It was easy to dispatch Guinea and Zimbabwe to qualify for the AFCON but then, midway into the year, 1989, Paul Hamilton, who was coach of the Eagles was replaced with Clemens Westerhof.
Westerhof was in charge of Nigeria’s final World Cup Qualifying match in Yaounde against Cameroon; a game we needed to at least draw to be at the World Cup but Nigeria lost by a lone goal.
That was an era where the Green Eagles players, especially those based in Europe made unreasonable demands to play for the team.
Sometimes, word on the streets had it that they got appearance fees of $2000 just to report for an Eagles’ game.
Then there was the issue of the captain of the team, Stephen Keshi flying in and out of Morocco in a private jet two years earlier before Anderlecht released him and it seemed he wanted a similar arrangement for Algiers 90.
Other players just could not convince their clubs to release them so life was going to be tough for Nigeria and Clemens Westerhof.
That was an era where FIFA was yet to get strict on clubs releasing players to feature for their countries and with the AFCON in March, it was always going to be difficult for these clubs in Europe to release their players.
Westerhof would have none of it. He would not want the Europe based players holding the nation to ransom and he also would not have the European clubs choosing to do what they will over the players so he played a joker.
Nigeria played in the ECOWAS Cup in Kaduna against Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire and little did Nigerians know that Westerhof was planning to drop most of the Eagles’ regulars and build a new team of home based players.
When the final list for the AFCON was announced, the only people who were not shocked were probably Clemens Westerhof and his assistants.
Out went Peter Rufai, Austin Eguavoen, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okafor, Sunday Eboigbe, Uche Okafor, Henry Nwosu, Osaro Obobaifor, Humphrey Edobor, Etim Esin, Samson Siasia etc and rather Nigerians, especially those who did not follow the league saw some really strange names.
Alloy Agwu, Aminu Abdul, Andrew Uwe, Okechukwu Uche, Tajudeen Oyekanmi, Thompson Oliha, Emma Okocha, Ayo Ogunlana, Bauldwin Bazuaye, Moses Kpakor, Daniel Amokachi, Rashidi Yekini, Ben Iroha, Herbert Anijekwu, Isaac Semitoje, Friday Elaho, Wasiu Ipaye, mostly unknown elements would fly Nigeria’s flag at the AFCON.
Nigerians were no doubt apprehensive but it was the AFCON and we would still have our hopes high anyway.
I still remember watching that game at home that evening.
I had been an avid follower of the Nigerian League since 1983 so I knew most of the players Westerhof had chosen to play at the AFCON but my fear was whether they were up to it.
I loved the Nigerian League to bits and its products, but surely these players were not better than those dropped, but we kept our fingers crossed.
The opening game and the Algerians were all over us.
The staring line up of Alloy Agwu, Abdul Aminu, Andrew Uwe, Okechukwu Uche, Tajudeen Oyekanmi, Thompson Oliha and later Emma Okocha, Ayo Ogunlana and later Bauldwin Bazuaye, Moses Kpakor and Rashidi Yekini were out of their depths and they fell like a pack of cards as the Eagles fell 5-1.
Cherrif Oudjani, Djamel Menad, El Ouzzani and Rabah Madjah ran rings around the team that seemed like a bunch of amatuers.
The media went gaga as every one, or at least most people had a new derogatory word to use on Clemens Westerhof for that embarrassment.
If twitter existed then, the hash tag, WesterhofOut would have trended easily.
I still remember reading an article by Segun Odegbami who said Westerhof had taken Nigerian football thirty years back.
If Westerhof was a Nigerian coach, he would have been sacked right there in Algiers but he had developed a tough skin and they said he was working with the vice president of the country at that time, Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu so he did not have much regard for the NFA chairman or Sports Minister.
Nigeria from that point on played the most conservative brand of football ever known to man, winning their next two group games by the slimmest of margins, 1-0 against Egypt, scored by Rashidi Yekini and 1-0 against Cote D’Ivoire scored by, no need to guess, Rashidi Yekini.
It seemed the instruction from Westerhof to the midfielders, Ayo Ogunlana, Moses Kpakor, and Thompson Oliha as well as the wingers, Emma Okocha and Friday Elaho was, “What ever you want to do with the ball, just pass or cross to Yekini.”
After the loss to Algeria, Westerhof dropped Andrew Uwe from the central defence and brought in Rangers International rookie, Herbert Anijekwu to partner with Okechukwu Uche and it brought more sanity in the defence.
By the semi final game against Zambia, a new one, Wasiu Ipaye who played for First Bank FC was thrown in and his cross for Rashidi Yekini to score the second goal for the Eagles was sublime.
Nigeria was in the final again; her 4th final in 10 years and the natives were dreaming again.
Some people actually thought Nigeria would win the Cup. We were to play again against Algeria, the chaps who mauled us 5-1 in the opening match.
Westerhof would not be humiliated again.
He played three central defenders, Isaac Semitoje, Okechukwu Uche and Andrew Uwe.
He also had Ayo Ogunlana and Moses Kpakor who were like deep lying play makers. Clemense Westerhof obviously did not thinking winning this game was as important as not losing it.
That was his mission- not to lose.
The Algerians huffed and puffed but there was no space to operate. Rabah Madjer was man marked and it was the most suffocating kind of football I had ever seen a Nigerian national team play.
However, the Algerians found some space in the 38th minute and Oudjani scored. That was the only goal of the game.
We did not have a full strength team but we got to the final and most of all, Nigerian football would be better with players like Okechukwu Uche, Moses Kpakor, Herbert Anijekwu and Daniel Amokachi coming coming into the fold.
The players of the early nineteen’s are full of enthusiasm and want to do something unique for the people of the country. Rashidi is one of my best players and he was the real performer. This post is one of the best for me. Thank you.