Nigeria’s second consecutive qualification to the World Cup in France 98 did not come as a surprise as the Super Eagles entered the competition as one of the dark horses.
The Super Eagles were one of Africa’s strong representatives in the soccer fiesta but failed to progress beyond the round of 16.
Following impressive displays in the group against Spain and Bulgaria, the two-time African Champions sealed qualification after just two matches against the Europeans but losing the unimportant match to Paraguay.
All eyes were on the Bora Milutinovic side as the group leaders were drawn with Denmark in the round of 16 which many pundits believe the tie between both countries should be a work over for the Africans predicting the forthcoming match against Brazil in the last eight.
However things did not go as planned as the Scandinavians condemned the Nigerian team to a humiliating 1-4 defeat ending the Super Eagles fairy tale story at World Cup.
Some of the players that flew the Nigerian flag in France retired prematurely after the tournament paving way for young and ambitious lads.
NAIJ.com takes a look at players who represented Nigeria at the France 98’ World Cup
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1. Peter Rufai
Ike Shorumu was Super Eagles’ number one before the competition but the former FC Zurich shot-stopper sustained injury that excluded him from the World Cup.
Peter Rufai was called upon to boost the defensive formation with his wealth of experience from the previous World Cup in the United States.
Unfortunately, the former Farense goalkeeper was off color as he conceded cheap goals especially the 1-4 embarrassing defeat from Denmark and also made a blunder that gave the Paraguayans the advantage.
He currently runs a football academy called Staruf Football academy for the past eight years.
2. Mobi Oparaku
Within the space of five years Mobi Oparaku featured for Nigeria at the U-17 and U-23 national teams respectively which he beat other contenders for the right back position to be included in the France 98 team.
The Kapellen petite defender was instrumental in the games he featured for the Green and White men but got injured which cost the nation dearly in the round of 16 match against the Danes.
Ever since, the former Anderletch player was never regarded as the high profile player, and his invitation to the national team became minimal.
He was recently appointed the team manager of Heartland FC, a Nigeria Professional Football League club side.
3. Celestine Babayaro
One of Nigeria’s prospects at the tournament was the fast rising Celestine Babayaro who cemented his place as a first team player at the expense of Ben Iroha.
The then Chelsea defender showed a lot of promises especially adding more attacking options which was evident with his three goals at the Atlanta 96 Olympic Games.
The former player of the year in the Belgian first division had just 25 caps in his name which he could have acquired more plagued with recurring injury crises until he called it quits after Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He is now into sports commentary.
4. Nwankwo Kanu
Kanu captained the gold medal winning team at the 96’ Olympics and the lanky forward became a threat to first team players who had uncertainties with their future.
Kanu did not have much of a feel of the tournament but gathered experiences under senior players and the competition itself which he later graduated to become one of Nigeria’s all-time great.
The former Arsenal forward had a blissful club career but failed to add to his Olympic and U-17 gold medals for Nigeria before retiring.
He currently runs a foundation for kids battling heart diseases known as the Kanu Heart Foundation.
5. Uche Okechukwu
After late Stephen’s Keshi retirement, the next worthy personnel was the Gentle Giant also known as Uche Okechukwu.
The 30-year old was not really at his best at the World Cup as his lapses were exposed by attackers of the opposing teams Nigeria faced in every match.
Nevertheless the former Brondby defender gave his all to the squad and after the painful exit at the tournament, Uche announced his retirement from the national team.
He however had two playing spells with Nigerian sides, Oceans Boys and Bayelsa United respectively before hanging his boots.
6. Taribo West
With Taribo West in central defence, the team is rest assured with the capabilities of the former Julius Berger player on the high line.
Despite the team’s sloppiness at some of the matches, the pony-tail Inter Milan defender fought relentlessly like a soldier but his efforts could not save the Super Eagles from a sudden exit from the tournament.
Nigeria did not feel much of Uche Okechukwu’s exit from the national team as the former Auxerre player filled the vacuum in central defence.
West is now a full time pastor and runs a ministry known as “The Storm Miracle Ministries Of All Nations”.
