The 1994 team is always described as Nigeria’s all-time best team. This is because of our performance at our first appearance at the World Cup, how we beat big teams and were rated fifth in the world. But what people must remember is that when Westerhof came, he put in a long term plan. And from 1989 to Senegal 1992, Westerhof used about a hundred and forty something players before he finally got his formidable team.
I was part of the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, I was in the squad that beat Congo 2-0 in Enugu. Apart from the game against Congo I was dressed for the game against South Africa in Lagos and Congo away. But after the game we beat Algeria 4-1, I decided to retire from the national team before I was persuaded to change my mind.
Like I said, I was with the 1994 squad from the beginning though I didn’t make the squad to the World Cup. The feeling I had for the team at the tournament was huge. I was always praying for the team so it never made any difference whether I was with them or not. Our flag being raised at the World Cup for the first time was emotional. And also putting up that performance made us the toast of the world. We qualified for the 1998 World Cup but I cannot feel the 1998 squad like the 1994 squad.
FIFA did not make a mistake when they rated us fifth best team in the world and the second most entertaining team in 1994.
And looking at the games we played at the 1994 World Cup, it was exciting watching the Super Eagles put up such impressive displays. Despite being at the World Cup for the first time, the team showed character and had the ability to go all the way, but unfortunately against Italy we lost.
We could have gone two, three goals up against Italy but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I felt bad because we were so close. I remember on the day of the game against Italy, I was on a bus with BCC Lions travelling for an away game and we were listening on radio. And when Italy equalised we were arguing that the game would end in a penalty shootout before we later heard a penalty had been awarded against Nigeria.
And when I had the chance to watch the game, I saw that the Eagles ran them ragged, they started having cramps. It was a game we should have wrapped up but there was division in the squad. It was this division which had been in the team from the start that ended up affecting them. Even when Westerhof was at the Kwara Academy, he used to say in interviews that if he had Moses Kpakor, he would have won the World Cup.
If I had been in that team, I believe I would have done my bit in holding the team together. Even in BCC Lions they know me, I had leadership qualities which would have been beneficial to the team because I was part of the team right from when Westerhof started moulding it together back in 1989.
Former Super Eagles midfielder Moses Kpakor spoke with James Agberebi.