How Super Eagles qualified for its first World Cup

How Super Eagles qualified for its first World Cup
Photo by Icon Sport

The Super Eagles had battled for many years to qualify for the FIFA World Cup with no success.

Fans of the Green Eagles (as they were known) had to content themselves with watching other African countries do well on the biggest football stage in the world. 

The Nigerian national team went through the pain of failed qualifiers during every cycle as they attempted to become part of the committee of top footballing nations.

With each failure came a stronger desire for the Super Eagles to be part of the FIFA World Cup. The message seemed Nigeria would not be recognized as a top nation unless they qualified for the World Cup.

From their first attempt to qualify for the World Cup, it took the Super Eagles 32 years to qualify for the Mundial.

Super Eagles World Cup qualifiers (1962 – 1974)

Super Eagles first world cup qualification
Credit @NigeriaStories X

Nigeria participated in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the first time in 1962 but failed to make it to the tournament in Chile.

Nigeria fell at the first hurdle that pitched them against the Black Stars of Ghana.

In the first leg in August 1960, the Ghanaian side humbled Nigeria 4-1 and played a 2-2 draw in the return leg.

In 1966, Nigeria was not part of the tournament that comes up every four years. Africa decided to boycott the 1966 World Cup hosted by England in what the continent described as an unfair representation. 

In a 16-team tournament, FIFA had given Europe ten slots, Latin America – four, and one to the Central American and Caribbean region.

Africa, Asia and Oceania were left to battle for the remaining slot. The boycott led to FIFA awarding Africa one slot in the next World Cup.

Nigeria returned to the hunt for a ticket to the 1970 World Cup. They beat Cameroon 4-3 in the first round (1-1 in Lagos and 2-3 in Yaounde).

Ghana was their next victim as they exacted revenge for their 1962 defeat. They won 2-1 in Nigeria and drew 1-1 in Accra.

In the final round, Nigeria finished 2nd in a group comprising Morocco and Sudan, with the Atlas Lions picking the World Cup ticket.

In 1974, Nigeria started their quest brightly. They overcame Congo Brazzaville 3-2 but could not go beyond the second round as Ghana dumped Nigeria out with a 2-0 aggregate win.

Nigeria drew the first leg at home 0-0 and lost in Ghana 0-2.

Super Eagles World Cup qualifiers (1978 – 1990)

Super Eagles 1980 AFCON triumph
Credit @NGSuperEagles X

The desire to be part of the World Cup was already becoming an obsession as Morocco and Zaire represented Africa.

In the first round of the 1978 qualifiers, Nigeria beat Sierra Leone 6-2 on aggregate. In the second round, they walked over Zaire, who had a disastrous appearance at the 1974 World Cup.

1978 seemed to be the year Nigeria would make its first appearance at the World Cup.

In the third round of the qualifiers, the Green Eagles beat Ivory Coast 4-0 in Lagos and drew 2-2 in Abidjan to qualify for the final round.

Things seemed to be working well for Nigeria until the final hurdle. Nigeria was up against Egypt and Tunisia, but disaster struck.

In their final game against Tunisia – needing a win to book its place at the World Cup, Nigeria lost 0-1 at home, thanks to a Godwin Odiye own-goal. It was like a dagger to the heart that left the nation mourning.

Tunisia booked the sole ticket.

After Nigeria won the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations (its first), hopes were high that the Super Eagles would make it to Spain in 1982.

In the first round, Nigeria overcame Tunisia 4-3 on penalties after both sides had won their home games 2-0.

Tanzania was Nigeria's next victim as Nigeria won 3-1 on aggregate. The third round saw the Green Eagles overcome Guinea 2-1 in a hard-fought tie.

At the last hurdle, Nigeria fell to another North African country. It was Algeria this time that beat Nigeria 4-1 on aggregate.

By 1982, the Green Eagles had become a name to reckon with in Africa, but they needed to cement their place in world football.

The 1986 World Cup qualifiers presented another opportunity for the Green Eagles.

