I don’t believe this best all-time Super Eagles of Nigeria XI will be disputed by anyone reading this article – well, maybe for the much younger generation who may not have seen some of these players in action.
Just so you know, before Nigeria gained independence, the team you today know as Super Eagles were called the Red Devils (not the ones at Old Trafford) but because their top kits were red. Obviously, it was for lack of a better name!
But after independence, the name was changed to the Green Eagles as a result of the flag as well as the eagle which adorns Nigeria’s coat of arms.
It was at a reception after the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, the team’s name was officially changed to the “Super Eagles”.
As for the women’s national team, they are called the “Super Falcons”, while the underage male teams are nicknamed the “Flying Eagles” & the “Golden Eaglets”.
It is only natural that the Super Eagles squad of 1994, who ranked 5th in the FIFA rankings of April 1994 – the highest FIFA ranking position ever achieved by any African football team, would dominate this best all-time Nigeria XI post.
Unfortunately, the likes of Segun Odegbami, Best Ogedegbe and Christian Chukwu, who led the team to win the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in Lagos, are not selected in this all-time best Super Eagles XI.
Now let’s take a look at the best Nigeria playing XI of all time.
Standing in between the sticks is none other than former Deportivo La Coruña keeper Peter Rufai, who started his playing career with Stationery Stores F.C. and Femo Scorpions before moving to Benin in 1986, with AS Dragons FC de l’Ouémé.
On a more professional level, Dodo Mayana – as he’s fondly called nowadays – also played in Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. He played in the national team for two decades as a starter and featured in two FIFA World Cups: USA ’94 and France ’98.
There is hardly any doubt regarding the former Super Eagles captain’s abilities between the sticks.
Rufai earned 65 caps for Nigeria, and scored his country’s last goal from a penalty kick, in a 6–0 home win against Ethiopia during a CAN qualifier in 1993.
Another player who wasn’t part of the “Golden Generation” but makes our all-time XI is Joseph Yobo. The 39-year-old was a very reliable go-to defender at all times and showed how committed he was to the Super Eagles every time he was called up.
Although in the latter stages of his career he was deployed at the centre-back position, we must remember that he started off as a right-back and was a wall to the opposition attackers.
Yobo also shares the record for most appearances for the Super Eagles, representing his nation in 10 World Cup matches, 24 AFCON matches, and 18 World Cup qualifiers amongst other friendlies. He was defiant and strong, a leader and above all a humble personality.
Benedict Iroha was a fearless and rugged defender who never took his eyes off his opponents. A statement used to be accredited to Iroha then: ‘If you miss the ball, don’t miss the leg!’
Yes, Iroha was that BAD. Strikers just couldn’t get away from him that easily.
But did you know Iroha started out as a midfielder before national coach Clemens Westerhof converted him to play left-back?
The former Nigeria international featured in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1998 FIFA World Cup as well as when the Super Eagles won the 1994 African Nations Cup.
Iroha joined Spanish side Elche CF in 1997 and moved to Watford in December 1998, playing 10 games for the Hertfordshire side. He had problems with bunions which forced him to the sidelines and then retired in March 2000.
- Center Back – Uche Okechukwu
Okechukwu, fondly called “The Gentle Giant”, made his debut for the Super Eagles at the 1990 African Cup of Nations tournament in a 1–5 loss against Algeria in their opening game. Believe it or not, for the remainder of the competition Nigeria did not concede another goal until they were beaten 0–1 by Algeria again in the final.
You still don’t think this guy deserves to be on this list?!
After the 1992 AFCON, where Nigeria reached the semi-finals, Okechukwu joined Turkish side Fenerbahçe SK for half a year, until he was bought in a DKK8 million transfer deal in November 1993.
At Istanbul, he formed a solid defensive rock with former Brøndby teammate Jes Høgh, helping the club to its first Süper Lig championship in seven years in 1996.
Okechukwu played a further four seasons with Fenerbahçe.
Afterwards, he moved to fellow league team İstanbulspor AS and returned to Nigeria in 2007 to join Ocean Boys F.C.
In all, Okechukwu got 47 caps for Nigeria, winning the CAN in 1994 and the 1996 Summer Olympics.
He also represented the nation in two FIFA World Cups, (1994 and 1998) helping it progress to two consecutive round-of- 16 contests.
Okechukwu retired after the 1998 World Cup 1–4 loss to Denmark, having captained the squad on several occasions.
West came into limelight at the 1993 African Youth Championship when he played for the Flying Eagles. He then went on to earn 42 caps for the Super Eagles, making his debut in a 1–3 loss to Sweden on 5 May 1994.
The former Inter Milan defender also featured as a member of the Atlanta’96 Olympic squad that won the gold medal.
In 1998, West was called up in the 22-man squad for the FIFA World Cup, where they reached the second stage of the tournament, after being eliminated by Denmark.
And at AFCON 2002, West was there as Jo Bonfrere’s men finished runners-up to Cameroon. The ex-Nigeria defender also represented his country in the tournament’s 2002 edition, finishing in third place. Additionally, West also took part in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
In January 2004, West suffered an injury during the team’s training session that ruled him out of the African Cup of Nations. He returned to the Super Eagles in 2005 after suffering an injury and made his final appearance for the national team in a friendly against Libya.
If you’ve seen Oliseh play, then you can attest to his physical and technically defensive gift in the midfield. He, of course, played for AFC Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus F.C.
The former Super Eagles player played 63 international matches scoring three goals haven played at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. Oliseh was also a part of the Olympic gold medal-winning team of 1996.
