Super Eagles legend and 1994 African Footballer of the year Emmanuel Amuneke believes there should not be any basis for comparison between the team he represented, regarded as the Golden Generation of Nigeria’s senior national team and the present set, preparing for a World Cup appearance in Russia this summer.
Amuneke who scored eight goals for the national team scored a brace as Nigeria won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations final against Zambia in April before scoring two goals during the World Cup in the United States same year.
It is a World Cup year and Nigeria will join thirty-one other nations to compete for the global prize in Russia. As a distinguished World Cup campaigner, Amuneke spoke with ACLSports reporter Izuchukwu Akawor on many issues relating to the men’s senior national team; The Super Eagles.
1994 World Cup experience
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Nigeria were the toast of millions of global audience with their robust and attractive style of football in North America. Despite playing in only their first World Cup tournament, the Eagles dazed their opponents, requiring a last gasp effort by Italy to knock them out.
Amuneke, scorer of Nigeria’s only goal against the Italians reminisces:
“The qualifying was not an easy one. We were in the same group as Coted’voire, first from Africa. Our last game, we had to go to Algeria, get a draw and qualify.
“In the World Cup, we were blessed with a lot of talented players, and apart from the talent aspect, we are blessed also with players that are determined to make something for themselves for the first time Nigeria will be involving in the World Cup.”
“We were like the newcomer in the group of Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria but we were able to make a statement for ourselves and we were able to consolidate with having good team and good individual players.”
Many football loving Nigerians have continually craved for the return of the good, old days. For those able to witness the successes of the mid 90s, it is always a pain in the eye to settle for some of the average contributions that come from the modern set of players.
The former Barcelona star will however not be drawn into making such comparisons. “We can’t keep on comparing things. We should also know that generation changes.”
“People have been coming and going, the same way the game is coming also and changing. So what matters is our ability to adapt to the changes that are occurring in the game.
“What are the changes?” he asked.
“Other countries today are spending a lot of money to develop their football. Even the Spanish team today that everybody admires, they went through the process. They went through the process of developing, process of acquiring knowledge knowing the game and I think it is very essential that we as a nation should see how develop these things.”
His honest opinion about the current Super Eagles team:
“My opinion about the current set of players is they are young players, they are coming up, they are good.
“It will take time to achieve the objective but the most important thing is there is willingness and there is opportunity for them.
‘They qualified for the World Cup and what matters now is to be able to prepare themselves psychologically to be able to compete with the rest of the teams in the same group with them.
“So, it is not going to be easy. Nobody promised you that it is going to be easy to qualify but if they believe in what they are doing and play as a team, there is a possibility of them pulling surprises and making a lot of people happy.”
What impact does he expect at the World Cup?
Nigeria are in a group as difficult as Amuneke’s Eagles were in 1994 and with almost the same composition.
The Super Eagles will face two European nations and Argentina. Amuneke wishes them well.
“Well, all I can say is I wish them well. You can never really predict in football what may be the outcome.
“Of course it is our team. We have some players that have passed under us in the youth level so we wish them well and we hope they will be able to face the challenges that the World Cup is bringing to them. Also the ability to do their best to make people happy.”
Difficulty to find a left-footed winger
Since Amuneke left the scene, Nigeria’s senior team have struggled to find a true “Number Eleven” after the Zamalek legend. Not the discipline of Garba Lawal, nor the eagerness of an Ifeanyi Ekwueme could quench the thirst of having someone in the mould of Amuneke.
Asked why it is so difficult to get such, he laughed. “Well, I don’t know. (laughs further).
“Only God knows why, that question goes to God. But of course people will come. We have seen a lot of players come and go and I believe in the nearest future, some players will also come,” enthused Amuneke who was capped 27 times by Nigeria.
“Our prayer is to see people do more than what we have done. No father would say he wants to be better than his son. We are now to give advice and how we can contribute for our Sport to grow. The most important thing is for the ones that are coming should know that the only way you can go far is by hardwork.
“Nothing in life can happen without hardwork. It might take time but hardwork and reality, to be truthful to yourself will always take you to the place of destiny.”
Amuneke is now into coaching and led Nigeria’s Under-17 side to the 2013 in the UAE and 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup glory in Chile.