With Humphrey Edobor, Clement Temile, Rashidi Yekini, Stephen Keshi, Dahiru Sadi, Henry Nwosu, Sylvanus Okpala and Okey Isima, Nigeria fancied its chances.

They coasted through Liberia (4-0) and Kenya (6-1), but in the third round, Tunisia was their albatross again as they lost 2-1 on aggregate.

ICONSPORT 012368 0053 1
Photo by Icon Sport

The 1990 World Cup qualifier had an expanded pool, with 16 teams divided into four groups.

The Super Eagles were in the same group as Cameroon, Angola and Gabon. The group was one of the toughest. It took the most out of the team but delivered nothing.

During the qualifiers, Samuel Okwaraji died during one of the games against Angola at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.

Nigeria started the campaign with a 1-0 win in Lagos over Gabon. Wole Odegbami (the younger brother of the legendary Segun Odegbami) scored the only goal.

In their next game, Stephen Keshi and Mike Obiku helped the Super Eagles to a 2-2 draw with the Palancas Negras of Angola to stay second on the log behind Cameroon on goal difference.

Stephen Keshi and Samson Siasia were the heroes as the Super Eagles beat the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 2-0 in Lagos.

Things started to go awry for the Super Eagles as they lost their next game (2-1) to Gabon.

Nigeria bounced back in the next game to beat Angola 1-0. 

In their final game against Cameroon in Yaounde, the Super Eagles needed a draw to make it to the final round, but Omam Biyik put a 31st-minute header past Aloy Agu to burst Nigeria's bubble.

Super Eagles qualify for their first World Cup – 1994

Super Eagles world cup qualification
Credit @NGSuperEagles X

Nigeria had found the North African teams and Cameroon a stumbling block to achieving their most innate desires.

Clemens Westerhof, who arrived in Nigeria in 1990, had been assembling a solid squad.

He intended to be the first man to qualify Nigeria for her first-ever World Cup.

Ahead of the qualifiers, it was evident that it would take some doing to stop the Super Eagles from making it to USA 94. 

In the first round, Nigeria was in Group D with Congo, Libya and South Africa (who replaced São Tomé and Príncipe). The games involving Libya were also annulled.

Nigeria waltzed through the group, winning every game and drawing one against South Africa.

The final qualifying round pitched the Super Eagles against Ivory Coast and Algeria.

Clemens Westefhof had discovered top players like Rashidi Yekini, Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Finidi George and Emmanuel Amunike.

In their first game, the Super Eagles lost 2-1 to Ivory Coast in Abidjan. Rashidi Yekini (who plied his trade in Ivory Coast and who the Ivorians had vowed would not score) scored Nigeria's only goal.

Nigeria hosted arch-rivals Algeria in Lagos in their next game. Abdelhafid Tasfaout scored the opening goal in the fifth minute to bring back fears of old, but Austin Okocha replied with a sublime freekick seven minutes later.

Rashdi Yekini added a brace in the 26th and 32nd minute before Daniel Amokachi added gloss to the scoreline with an 88th-minute effort.

Super Eagles striker Rashidi Yekini at the World Cup
Photo by Icon Sport

The Ivorians were guests of the Super Eagles in Lagos on 25 September 1993. 

The Super Eagles exacted revenge for their first-leg loss. Thompson Oliha scored the opener in the 20th minute. Daniel Amokachi doubled Nigeria's advantage in the 25th minute, but Joel Tiehi pegged the Super Eagles back in the second half.

Rashidi Yekini made sure of the win with a second-half brace. 

In their final group game, Nigeria needed a draw to qualify for their first-ever World Cup. While the Super Eagles needed a draw, Ivory Coast hoped Algeria would win. An Algerian victory would hand the ticket to Ivory Coast.

Nigerians feared the Algerians, who brought their off-the-pitch antics to weary Nigeria.

George Finid scored the opener in the 20th minute, but Tasfaout equalized in the 66th minute. It led to the Super Eagles fending a late flurried pressure from the Algerians.

The draw thus gave Nigeria its first World ticket after 32 years of trying.

This article was most recently revised and updated 3 weeks ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter.