Football in Nigeria has an exciting and inspiring history. The great exploits of the past has remained a source of inspiration and challenge for every team from the country. The intense nationalistic spirit that underlies the historical transformation of the game in Nigeria and the emergence of great national teams, club sides, football managers and very dynamic fans are no doubt sources of great pride to stakeholders in the sector. As the super Eagles march on Angola, this spirit remains as a veritable propelling point.
The history of Nigeria football dates back to the early part of the twentieth century. The man behind the introduction the game was Baron Mulford, a Briton, who organized weekly matches between European and Nigerian youths in Lagos. However, the Nigeria Football Association was established in 1945 with the Governor’s Cup or what later became known as the FA cup as the major national competition.
In 1959, the NFA became affiliated to the continental body, CAF, and the world body, FIFA. After independence the following year, the administration of Nigeria football fell on the shoulders of Nigerians, with Mr. Godfrey Amachree becoming the first Nigerian Chairman of the NFA. Since then,Nigeria has had a very thrilling football history rising to fame and glory through hard work, determination, resilience, zeal and sustained national interest.
Nigeria first participated in the African Cup of Nations in 1963. The team which was born as UK Tourists in 1949 and later became the Red Devils before changing name to Green Eagles, and today known as Super Eagles, did not qualify for the competition again until 1976, when the Green Eagles won bronze in Ethiopia.
Nigeria have won two African Nations Cup finals (1980 at home and 1994 in Tunisia), played in the Olympic Games six times (1968, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2008). In 1968, the Eagles sensationally drew 3-3 with ‘almighty’ Brazil at the Olympics in Mexico City, and in 1996 shocked the world by winning the gold in Atlanta, USA. Heroes of that triumph include Nwankwo Kanu (the current Captain of the Super Eagles and two -time African Player of the Year), Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Celestine Babayaro, Tijjani Babangida, Dosu Joseph, Wilson Oruma, Daniel Amokachi, Victor Ikpeba, Uche Okechukwu and Sunday Oliseh.
In 2008, the Nigeria team picked the silver in Beijing, after losing the final to Argentina by a lone goal.
After 32 years of relentless efforts, Nigeria qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time in 1994. The Eagles triumphed over Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria in the final round of qualifying series, a stage where it had fallen several times previously to the likes of Tunisia, Algeria and Cameroon.
It was an impressive debut at the World Cup finals in America, as the Eagles topped their group that included two -time winners Argentina, Bulgaria and Greece. Nigeria defeated Bulgaria (3-0),Greece(2-0) and narrowly lost to Argentina (1-2). At the end of the competition the world football -governing body FIFA, named the Eagles as the second most entertaining team of the championships after winners Brazil. The Super Eagles also qualified for the 1998 finals in France, after beating Guinea, Kenya and Burkina Faso in the final round of qualification. Also, Nigeria was at the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup. In the race for 2010, Nigeria remained unbeaten in the African qualifying series and has gallantly picked up the ticket for South Africa 2010.
The other national teams have also made their mark. The Super Falcons first took part in the World Cup finals in 1991, and then played at the finals again in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. In 1999, the Falcons reached the quarter finals. The team also played in the Olympics in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
The U-20 men’s team won World Cup silver in 1989 and 2005, and bronze in 1985. But the most global glory has come for Nigeria in the cadet category, where the Golden Eaglets have won three World Cups (1985, 1993 and 2007).
The U-20 women have played at the World Cup finals in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, reaching the quarter finals twice while the U-17 girls played at the first U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.
The beach soccer team has won the continental championship in 2007 and 2009, and has also played at two World Cups.
This is the glorious background of football in Nigeria and the entire nation is set to see their team break new grounds in Angola.