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Kanu Nwankwo, Jay Jay Okocha, other outstanding Super Eagles players in last two decades

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are flying high at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Championship in Cameroon having put all their group opponents…

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are flying high at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Championship in Cameroon having put all their group opponents to the sword on their way to set up a round-of-16 clash with Tunisia.

The lacklustre team inherited by Coach Augustine Eguavoen a few weeks to the championship are now firing from all cylinders with a 1-0 win against Egypt before going on to bulldoze Sudan 3-1. With a much-changed starting line-up, the Super Eagles still went on to demolish Guinea-Bissau 2-0 who needed a win to stay in the competition.

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Players like William Troost-Ekong, Moses Simon, Joe Aribo, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi are ticking the boxes for the Super Eagles who are having one of their best tournaments in recent years at present.

As Nigeria plays against Tunisia in the Round of 16 today, Daily Trust shines the spotlight on some players who have been outstanding for the Super Eagles in international championships in the last two decades:

Yakubu Aiyegbeni

Yakubu Aiyegbeni at the 2010 World Cup
Yakubu Aiyegbeni at the 2010 World Cup

Yakubu Ayegbeni, born 22 November 1982, played as a striker and he is nicknamed “The Yak”.

His performances in the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League for Maccabi Haifa earned a loan move to English club Portsmouth which became permanent as they were promoted to the Premier League in 2003.

He has since appeared in over 250 Premier League matches for Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton, and Blackburn Rovers, and is the fourth highest African goalscorer in Premier League history with 96 goals.

He is the third-highest scorer in the history of the Nigeria national football team and represented them at four African Cup of Nations finals, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2000 Summer Olympic

Yakubu scored 21 goals in his 57 appearances for Nigeria since his 2000 debut. He is currently the third-highest ever international goalscorer for Nigeria.

In September 2000, Yakubu featured in Nigeria’s squad for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. Then of Maccabi Haifa, the 17-year-old Yakubu wore the number 9 shirt. He scored the injury-time equaliser in Nigeria’s first match, a 3–3 draw with Honduras on 13 September in Adelaide. He also played against the hosts Australia on 16 September in Sydney as his side won 3–2 but did not play on 19 September as they drew with Italy in Adelaide. He featured in the quarter-finals as Nigeria lost 4–1 to Chile in Melbourne on 23 September.

Yakubu made his full international debut on 22 April 2000 in a 4–0 home win in Lagos against Eritrea in qualification for the 2002 African Cup of Nations. He scored his first international goal in an away win against Namibia on 16 June 2001 in the same qualification campaign.

On 1 July 2001, he scored his first international brace, with the second and fourth goals in a 4–0 away win over Sudan in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification stage.

He was named in the squad for the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali and was given the number 8 shirt by manager Shuaibu Amodu. On 9 February 2002, Yakubu scored the only goal of the third-place play-off against Mali after 29 minutes. However, Yakubu was not named later in the year in the squad selected by new manager Festus Onigbinde for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

On 7 June 2003, Yakubu scored Nigeria’s first two goals as they came from behind to beat Malawi 4–1 in a qualifier for the 2004 African Cup of Nations. He retained the number 8 shirt in the squad named for the finals in Tunisia by manager Christian Chukwu but did not score. Alongside Celestine Babayaro and Victor Agali, he was sent home from the tournament for indiscipline.

At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Yakubu notably missed an open goal from three yards against South Korea in the last Group game but later went on to score a penalty to tie the match. Yakubu’s penalty made sure that Nigeria earned a result of a 2–2 draw, but this was not enough for his side to progress out of the group stage.

Joseph Yobo

Joseph Yobo
Joseph Yobo

Joseph Michael Yobo, born 6 September 1980, played as a centre back for Nigeria.

He was the captain of the Nigerian national team until his international football retirement in June 2014 and was Nigeria’s record appearance holder. In February 2020, he was appointed assistant coach of the Super Eagles by the Nigeria Football Federation.

