Nigerian football faithful actually had something to cheer about recently and precisely on March 22, the 40th anniversary of winning the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on home soil in 1980.
For the older folks, it all looked like yesterday when thousands rammed into the National Stadium in Surelere, Lagos to watch the Green Eagles (as the Nigerian national team was then known) win the Holy Grail under Brazilian coach Otto Gloria.
“The Green Eagles that won the AFCON in 1980 is undoubtedly the best team in the history of Nigerian football and I stand to be corrected,” veteran Nigerian journalist, Segun Adenuga, told CAFOnline.com.
“Over the years, I have seen many Nigerian and indeed African national teams but the Green Eagles of 1980 was simply incomparable for so many reasons.”
Playing in front of a partisan home crowd at the Surulere National Stadium in Lagos, the Green Eagles opened their 1980 AFCON account with a heart-warming 3-1 win over Tanzania with goals from Muda Lawal, Ifeanyi Onyedika and ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami. They were held to a goalless draw by Cote d’Ivoire in their second match but rallied to beat the Pharaohs of Egypt 1-0 courtesy of goal by defender Okey Isima to top Group A.
In the ensuing semi-finals against Morocco, the Green Eagles needed a solitary winner by winger Felix Owolabi to secure their spot in the final, for the first time in their chequered history in the AFCON.
“I was a utility player in the team and coach Otto Gloria found a way of using me very well because I could play as a winger or left back; but I was used as a midfielder throughout the tournament in 1980 and depending on our opponents,” recollected Owolabi who was nicknamed ‘Owoblow’ by admirers for the manner he bulldozed his way through opposing teams.
The Green Eagles out-muscled Les Fennecs of Algeria 3-0 in the final for what was Nigeria’s first title before similar successes at the 1994 and 2013 editions in Tunisia and South Africa respectively.
“This 40th anniversary is a mixed feeling for me. Some of my teammates have passed on – Muda Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Tunde Bamidele and Okey Isima. How would it have been if all of them are to be around to witness this occasion?” Felix Owolabi
Owolabi, who was also in the Green Eagles’ squad that came third at the 1978 AFCON in Ghana, attested to the secret behind the total dominance of the 1980 squad throughout the 12thedition of the continental showpiece: “ We gave everything in all the matches and we played like wounded lions to win the trophy; and President Shagari delivered on all his promises by giving us cars, houses in Festac (housing estate in Lagos).
“This 40th anniversary is a mixed feeling for me. Some of my teammates have passed on – Muda Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Tunde Bamidele and Okey Isima. How would it have been if all of them are to be around to witness this occasion?” a crestfallen Owolabi, who marked his 64th birthday on 24 January told CAFOnline.com
CAFOnline.com traces down the Green Eagles class of 1980;
Best Ogedegbe (Shooting Stars)
He was 25 in 1980 and was between the sticks in all the matches. The former Shooting Stars goaltender died on 28 September 2009 following complications after undergoing eye surgery at the University College Hospital in Ibadan.
Emmanuel Okala (Enugu Rangers)
He used to be first choice until he was upstaged by Ogedegbe during the 1980 finals. Regarded as one of Nigeria’s best goal minders, Okala won the Nigerian FA Cup three consecutive times in 1974, 1975 and 1976 with Rangers and was also in goal when the Flying Antelopes won the African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1977.
Moses Effiong (Sharks)
One of the younger elements in the 1980 squad, he was the third choice goalkeeper behind Ogedegbe and Okala. Later, he earned his stripes with defunct New Nigeria Bank (NNB) of Benin and Sharks of Port Harcourt. As a coach, he had stints with moderate sides including Port Harcourt-based duo of Michelin FC and Bussdor as well as Akpabio Stars in his native Akwa Ibom.
David Adiele (Bendel Insurance)
The defensive stalwart is reportedly living in Houston, Texas in the USA. Besides the 1980 feat, Adiele now also participated in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
Okey Isima (Standard of Jos)
A key member of the squad, the lanky defender was only 23 at the time. He played in Portugal for Vitória Sport Clube before retirement. He passed away in Abuja on 18 February 2013 aged 56.
Christian Chukwu (Enugu Rangers)
Nicknamed ‘Chairman’, Chukwu, was the defensive lynchpin and captain of the team. Prior to 1980, he led Enugu Rangers to win the defunct African Cup Winners’ Cup trophy in 1977. Went into coaching upon retirement and had stints in Lebanon, Kenya and Nigeria, whom he led to bronze at the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia. Until recently, he has for many years in the management of his boyhood team, Enugu Rangers. Last year, he underwent a successful surgery in London for a cancer related ailment.
Tunde Bamidele (Taraba United)
Plucky defender that enjoyed great partnership with Chukwu during the tournament. He also featured at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow as well as the 1982 AFCON in Libya. He retired to coaching but passed away in 1997 at the age of 44.
Kadiri Ikhana (Bendel Insurance)
Hard-tackling defender, he was also in the squad for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He took to coaching after retirement in 1986, and has gone round on the Nigerian local scene as well as stint in 1996 at Bangladesh side, Mohammedan Sporting. He was CAF’s Coach of the Year in 2003 after leading Enyimba to win the CAF Champions League, the first by a Nigerian club.
Sylvanus Okpala (Enugu Rangers)
Another young member of the team, who was only 18 at the time. Nicknamed ‘Quick Silver’ for his intelligent style, he had a successful time with Rangers en route to playing in Portugal with C.S. Marítimo and C.D. Nacional. After retirement, Okpala went into coaching and was assistant to Stephen Keshi when Nigeria won the title again in 2013 in South Africa.
Franck Onwuachi (Racca Rovers)
He was unused during the tournament. He was a graduate in Banking and Finance from the University of Lagos as far back as 1978. He made headlines with defunct African Continental Bank (ACB) of Lagos.
John Orlando (Shooting Stars)
Incredible a Ghanaian but switched allegiance and deservedly made the squad though he did not play a game in the tournament. He later featured in Nigeria’s three-games at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. He is domiciled in the United States.
Muda Lawal (Shooting Stars)
He is regarded as one of the best players of the victorious team. The auto-mechanic turned footballer had a remarkable career with the Eagles spanning over a decade, and scored the third goal in the 3-0 win in the final. The midfield maestro participated in five (5) AFCON finals between 1976 and 1984, before being named Nigeria Football Ambassador in 1990. He passed away on 6 July 1991, at the age of 37.
Felix Owolabi (Shooting Stars)
Hard-working midfielder who earned the sobriquet ‘Owoblow’ for the way he tore through defences. He scored twice in 34 international caps and is best remembered for the solitary semi-final winner against Morocco. Apart from the 1980 AFCON glory, Owolabi captained Shooting Stars to win the maiden edition of the defunct CAF Cup in 1992 before retiring in 1994. Now a retired civil servant, he holds a doctorate in Human Kinetics.
Godwin Odiye (San Francisco Dons)
Now resident in California, USA, he is involved with football as a Physical Education Instructor and Coach at a private high school. Odiye is often remembered for scoring the unfortunate own goal in 1978 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Tunisia in Lagos. He played a little part in the Nigeria’s 1980 AFCON triumph.
Ifeanyi Onyedika (Enugu Rangers)
He scored the opening goal in the 3-1 defeat of Tanzania in the opening game. His international career didn’t last too long and he later retired to coaching with clutches of clubs on the Nigerian domestic scene.
Henry Nwosu (New Nigeria Bank)
He was the youngest member of the squad at just 16 years. He also featured three AFCONs in 1982, 1984 and 1988. He scored Nigeria’s only goal at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow in the 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia. He was an assistant to veteran Adegboye Onigbinde at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan as well as an assistant to Samson Siasia when Nigeria won the Silver Medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Segun Odegbami (Shooting Stars)
Remains an enigma till this day and is the most visible member of the squad. Nicknamed ‘Mathematical’ for his elegant playing style in his heyday, Odegbami lives in his beloved rustic village called Wasimi on the outskirts of Abeokuta in South Western part of Nigeria. He is remembered for his brace against Algeria in the final. A man of many parts, he is the proprietor of a football academy, consultant for businesses and a Columnist for top Nigerian newspapers.
Aloysius Atuegbu (Enugu Rangers)
Now deceased, the well-built striker popularly called ‘Blockbuster’ played important roles for both club (Enugu Rangers) and country in his life time. Apart from winning the 1980 AFCON, he was the captain when Rangers won the Nigerian National Cup in 1983. He passed on at the age of 55 on 25 May 2008.
Adokiye Amiesimaka (Enugu Rangers)
One of the few in the Green Eagles class of 1980 that successfully combined academics and football. A Law undergraduate from the University of Lagos, he was nicknamed ‘Chief Justice’. He earned just 29 caps and scored four goals yet remains a reference point in Nigerian football history. He has served as chairman of his hometown, Sharks of Port Harcourt (now Rivers United); Director of Public Prosecution in Rivers State as well as the State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice.
Shefiu Mohammed (Racca Rovers)
Not much has been heard of him after the 1980 triumph. He is reportedly in his home state of Taraba in the North- Eastern part of Nigeria.
Charles Bassey (Calabar Rovers)
He was discovered from the great Calabar Rovers of the 1970s but was one of the fringe players in the 1980 squad.
Martin Eye (Julius Berger)
He didn’t feature in any of the games during the tournament. He also combined football with education and earned a Higher National Diploma in Civil Engineering at the famous Yaba College of Technology in Lagos. Sadly, he passed away on 11 March 2002 after he was shot during a reported robbery attack at his residence in Lagos.