The 1994 class of the Super Eagles has generally being referred to as the golden generation of Nigerian football. Sadly, however the members of that formidable squad are kissing the world bye year after year, the most recent being the exit of Late Stephen Keshi who was the leading figure in that generation.
As we pay tribute to Keshi today , we also remember our other fallen heroes in the 1994 squad that have gone to the great beyond .
Uche Okafor – Defender (1967-2011)
Uchenna Kizito Okafor, often shortened to Uche Okafor was a former Super Eagles defender with 34 international caps who was a member of the USA 94 world cup and Tunisia 94 Nations Cup winning squad.
Uche was found hanging at his Dallas, Texas home and a preliminary report by the Dallas police ruled that the easy-going defender hanged himself. But his family, friends and the Nigerian community in America rejected the suicide claims as they suspected foul play.
The FBI stepped into the controversy after protests from the family members who even alleged racism for the shoddy investigation over the death of the player reports had it that findings confirmed the suspicion of murder held by many of the former Eagles’ admirers. However, the FBI report did not state who killed Uche Okafor or why his life was terminated.
Rashidi Yekini – Striker (1963-2012)
Rashidi Yekini was a Nigerian footballer who played as a striker. His professional career, which spanned more than two decades, was mainly associated with Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal.
Yekini who was a key figure in the USA 94 world cup and Tunisia 94 Nations Cup winning squad scored 37 goals as a Nigerian international, and represented the nation in five major tournaments, including two World Cups where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition. The 1993 African Footballer of the Year bagged 58 caps for the Eagles.
Yekini was reported to be ill for an extended period of time. In 2011, news media in Nigeria begun issuing reports of his failing health, and he was said to suffer from bipolar disorder, depression and some other undisclosed psychiatric condition. He died in Ibadan on 4 May 2012 at the age of only 48, the news being confirmed by former national teammates Mutiu Adepoju and Ike Shorunmu. He was buried at his residence in Ira, Kwara State.
Thompson Oliha – Midfielder (1968-2013)
Having played at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship Oliha made the rise into the senior national team where he made a total of 31 appearances for the full Nigeria national football team, scoring two goals. He made his international debut in 1990, in a game against Senegal and made his last appearance at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, as a late substitute against Italy.
Oliha played for Bendel Insurance, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Africa Sports, Maccabi Ironi Ashdod F.C. and Antalyaspor. As a player, he was known for his powerful shots and abilities in the air.
Oliha retired at the age of 27 as a result of a knee injury and was an assistant coach for the Kwara Football Academy until he died of a reported complications from malaria in June 2013. Oliha bagged 31 caps for Nigeria.
Wilfred Agbonavbare – Goalkeeper (1966-2015)
Agbonavbare appeared with the Nigerian under-20s at the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship in Mexico. He played for more than one decade with the full side, being selected for the 1994 African Cup of Nations and that year’s FIFA World Cup, backing up Peter Rufai on both occasions.
Agbonavbare played for New Nigeria Bank F.C. and BCC Lions FC. In 1990, he moved to Spain where he would spend the rest of his career, starting with Rayo Vallecano in Segunda División. In his second season with the Madrid outskirts club, Agbonavbare appeared in all 38 league games (3,332 minutes of action, 27 goals conceded, second-best in the competition) as the team finished second and returned to La Liga after two years of absence.
In late January 2015 it was revealed that he was suffering from cancer, and he subsequently underwent treatment at the Hospital Universitario Príncipe de Asturias in Alcalá de Henares. Rayo Vallecano and Atlético Madrid displayed a banner during their league match at the Vicente Calderón Stadium on 24 January that read “Fuerza Wilfred” (You Can Do It Wilfred). He succumbed to the disease three days later, aged 48. Agbonavbare played 15 times for the Super Eagles.
Stephen Keshi – Defender (1961-2016)
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi fondly called the “Big Boss” was a Nigerian football defender turned coach who alongside Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary were the only two people to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach.
Keshi whose wife of 33 years Kate died on 10 December 2015, after battling cancer for three years died on 8 June 2016 in Benin City, after suffering from a cardiac arrest, aged 54, leaving behind four children an aged mother.
Keshi was named Nigeria captain by coach Adegboye Onigbinde in 1983, shortly before the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’ Ivoire. He led the Nigerian side to the final of the competition, before being beaten 3-1 by Cameroon.
He then left Anderlecht in 1991, joining Strasbourg in France and played there until 1993.
And it was also in 1993, that a Keshi-led Eagles team qualified for their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance under coach Clemence Westerhoff.
Before the World Cup, in ’94, Keshi also led the Eagles to their second ever Africa Cup of Nations triumph in Tunisia, and while he wasn’t a consistent playing member of the squad at that time, he was as influential as ever.
Our deepest thoughts are with all those these great heroes left behind untimely.
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