The 1970s

The 1970s was the decade when Nigeria became recognized as one of the best teams in Africa.

Victory in 1973’s 2nd All African Games in Lagos that was the catalyst. Nigeria had never won a continental honour of any type and at that time the All African Games were huge. The full national teams of most African countries took part up until 1987.

The national team had received a boost in 1970 with the end of the Biafran War. As a result a large pool of players from the East were now available.

In 1974 Jelisavcic Tohomir, popularly known as Father Tiko, became coach and began to develop a new team. Tiko’s search for players took him the breadth of the country, and it wasn’t easy given the mass exodus of players abroad for educational reasons.

It paid off because in 1975 Nigeria qualified for the 1976 African Cup of Nations in Ethiopia. Despite being in a tough group that included Africa’s 1974 World Cup representatives Zaire, Morocco and Sudan the Green Eagles emerged from the group and eventually finished third.

The Eagles then qualified for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and although politics intervened and the team did not play in the Olympics, it was clear the Nigeria were now a major force. Surely the World Cup in 1978 beckoned.

Qualification for the 1978 World Cup came down to one game against Tunisia in Lagos. A narrow victory would do, but incredibly the Green Eagles lost to an own goal by Godwin Odiye. Even today an own goal in Nigerian football is still referred to as ‘Odiye’, a somewhat unfortunate way for one of Nigeria’s greatest defenders to be remembered.

The bulk of this outstanding crop of Green Eagles came from two of the best club sides in Africa. Enugu Rangers and IICC Shooting Stars were not just the best two teams in the country, but also challenged regularly for continental titles. Emmanuel Okala, Christian Chukwu, and Alloysius Atuegbu from Rangers were household names, as were their IICC counterparts Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal and Sam Ojebode.

There were two tournaments left for the 70s. Nigeria expected to do well in the 1978 African Cup of Nations in Ghana. The team had struggled to replace main striker Thompson Usiyen, one of the education migrants common in Nigerian sport at this time, and although they did well the team came unstuck in the semi-finals against unheralded Uganda. Third place was secured against Tunisia who walked off the pitch with the match poised at 1-1.

Standards were now set higher than third so changes were made for the 1978 All Africa Games in Algeria. Nigeria won its group on goal difference after beating Mali 3-1 and drawing 0-0 with Cameroon and Ghana. They then beat Malawi 3-2 in the semi-final before losing 1-0 in the final to Algeria.



the early years 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000 2010

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