Cyril C. NwokejiFriday, May 29, 2015




he year was 1989, at the under-20 World cup competition held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Flying Eagles of Nigeria, comprising the bulk of the players that won the silver medal at the 1987, under-17 World cup competition, together with some other talented youngsters, qualified to represent Nigeria and Africa, at the 1989, under -20 World cup competition. It was a beautiful team that comprised players like: Angus Ikeji, Emeka Amadi, Nduka Ugbade, Peter Ogaba, Taiwo Enegwa, alias" Energy," Justice Christopher, Oladunni Oyekale, Oladimeji Mohammed Lawal, Christopher Ohenhen, Mutiu Adepoju, alias" Headmaster," Philip Osondu, alias" Zanza," Christopher Nwosu, Anthony Emedeofu, and all the other beautiful and talented youngsters, who due to the limitations of the human memory, cannot be recalled.

The team no doubt had a depth of talent, but this fact notwithstanding, it was underrated by the Nigerian press, and consequently Nigerians, mainly because their coach and chief strategist: Tunde Disu, obtained his coaching licence, in the United States of America; a country considerd at that time to be a soccer minnow . In other words, Coach Disu, was considerd by the Nigerian press, as being tactically inadequate to tinker the Flying Eagles to appreciable heights at the under-20 World cup competition, notwithstanding the team's depth of talent. Nobody gave this beautiful team a chance at the under-20 World cup competition. Nigerians wonderd how soon the team would be eliminated rather than how far the team would go in the competition !

When the team started their opening match ,weakly, against hosts Saudi-Arabia, and consequently went one goal down, in the first half, this further gave credence to their perceived vulnerability, in the eyes of Nigerians. In the second half, however, this indefatigable and highly courageous team, under impuls of Philip Osondu, alias" Zanza,"started their characteristic come back, a characteristic come back, that enabled this team reach unexpected heights at the 1989 under -20 World cup competition. The Philip Osondu inspired second half performance, saw the Flying Eagles, coming back forcefully in the game, taking the game to the hosts and consequently, dominated the game. This paid off through a header of an equaliser, scored by Mutiu Adepoju, alias" headmaster,"off a beautiful pull out from the left side of attack, by Philip Osondu. The scores became 1-1; and the Flying Eagles, renewed their attacking onslaught, on the now out-played hosts. A free kick slightly outside the Saudi-Arabian eighteen yard box, on the left side of the Nigerian offensive line, was fired home, by left winger: Christopher Ohenhen, to give the Flying Eagles, a 2-1 lead. The Flying Eagles held on to this lead, till the end, to secure an opening victory, and the two points at stake !

This opening victory gave Nigerians hope, but nobody had huge expectations in this team. The loss by 1-0, to a young Louis Figo - inspired Portugal, in the second match, further dampened the hopes of Nigerians.

The Flying Eagles needed at least a draw in their last group's match againstAustralia, to be sure of qualification for the quarter-finals.

The match against the Australians, didn't start well for the Flying Eagles, as they were initially out played by the Australians, who deservedly took a one goal lead, before half time.

In the second half, the Flying Eagles tried their characteristic come back, but constantly met a recalcitrant Australian wall of defence. The minutes ticked away, and Nigerians gradually saw the Flying Eagles, being eliminated from the under-20 World cup competition, with a narrow defeat to the Australians. It was with about three minutes left to play, that the mercurial Christopher Nwosu, started his glorious solo run into the Australian defence, in what has now become one of the best solo efforts ever, by a Nigerian player at a soccer competition, and the best so far at a global competition, at all levels, for a Nigerian team! He single handedly took on the Australian defenders, leaving them biting the dust in the wake of his blitzing run into the heart of the Australian defence. He 'eliminated ' all the Australian defenders and sloted the anxiously awaited and much heralded equaliser past the Australian goal keeper, for the scores to be 1-1. It was an equaliser, that felt like the winning goal; as Nigerians lept for joy, at this rather unexpected equaliser and consequent qualification for the quarter-finals, of the under-20 World cup, by this rather unfancied Flying Eagles side !

However, the billed meeting against the all conquering Russian side, in the quarter-finals, dempt what ever illusions Nigerians had over this Flying Eagles, as a consequence of the euphoria that heralded their qualification for the quarter-finals.

The Russians won their group convincingly, and had a lethal striker: Salenko, who was prominently among the goals, in the group's matches. On match day against the Nigerians, Salenko, unbounded his devils in the first half against a very weak Flying Eagles defence, that lacked inspiration and organisation. Before one knew what was going on, the Russians had scored four unreplied goals in the first half; with Salenko, personally accounting for three; a hat trick! The game appeared all over for the hapless Nigerians, who were a sorry sight to behold!

Before the start of the second half, the Russian coach sensing qualification for the semi-finals, tactically rested Salenko! It was a tactical move by the Russian coach that with benefit of hindsight, proved tactless! He apparently underestimated the resolve of the Nigerians to come back in the game. As the second half started, the Russians without Salenko, became less of a threat to the Flying Eagles, this coupled with the typical Nigerian never-say- die-attitude, made the Flying Eagles come more into the game. The Russians were pushed back to their territory, by the very hungry and rampaging Flying Eagles, who were now flying very high and firing on all cylinders! It wasn't long before the goals started coming. The scores became: 4-1; 4-2; 4-3; and finally the back breaker for the Russians, 4-4 !!!! Wow, the Russians that were very confident at the end of the first half, now became a sorry sight to behold! It was and is still one of the biggest and best come backs ever in soccer history !

The momentum was on the side of the Nigerians and they took maximal advantage of this reality; the game ended 4-4, within regulation time. The mandatory extra time, didn't break the deadlock; the Flying Eagles won the resulting penalty shoot out, to make Nigerians go wild with ecstacy! The great and unusual come back exhibited by the Flying Eagles, has now come to be known as the" Damaan Miracle ," or rather the" Miracle of Damaan," since the match was played in the Saudi - Arabian city of Damaan.

The Flying Eagles eventually got to the finals of the under-20 World cup, after dispatching of the USA in the semi-finals, 2-1, off two goals scored by Mutiu Adepoju. The gallant Flying Eagles eventually lost to Portugal, in the finals, 2-0. But was adjuged by Nigerians, as having put up a very courageous effort at the World cup and thus surpassed the collective expectations of their country men and women!

The much plagued and taunted Coach Disu, at the reception, organised in Nigeria, to welcome back the gallant team, asked the Nigerian press the ironical question:" Where are those of you that said I wasn't tactically sound enough to tinker the Flying Eagles?" He got no reply! !

The essence of this narrative, is to motivate the nations' under-20 team, as they get ready to confront the world, at the under-20 World cup, in New Zealand. Nigerians expect this highly talented team to do well; and hopefully, with hard work, determination, the usual Nigerian never-say -die spirit and with lots of luck, a la" Miracle of Damaan," one has no doubt in his mind that this highly talented team would do well and hopefully go one step further than their 1989 and 2005 counterparts, by winning the much coveted trophy, for the first time, for Nigeria! This we hope and pray for: Isseeeeeeeeeh !!!!!!!