Yobo has been capped 101 times and represented the Super Eagles at three FIFA World Cups and six Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

After participating in Nigeria’s run to the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship quarter-finals, Yobo made his senior international debut against Zambia in a 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier on 24 March 2001. He played in all six of the team’s matches in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations and was included in the squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he was again ever-present, assisting Julius Aghahowa’s goal in a 2–1 loss to Sweden.

Yobo made his second World Cup appearance at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, after which he assumed the captaincy on the international retirement of Nwankwo Kanu. The veteran defender was no longer a first-choice player at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations but lifted the trophy after appearing as an 89th-minute substitute in Nigeria’s 1–0 final defeat of Burkina Faso.

In June 2014, Yobo was included in Stephen Keshi’s squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He was named in the starting line-up for both the second and third group matches, helping the Super Eagles to clean sheet in a 1–0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 30 June, he made his 100th international appearance, captaining Nigeria against France in the Round of 16. After scoring an own goal in the 2–0 defeat, Yobo announced his international retirement, saying: “This is it. I can look back on my career with great pride. I wanted to leave on a high for my country. Defeat by France was not the right way to go but I’m happy with all I’ve done for the national team. It’s time to give a chance to other people to come through.”

Coaching career

On 12 February 2020, Yobo was appointed assistant coach of the Super Eagles by the Nigeria Football Federation after a brief meeting held in Abuja. He was appointed assistant coach to replace Imama Amapakabo.

Yobo said: “I am bringing back that motivation. As a former captain, I’m bringing inspiration. I’ve been there and I’ve done it all. I was a fan of the team before I became an assistant coach, so I’ve seen from a fanatical point of view how people feel when they are watching the team.

“We as players, while playing, don’t notice these things but after my retirement, I’ve been a pundit, I’ve given my opinion about what should be done in the team.”

He also said: “I’m bringing back my experience. Having over 15 years of consistency in my career, I think this is a lot. The good thing is that the spirit is going to improve. Having been a pundit and looking at the team, I think we can go a lot higher with the quality we have”.

Mikel John Obi

Mikel John Obi
Mikel John Obi

Mikel John Obi, a defensive midfielder, was born on 22 April 1987.

Mikel began his career with local club Plateau United, before joining Norwegian club Lyn at the age of 17 in 2004. In 2006, he made a controversial transfer to English club Chelsea after Manchester United claimed they had already signed him.

He stayed with Chelsea for 11 years, before moving to China with Tianjin TEDA in 2017. After two years in China, he returned to England on a short-term deal with Middlesbrough, before joining Trabzonspor on a free transfer in July 2019.

Mikel moved back to England in August 2020 joining Stoke City. In a 14-year international career between 2005 and 2019, he played 91 times for Nigeria, scoring six goals.

He made headlines for his country at the FIFA Under-17 World Championships held in Finland. Following the tournament, he went on to a trial at South Africa club Ajax Cape Town, ultimately joining Oslo-based club Lyn Fotball in Norway.

Mikel represented the Nigeria under-20 team at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship and won the Silver Ball for the second-best player at the tournament (behind Lionel Messi) as the Africans finished runner-up to Argentina.

He made his debut for the Nigeria senior team on 17 August 2005, when he came on as a second-half substitute in a 1–0 friendly win over Libya.

At the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Mikel was a key player for Nigeria as they went on to win their third continental title. He was named by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the team of the tournament alongside teammates Vincent Enyeama, Efe Ambrose, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike.

Mikel made his FIFA World Cup debut during the 2014 tournament in Brazil, earning a man of the match award in the Super Eagles’ opening game against Iran and helping the team to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1998.

He was selected by Nigeria for their 35-man provisional squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics and was later named captain of the Olympics squad. On 13 August 2016, Mikel scored his first-ever Olympic goal in a 2–0 win against Denmark to advance to the semi-final. After the 2–0 defeat to Germany, Nigeria went on to win the bronze medal match against Honduras. On 20 August, Mikel helped Nigeria to the bronze medal in a 3–2 victory over Honduras. Nigeria became the first-ever country to win all three medals at the Olympic Games with the 1996 squad winning the gold and the 2008 squad winning the silver.

