Twenty-one years after, Nigerian football legend, Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha has bemoaned the Super Eagles’ last minute ouster from the 1994 FIFA World Cup by the Azurris of Italy in the second round.
Nigeria took the lead against the Italians with a goal from Emmanuel Amuneke and were within two minutes of qualifying for the Quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup. But Roberto Baggio struck at the death to take the game to extra time. He also scored the eventual winning goal to send the Nigerian side packing.
‘’Yes, I feel I missed out on achieving something big with Nigeria, especially the 1994 World Cup. I really think we could have sprung a surprise, but at the time we didn’t know just how good we were. It was our first world finals and we settled for that. Looking back, though, I’m convinced we had the potential to shock the whole world.’’
Okocha also spoke about the importance of football to Nigerians in an interview he granted FIFA website during his recent trip to France on the invitation of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo to take part in a charity match against poverty.
“It’s a religion in my country. It unites the whole country as one. If the football goes well, then everything goes well. It’s more than a game, more than a sport. It’s part of our culture,’’ said the former Paris Saint-Germain midfield ace.
Okocha who turned up for teams like Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahce, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City during a career spanning close to two decades spoke on the state of Nigerian football.
“You can’t be completely satisfied with the situation at the moment. We’re lacking a bit of consistency, but there’s plenty of work being done at the top. We’ve been through some tough times, but the good thing is that we’re a big country with a lot of talented players. We just need to get the right structures in place so that the light can shine for good.
The former Super Eagles captain gave his thoughts on the prospect of the emergence of another golden generation from the present Flying Eagles team.
“We have to make sure that these youngsters can kick on. If we’re going to do that, we must give them support and encouragement. If we don’t give them the right backing, then it’s just going to be the same old story. We have youth teams that have shone in the past but which haven’t been able to push on at senior level. Let’s try and protect this emerging generation of players and help them mature. I think it’s important that we set up structures that allow us to achieve the kind of continuity we’ve always needed.’’

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