cup in China in 1985, Ugbade became a household name in the country, with the media tipping him to become one of Nigeria’s greatest players.
Ugbade, currently an assistant coach of the Golden Eaglets, went on to represent the country at the 1987 and 1989 U-20 World Cups respectively, reaching the final of the latter edition.
He became an integral member of the senior national team thereafter but after winning the 1994 African Cup of Nations, he was allegedly plagued by injuries and poor form, which denied him of the opportunity of playing at the 1994 World Cup.
“I regret not playing at the senior World Cup. Having won gold at the U-17 World Cup and silver at the U-20 World Cup, my sights were set on playing at the senior World Cup,” he told our correspondent.
“I played some of the qualifying games for the 1994 World Cup and featured in the final of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. And I was very sure that I would make the squad (to the World Cup).
“Playing at the World Cup would have helped my career. I would have made history, too. But unfortunately I was left out of the squad. It’s very painful.”
Semitoje was a versatile defender, who helped Nigeria reach the final of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia and was an unused substitute when Nigeria defeated Zambia 2-1 to win the title for the second time.
The former Flash Flamingoes captain was hoping to make the cut for the USA ‘94 World Cup after his performances in the qualifiers but Semitoje was surprisingly dropped from the final list on the eve of the Eagles’ departure to the United States for the tournament.
He, however, picked up the pieces of his career after the tournament and went on to become a coach in a Danish club in 2004.
Former New Nigeria Bank captain, Fuludu, was one of the best players in the domestic league, helping BCC Lions win the 1990 Africa Cup Winners Cup.
His performances at club level expectedly won the heart of Dutchman Clemens Westerhof, who named the Delta-born player in his squad for the 1994 AFCON.
However, after being part of the squad that won the AFCON in Tunisia, he was left out of the 1994 World Cup because of a reported ‘lack of playing time at the’94 Nations Cup.’
He said in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, “The truth is that we had a complete team and every player was good. But at a point, it became more of those players from Europe. Some coaches feel if you play in Europe, you will have more confidence as a player but I don’t think it is true because I have passed through the rigours too. I also played in Europe eventually.
“In Tunisia, some players didn’t get the chance to play and their clubs were calling. So it became a factor of where you came from and the managers that were behind you. But Fuludu was a poor home-based boy playing for Julius Berger in Lagos.”
Ekpo was one of the most influential midfielders in the domestic league in the late 80s and early 90s, receiving plaudits from the fans for his sublime skills, which made him one of the most-sought after players in the country.
Ekpo made his debut in 1989 during the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup under then Eagles coach, Paul Hamilton.
He later went on to represent Nigeria at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal under Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof. Playing professional football in Gabon didn’t hinder Ekpo from becoming a key player in Westerhof’s plans but the ex-Abiola Babes player was sadly left out of the team to the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia and the USA ‘94 World Cup in the USA after the emergence of the mercurial Austin Okocha.