In July 2019, he said that the 2019 African Cup of Nations would be his last tournament for Nigeria. He retired at the end of the competition, in which Nigeria came third.

Mikel has won the Premier League (2009–10, 2014–15), FA Cup (2006–07, 2008–09, 2011–12), Football League Cup (2006–07), FA Community Shield (2009), UEFA Champions League (2011–12), UEFA Europa League (2012–13) as well as the Turkish Cup (2019–20) amongst other international trophies and recognitions.

Vincent Enyeama

Lionel Messi and Vincent-Enyeama
Lionel Messi and Vincent Enyeama at the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Vincent Enyeama, born 29 August 1982, played as a goalkeeper. He is popularly regarded as one the greatest African Goalkeepers of all time and of his era.

During his senior career, which spanned nearly 20 years, Enyeama played for Ibom Stars, Enyimba, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Bnei Yehuda, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Lille and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

He was also a member of the Nigeria national team from 2002 until October 2015, serving as its captain from 2013 until his retirement from international football in 2015. With 101 caps, he was Nigeria’s most capped player until November 2021 when he was surpassed by Ahmed Musa.

During his spell with Enyimba International F.C., he won the CAF Champions League twice. After three seasons with Enyimba International F.C. and one with Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now known as Heartland F.C.), Enyeama moved to Israeli club Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv.

Enyeama signed for Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2007 and during the 2008–09 season, he became Hapoel’s penalty kicker and won the “Player of The Year” award.

In the 2009–10 season, Hapoel won the league and cup double, with Enyeama featuring prominently. He helped Hapoel to win the Israeli cup again before joining Lille in 2011 for an undisclosed fee on a three-year contract.

On the international scene, after making his debut for the Nigeria national football team against Kenya in May 2002, Enyeama was selected for the 2002 FIFA World Cup as a cover for Ike Shorunmu.

He made his competitive debut in that tournament, keeping a clean sheet against England in the third group match. Since the retirement of Shorunmu, he has been the first-choice goalkeeper for the national team, helping the Super Eagles to third-place finishes in the 2004, 2006, 2010 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, and captaining the team to victory in the 2013 edition. He has also participated in the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.

In the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Enyeama stopped three kicks in the quarter-final penalty shootout against Tunisia, but could not prevent a loss to Ivory Coast in the semi-final. In the 2010 tournament, he was again Nigeria’s shootout hero at the quarter-final stage, saving from Zambia’s Thomas Nyrienda and scoring the winning kick himself.

Enyeama made his second FIFA World Cup appearance in the 2010 tournament in South Africa. He was named man of the match in Nigeria’s first game of the tournament, a defiant display that restricted Argentina to a 1–0 win. Enyeama, who was playing his 56th international for the Super Eagles, made six fine saves against the two-time world champions, four of them from Lionel Messi. Argentine coach Diego Maradona praised him as the reason Messi was not able to score a goal. Enyeama was also awarded man of the match in the team’s next fixture, a 2–1 loss to Greece.

On 26 March 2015, Enyeama won his 100th cap for Nigeria in a 1–0 loss to Uganda. He retired from international football on 8 October 2015.

Kanu Nwankwo

Kanu Nwankwo

Nwankwo Kanu OON, born 1 August 1976, played as a forward.

He was a member of the Nigeria national team and played for Nigerian team Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Dutch side Ajax, Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth.

Kanu won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup medals and two African Player of the Year awards amongst others.

He is one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.

He made the third-most substitute appearances in Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times, and is regarded as one of the best players in African football history.

He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and African brand ambassador for digital TV operator StarTimes.

He is also the owner of Kanu Sports TV, an Internet sports television company.

