The was a time when the Super Eagles team was dominated by giants – physically and in quality.
Nigeria was a dominant force on the continent, emerging from a slow period and Clemens Westerhof had assembled sentries, generals and field marshals to retake the team’s lost glory.
Leading that cavalry was Stephen Keshi (now late) and his word was just as divine as God’s in the team; so his approval was key for newly recruited corporals according to 1994 African player of the year, Emmanuel Amunike.
Amunike, a young winger at the time, had earned his first national team call up after impressing with Egyptian side, Zamalek.
The 46-year-old former Barcelona, Sporting CP player turned Coach recounts his first day in training in a chat with brila.net
He said Keshi inquired, ‘where is the Amunike everybody is talking about.’
Amunike said he walked up to the Super Eagles captain and presented himself.
‘Captain, here I am,’ he told Keshi.
Keshi, who later became a coach and led Nigeria to it’s third African title in 2013, jeered at the then 23-year-old.
‘How come you’re this small? Are you sure you can handle the rigors around here?’
Coming from the Egyptian league where he won two league titles and the CAF Champions League, Amunike said he did not feel intimated, rather he was keen to prove he deserved a place in the team and the respect of his would be teammates.
‘I may be small, yes, but Captain you don’t want to come rushing at me,’ Amunike warned the Super Eagles ‘first choice’ center back and captain.
An hour later with the training session done and players retiring, Amunike said he stood head over shoulders having earned his stripes.
Several months down the line he came off the bench to net two goals and help Nigeria win its second African title in 1994 in a 2-1 win against Zambia.
That final was only the second game where Nigeria’s record goal scorer, Rashidi Yekini, did not score at the tournament. The first was a goalless draw against Egypt in the group stages.