If you watched Nigeria play the World Cup at France 98, you would have noticed that there was not really a Super Eagles but what looked like a group of players randomly picked to wear the jerseys of the country.
The France 98 World train started with Shaibu Amodu as coach, but he was sacked after a draw at Kenya, replaced with Monday Sinclair who was in turn dropped for Phillipe Troussier.
Troussier qualified Nigeria for the World Cup with one game in hand, the away one against Guinea which Nigeria lost 1-0, but the problems with the team started just before that encounter.
Jonathan Akpoborie was a member of that team then missed the World Cup in France even though he was joint top scorer in the European Cup Winners Cup that year as his team, VfB Stuttgart got to the final.
Akpoborie insists that there was so much politics in the Super Eagles leading to the World Cup in France that he decided on his own not to be part of the charade.
“I don’t believe in… I don’t like name dropping. When we start discussing all of these things, we all know in Nigeria, every one into football in Nigeria knows all the pressures when a Nigerian team is about to go to the World Cup,” Akpoborie told Nigeria Info FM in Lagos.
“I actually did not want to be part of that spectacle but going through the qualifiers it was already chaotic even though we made the best out of it when Philippe Troussier came into the team.
“Then we started playing consistent football, and qualified for the World Cup and then when we qualified, just before the last game in Guinea, that was when we saw there would be problems. I think we lost that game, but we had already qualified. That was when we knew there were going to be problems,” the former World Cup winner said.
Problems, problems everywhere
Jonathan said there were rumours already that the French coach would not take the team to the World Cup and players started to lobby for places in the team to France.
“The game against Kenya in Lagos, we won 3-0 and there was this hint that Troussier would not be going to the World Cup even though we went with him to Conakry for the final game against Guinea, so there was already unrest in the team.
“Before I even got to Germany after the game (against Guinea), we already had rumours that there was a new coach and they had let Troussier go. They also said they want to restructure the team.
Akpoborie continued that the lobbyists took over the team and he suggested that players were almost begging to make the team to the World Cup.
“Restructuring the team was like, okay, who belongs to this team? Then there were some people who believed they were responsible for the Nigerian team and it was their birthright.
“I was not that kind of player who would say it was do or die to play at the World Cup.
I never begged to play for Nigeria and I will never. I made that vow that I would never beg somebody to play for Nigeria,” he reminisced.
Akpoborie added that because of the scramble to get on the team and the ensuing chaos, he booked his holidays to the USA as soon as the season in Europe ended because he knew he was not going to be part of the Super Eagles to the World Cup.
“And even at the time that the list was given out when every one was suggesting who we had to talk to before making the World Cup team, I just went on holidays because I thought that all those names were not there when we started the race to qualify for the World Cup so why where they just appearing now, so I just went on holiday to America.
“So before any thing was heard I was already in America for holidays,” He said.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles went through a lot of structural changes between when the first World Cup Qualifier was played to her opening game in France.
Coaches were changed from Shaibu Amodu to Monday Sinclair, Phillipe Troussier and then Bora Milutinovic who eventually went to the World Cup.
The players changes were so much that at first it seemed like the team that started the qualifiers in 1996 would be so much different from the final team that would play in the World Cup.
On the 9th of November, 1996 Nigeria played it’s first qualifying game at home to Burkina Faso. The Super Eagles won 2-0, both goals coming from Daniel Amokachi.
Nigeria’s line up on the day was Joseph Dosu, Oparaku Mobi, Babayaro Celestine, Oliseh Ogorchukwu Sunday, Okechukwu Uche, West Taribo, Finidi George, Okocha Augustine, Yekini Rasheed, Amokachi Daniel, Ikpeka Victor
Emmanuel Amunike replaced Victor Ikpeba while Jonathan Akpoborie came in for Rashidi Yekini.
By the time the final qualifier was played away to Guinea, the team was Rufai Peter, West Taribo, Oparaku Mobi, Adepoju Mutiu, Okechukwu Uche, Iroha Benedict, Jonathan Akpoborie, Okocha Augustine, Okpara Godwin, Amunike Emmanuel, Amokachi Daniel.
Karibe Ojigwe replaced Mobi Okparaku while Nwankwo Kanu came in for Jonathan Akpoborie.
In six World Cup Qualifying matches, the Super Eagles started four goalkeepers- Joseph Dosu, Peter Rufai, Abiodun Baruwa and Ike Shorunmu.
By the time the Super Eagles qualified for the World Cup, the chop and change began. Joseph Dosu was out injured, his replacement, Ike Shorunmu also copped an injury and Peter Rufai had to be called in from his end of season holiday to join the team.
Jero Shakpoke was introduced to the team during the pre- World Cup friendly matches but was out injured by the time the final list was made. Samson Siasia returned during the Carlsberg Cup early in 1998 and did well in two games played with the team but did not make the final cut. Gabriel Okolosi also thought he had a chance but was not eventually considered by Bora Milutinovic. Ahmed Yaro Yaro also thought he was in, but he did not make the cut.
Nigeria beat Spain 3-2 in her opening game of the World Cup, then won 1-0 over Bulgaria before losing the final group game to Paraguay.
In the 2nd Round the Super Eagles were thrashed 4-1 by Denmark.