Kanu was a member of the Nigeria national team from 1994 to 2010, making his debut in a friendly against Sweden.

Earlier on at the start of his career, Kanu was instrumental in Nigeria’s overall success at the 1993 FIFA U-17 tournament in Japan and their subsequent 2–1 victory over Ghana in the final. With five goals, he was second joint-scorer in the tournament with Peter Anosike and Manuel Neira, behind compatriot and Captain Wilson Oruma.

As well as winning the Olympic gold in the football event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he scored the winning goal in the 4–3 semi-final win over Brazil, his second goal of the match.

Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On 24 June 2010, Kanu ended his international career following Nigeria’s exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Nigeria lost their group matches against Argentina and Greece before a 2–2 draw with South Korea ended their stay in the tournament.

He won 86 caps and scored 13 goals for his country and was the joint most capped Nigerian player of all time alongside Muda Lawal, until Joseph Yobo surpassed both players in 2012, winning his 87th cap.


Austine “Jay Jay” Okocha

Okocha in action
Augustine “Jay-Jay” Okocha in action for the Super Eagles

Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha was born on 14 August 1973. The Nigerian former professional footballer played as an attacking midfielder. He played 73 times for the Nigeria national team between 1993 and 2006, scoring 14 times, and was a member of three FIFA World Cup squads.

He played across multiple leagues, starting his career at Enugu Rangers in the Nigerian Professional Football League before moving to Borussia Neunkirchen in Oberliga Südwest, Germany’s third division in July 1990. He would play in the Bundesliga, Turkish Süper Lig, French Ligue 1, English Premier League, EFL Championship, Qatar Stars League, and the Indian Super League before his retirement in 2012.

Okocha made his official debut for Nigeria in their 2–1 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifier away loss against Ivory Coast in May 1993. It was not until his second cap and home debut that he became a favourite with the Nigerian supporters. With Nigeria trailing 1–0 against Algeria, in a match they needed to win, he scored from a direct free-kick to equalise, before helping the team to a 4–1 win, eventually securing qualification to their first World Cup.

In 1994, he was a member of both the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and the World Cup squad who made it to the second round before they lost in a dramatic match against eventual runners-up Italy.

In 1996, Okocha became a key member of an arguably more successful Nigerian side, their Olympic gold-winning side at the Atlanta Games, later nicknamed the Dream Team by the Nigerian press after the USA 1992 Olympic gold-winning basketball team.

In the 1998 FIFA World Cup hosted by France, Okocha played for a disappointing Super Eagles side who failed to live up to expectations again reaching the round of 16, albeit with less impressive performances save for their 3–2 opening win against Spain. This did not destroy interest in Okocha, who had entertained fans with his trademark skills and dribbles and went on to be named in the squad of the tournament.

Okocha again joined the Super Eagles in the 2000 African Cup of Nations co-hosted with Ghana. He scored three goals in the tournament, two in the opening game against Tunisia, and then given a standing ovation by the nearly 60,000 attendance when he left the field.

He made a return to the Super Eagles in his testimonial against an African select side in Warri. The game featured former players Daniel Amokachi, Alloysius Agu, John Fashanu, Benjani and Sulley Muntari. Nigeria won the game 2–1 with Okocha scoring the winning goal after appearing for the side in the second half. In March 2004, he was named one of the top 125 living footballers by Pelé.

A quick, talented, and skilful playmaker, Okocha usually played as an attacking midfielder and is widely considered by certain pundits internationally as the best Nigerian footballer ever, and as one of the best African players of all time.

He is still remembered by Fenerbahçe fans as one of the legends of the club and country. Okocha was known for his confidence and trickery with the ball, technique, creativity, flair, close control, and dribbling skills, as well as his turn of pace and his use of feints, in particular, the stepover and his trademark turns.

Due to his skill and nickname, he was described as being ‘so good that they named him twice’ (a line immortalised in a terrace chant while Okocha played for Bolton Wanderers). Despite his ability, however, he was also known for being inconsistent.

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