7. Finidi George
With a sterling performance at the previous World Cup, Finidi George was a respected member of the national team following his Champions League winning exploits with Ajax and his summer transfer move to Real Betis in Spain.
Finidi had graduated from an emerging player to a world class winger and he was one of the best players in the squad.
However the issue of unpaid bonuses distracted the team from staying focused in the competition after looking down on their next opponent which cost the squad and country dearly.
The Ex-Ipswich Town player is now a scout with his former Spanish club after which he brought in Super Eagles midfielder, Nosa Igiebor in the fold.
8. Mutiu Adepoju
The attacking midfielder had in his uniqueness with aerial prowess which was how he got his nickname head master.
Adepoju’s equalizer against the Spaniards proved his inclusion into the squad was not a fluke as the Super Eagles came back twice from behind to beat the highly rated European nation.
The Real Sociedad man was played into the right full back position against Denamrk after Oparaku pick up an injury and his position became vulnerable to the counter-attacking Micheal Laudrup’s captained side.
The former Nigeria midfielder was one of the two Africans named alongside 14 other ex-stars – of the Spanish topflight as La Liga ambassadors in Madrid, Spain, in 2016.
9. Rashidi Yekini
As at the time of this tournament, late Yekini was approaching the last days of his top flight career but was included in the squad by Serbian coach for reasons best known to him.
The FC Zurich striker made an appearance against Spain and almost found the back of the net with a side volley but the ball was way off target.
France 98’ was the last international tournament the late former Sporting Gijon forward but till date he is still regarded as the country’s best ever striker.
Yekini died at the age of 48 in 2012 after suffering from depression and an undisclosed psychiatric condition.
10. Austin Okocha
France 98’ gave Jay Jay Okocha the chance to shine brightly and hold his own as the new number 10 in the Super Eagles team which he did with his enterprising style of football.
Okocha magical skills frustrated the Spanish team when Nigeria went ahead for the first time in the match as the Fenerbache midfielder was show-boating.
The match against Denmark was different as the former Bolton Wanderers captain singlehandedly tore apart the Danes with his entertaining dribbles but it yielded no result as the Super Eagles were wasteful in front of goal.
The former Super Eagles captain was a journalist to the Germany 2006 World Cup and also once a pundit but he is now the commissioner of sports in Delta state.
11. Garba Lawal
The Roda JC player in the Dutch Eredivisie started a promising career that later made him a success in the national team after making the final list to France.
The 24-year old evened the scores against Spain with a low drive after Adoni Zubizareta fumbled in goal and he also played in the last group match against Paraguay.
Over the years, Lawal became the one of the most versatile players in the Super Eagles fold and also known for his commitment before he ended his career in 2007.
In 2014, he was appointed general manager of Kaduna United.
12. William Okpara
The long wait for an invitation finally came to pass as the Orlando Pirates goalkeeper was invited into the team in 1996.
Okpara made it to the World Cup after a convincing performance in a pre-tournament friendly against Germany where Nigeria lost to an Andy Moller’s lone strike.
The 30-year old did not partake in any of the matches and after the competition, the former junior international was neglected from the national team.
He became a goalkeeping coach for Orlando Pirates after retirement.
13. Tijani Babangida
The petite winger was an exciting player to watch with the way and manner he takes on the defenders and his goal scoring ability was exceptional for a flank player.
With likes of Finidi George, the Ajax Amsterdam was second best in the right side of the attack but he scored the only goal against Denmark and also made two appearances as a substitute against Bulgaria and Spain respectively.
Tijani Babangida now runs his own academy in Minna, Niger state where young and promising talents are given the opportunity to play in Europe.
In 2015, Tijani Babangida was named as special assistant and liaison to former Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh.
14. Daniel Amokachi
The France 98’ tournament was a torrid time for Dan the bull Amokachi as the crisis of injury slowed him down at the tournament.
The Besiktas striker could not play against Spain but was fit enough in the 1-0 victory over Bulgaria yet played 67 minutes against Paraguay and was not fit to play in the knock out stages.
