Few gave Super Eagles of Nigeria any hope of making a lasting impression at USA 1994. It was their first appearance at the Mundial.

The 1994 World Cup, then, began with Bulgaria looking imposing and a real threat to win the title. They came up against Nigeria in the opening match of Group D.

The Bulgarians, coming in to the game with a 4-3-3 formation, boasted a line-up full of veterans, with Hristo Stoichkov, Daniel Borimirov, Krasimir Balakov, Emil Kostadinov and Trifon Ivanov.

Nigeria, with a 4-4-2 formation, had Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike, Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh and Jay Jay Okocha.

Super Eagles came out all guns blazing—with Rashidi Yekini mercilessly attacking the zone. Yekini targeted Ivanov, who had been pinpointed as the possible weakness in Bulgaria’s armour.

The Nigerian players repeatedly harassed the Bulgarians, forcing them into predictable patterns of play.

The Bulgarians came into the game with better quality, but Uche Okechukwu was calm at the back, and while the Bulgarians had their chances, they could not score.

Nigeria struck first, 21 minutes into the first half after a beautiful combination on the right side. Amokachi sent a soft pass to Finidi, streaking down the wing, just barely onside. Finidi’s crossing pass found Yekini, who calmly put it past Bulgarian goalkeeper Borislav Mikhailov.

Yekini, Africa’s “footballer of the year” in 1993 and a strong bet to repeat the honor, savored his country’s first World Cup goal in history by clinging furiously to the back of the net and kissing it repeatedly.

Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoichkov appeared to tie the score with a booming, 28-yard free kick into the upper right corner in the 37th minute, but referee Rodrigo Badilla of Costa Rica waved off the goal. He had awarded an indirect free kick, which meant the ball had to touch another player before a goal could be scored.

Further goals from Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amunike and strong midfield and wing play from George Finidi, Nigeria looked fit to take a place among the top teams in the tournament, if one match could have provided a clue.

When the final whistle blew, the world had just witnessed one of the great upsets of footballing history.

This would go down in annals as one of the great chapters in African football, rivalling Cameroon’s defeat of Argentina in the 1990 Cup.


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