In 1998, Sunday Oliseh was voted Africa’s third-best footballer by CAF.
The 45-year-old is mostly remembered for scoring the winning goal against Spain in the 1998 World Cup and Nigeria ended winning that group stage match 3–2.
Oliseh captained the Nigeria national team during the 2002 African Cup of Nations, still, the former Super Eagles coach was omitted from the World Cup squad later that year for disciplinary reasons.
Probably out of annoyance of missing out on World Cup selection, the former Super Eagles captain retired from international football in June 2002 for leading the team to demand unpaid allowances and dues owed.
At the age of 31, Oliseh retired from professional football in 2006 after playing a half-season for Belgian top club K.R.C. Genk.
Blessed with exceptional close control and tricks, alongside dead-ball accuracy and an underrated turn of pace, Okocha terrorized defences.
Okocha made his official debut for Nigeria in 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifier away loss against Ivory Coast in May 1993.
He had to play once more – and this time it was a home debut- that he became a favourite with fans.
With Clemens Westerhof’s men trailing 1–0 against Algeria, in a match they needed to win, Okocha scored from a direct free-kick to equalise.
The former PSG and Hull City midfielder was a member of both the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and the World Cup squad who made it to the second round before losing gallantly to Italy. The Olympic gold-winning side (later nicknamed the Dream Team by the Nigerian press after the USA 1992 Olympic gold-winning basketball team) at the ’96 Atlanta Games saw Okocha play a key role.
Unfortunately, the former Bolton Wanderers star found himself playing for a disappointing Super Eagles side who failed to live up to expectations again reaching only the round of 16 in 1998 FIFA World Cup hosted by France.
He again was in the Super Eagles squad for the 2000 African Cup of Nations co-hosted with Ghana. The 45-year-old scored three goals in the tournament.
Okocha’s European journey began in Germany playing in the lower leagues, before signing for Eintracht Frankfurt in 1992.
Eintracht’s relegation came at the end of the 1995/96 season, after which the seven-time Nigerian Footballer of the Year also left the club.
His destination of choice was Turkish champions Fenerbahçe, with Okocha arriving for a fee of around £1m.
Jay Jay had such swagger that he wore red boots in a period where black was still the norm.
In March 2004, the former captain of the Super Eagle was named one of the top 125 living footballers by Pelé.
Okocha enjoyed an illustrious playing career at both club and national level before hanging his boots in 2008.
Performing well in Belgium FOR Club Brugge and at the 1994 World Cup, Everton became interested in Amokachi and signed him for a fee of £3,000,000.
Dan ‘The Bull’ as he is popularly referred to for his speed, technique and physical strength, contributed to Nigeria’s top two tournaments to the World Cup along with his attack partner Emmanuel Amunike, whom I will talk about next.
Former Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof discovered Amokachi while playing for Ranchers Bees and brought the talented player to the 1990 African Nations Cup.
The 47-year-old Super Eagles legend played many international matches for Nigeria and won the 1994 African Nations Cup. He also helped win the Olympic gold medal in 1996.
Nigeria were everything you expected them to be at the 1994 World Cup.
But it was Amokachi that impressed scouts the most, scoring twice.
His first came in Nigeria’s opener against Bulgaria.
What a delightful goal it was, but the celebration that followed was even better when we saw Amokachi dancing rhythmically by the corner flag.
His second goal was even better, one of the best goals scored at the World Cup.
It came in the last group game against a desperately poor Greece side. Nigeria were already 1-0 up and the game was four minutes to stoppage time.
Amokachi termed that goal as his “favourite’’ playing for the national team. He said ‘’even the referee congratulated me”.
I already gave you heads-up that I’ll be talking about him next.
The former Zamalek, Sporting CP, Barcelona and Albacete forward has 27 caps for the Eagles, with nine goals to his credit.
Amunike was at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States where he scored against Bulgaria and Italy. He also featured at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia and helped the Super Eagles win the tournament, which saw him being voted African Footballer of that Year.
And at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ammunike scored the winning goal in the final as the Dream Team won the gold medal.
Unfortunately for the winger, knee problems did not allow him to participate in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
The right-winger made his debut for the Super Eagles in a 1991 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Burkina Faso, providing three assists for Rashidi Yekini and himself scoring one of the goals in a 7–1 rout.
He helped Nigeria win the 1994 edition of the tournament in Tunisia, and also achieved one second and two third-place finishes.
The Nigerian wideman represented his country in two FIFA World Cups, 1994 and 1998.
In the one held in the United States, Nigeria won their group and exited in the round of 16 against eventual finalists Italy.
Finidi scored against Greece in a 2–0 win, and you needed to have seen his celebration where he mimicked a urinating dog, it was something else!
And at the 1998 tournament in France, Finidi was also there only that the national team suffered the same fate as was the case in 1994 at the hands of Denmark.
After quitting international football, Finidi had earned a total of 62 caps.
Was it MC Hammer who said so?: You just can’t touch this guy!
With 37 goals coming from 58 appearances, Yekini holds Super Eagles highest goalscorer record, a feat no other striker has been able to surpass till date.
The Super Eagles’ all-time marksman was part of the team that participated in 1994 World Cup, scoring Nigeria’s first-ever goal in a 3–0 win against Bulgaria.
Yekini was seen crying while holding the goal’s net to celebrate his goal, and that became one of the iconic images of the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Not to forget, Yekini also led the Super Eagles to victory at the Tunisia 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.
He topped the goal charts at that tournament and was named best player of the competition.