The World Cup marked the end of competitive football for the former Everton man as injuries subjected the supporting striker of being snubbed from the national team. He retired prematurely in 1999.
Nasarawa United, Enyimba and Ifeayi Ubah FC were the teams he managed in the Nigerian Premier League after his career as a striker.
He was also assistant coach under the late Shuaibu Amodu and Stephen where Nigeria won their third AFCON tournament in 2013.
15. Sunday Oliseh
The 25-yard wonder strike against the Spaniards signaled a tournament of possibilities as the Super Eagles seemed one of the best competing nations in the 32-team competition.
Oliseh lamented Nigeria’s painful exit following the second round loss to Denmark saying that the bonuses row with the administration was something that could have been avoided.
The former Juventus midfielder also got his own pound of flesh as he was flushed out of the Super Eagles squad before the Japan/Korea 2002 edition after engaging in a war of words with the country’s footballing body.
The former Super Eagles handler is currently making waves in the Dutch second division side Fortuna Sittard as the second-tier side are big contenders for promotion to the Eredivisie in just his first season in charge.
16. Uche Okafor
The Kansas City defender knew that the emergence of Taribo West would make him second choice in the central defensive position.
However, late Uche Okafor played in the final group game against Paraguay and after the team were knocked of the competition, the 30-year old made way for younger players.
The former Kansas City defender passed on in 2011 after he was found dead leaving a note indicating his state of depression. He played for Hannover 96, Farense and the likes.
17. Augustine Eguavoen
It was the same predicament that befell the late Uche Okafor also affected Eguavoen’s place in the perking order when Mobi Oparaku graduated into the mainstream.
The Ex-Super Eagles coach played all 90 minutes against Paraguay and was an unused substitute in other games as the 32-year old drew the curtains on his career after Nigeria’s exit.
Eguavoen was sacked as coach of Gombe United in 2017 after losing a home match to eventual league champions, Plateau United yet the 52-year old has managed the national teams in different capacity.
18. Wilson Oruma
Wilson Oruma is one of the few players that featured in just one World Cup finals, played only one match and scored just a goal.
The former Lens midfielder scored the leveler against the Jose Luis Chilavert led side but it was not enough as Nigeria lost the match 1-3.
However the Japan 93’ U-17 winning captain would never forget having a World Cup goal in his name but was among the player that were axed from participating in the 2002 edition.
19. Benedict Iroha
Like the other fading senior members, it also clear that Ben Iroha would be playing his last tournament for Nigeria as Celestine Babayaro matured into the team.
The former Vitesse Arnhem defender was inconsistent with club duties owing to injuries and was not used all through the tournament.
Iroha is presently among the back room staff of his former club Heartland which was formerly known as Iwuayanwu Nationale in his playing days.
20. Victor Ikpeba
Ikpeba was Nigeria’s hottest striker in Europe plying his trade in a familiar territory at the World Cup in France.
The Prince of Monaco scored a superb goal that gave Nigeria the only victory against Bulgaria after an interchanging pass with Okocha and Amokachi as he dribbled past Ivanov to score from close range.
The former Borussia Dortmund could not find the back of the net ending the tournament with just one goal which marked a disappointing outing for the goal poacher.
He went on to become a top player for both club and country and he is currently an analyst with a popular broadcast media in Africa - SuperSport.
21. Godwin Okpara
The former PSG defensive midfielder had a superb season with Strasbourg going into the tournament in France but surprisingly he was never given the chance to show the stuff he was made of.
The 25-year singlehandedly man-marked the highly rated Ronaldo when his team clashed with Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup club competition.
Okpara never enjoyed first team action with the national team as the former U-20 retired from international football in 2001.
22. Abiodun Baruwa
The little that could be remembered about the five-capped goalkeeper was how the former Shooting Stars goalkeeper fumbled in the pre-World Cup friendly against Yugoslavia where the Super Eagles lost 0-3.
Baruwa needlessly lost possession to Pedrac Mijatovic who capitalized on the error. During, before and after France 98’ the Ex-Sion shot-stopper was never invited to the Super Eagles.
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