Nobody gave those lads a chance after the Chile 87 fiasco. However, with total commitment and determination to national assignment and patriotism, they wrote their names in gold.
Remember the Miracle of Damman in which Nigeria came from an incredible and humiliating 4-0 upset to defeat the then Soviet Union in 1989 at the 1989 World Youth Championship held in Saudi Arabia? it is good time to remember one of the most incredible things ever happened in the world of the round leather game. it could be aptly described as the 8th miracle of the world.
Nigerian football followers would always have fond memories of the 1989 FIFA Under-20 World Cup held in Saudi Arabia simply for the heroic performance of the Flying Eagles.
At the Championship held in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria picked the silver medal, after defeating USSR in the most pulsating semi final matches ever played in the history of the FIFA U-20 championships.
In the quarter finals against the former Soviet Union (USSR), the Nigerian Flying Eagles wrote themselves into eternity when they came back from a four-goal deficit with barely 30 minutes to spare and scored four goals in 24 minutes before finishing off the job in a penalty shootout. They also rode on the back of the USA with a 2-1 win after extra time to become the first African Under-20 side to reach a FIFA World Youth Championship final, before losing to Portugal 2-0, in the decisive match. That expedition has gone into Nigerian football record as the ‘Damman Miracle.’
The Flying Eagles first game at that year’s competition was against Saudi Arabia, the host country, and they defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 with midfielder Mutiu Adepoju and striker Christopher Ohenhen getting the two vital goals for Nigeria. The next game was against Portugal, and it went against the expectation of Coach Tunde Disu led boys, who got whacked 1-0 by a strong Portuguese team. The Flying Eagles were however able to secure a quarter final ticket after securing a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia in their final group game. Christopher Ohenhen once again secured a point for Nigeria by scoring the decisive equaliser in the 72nd minute of play.
The quarter final game saw the Flying Eagles paired with USSR and had Hubert Forstinger as the referee and Neil Midgley and Chen Shengcai as assistant referees one and two respectively. It was played at Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Bin Abdul stadium in Damman, and was later re-named “the miracle of Damman”.
Soviet Union team
Coach: Boris IGNATIEV
Angus IKEJI (GK)
Coach: Olatunde Disu
Penalty shoot out
Oleg SALENKO – Goal
Sergei BEZENAR – Goal
Mirjalal KASIMOV – Missed
Oleg BENKO – Goal
Christopher OHENHEN – Goal
Peter OGABA -Goal
Michael ONYEMACHARA – Goal
Mutiu ADEPOJU – Goal
Samuel ELIJAH – Goal
The quarter final was a game that saw Nigeria trailing by 4-0 with few minutes to the end. Legendary Oleg Salenko of USSR was among the scorers in that memorable match.
The Soviets had such a strong team, and were one of the strongest favourites for the World Cup. The Soviet team dominated the first half and by the end of the first half, it was 2-0. It was almost like a training session for them. There was no comparison at all.
The party was not over, the Soviets scored two more in the second half. Last goal was scored by Oleg Salenko, who, in five years, would be the top scorer of the 1994 World Cup together with Stoichkov.
The Soviet coach, Boris Ignatiev took off Kiriakov, who was the heart of the team to save him for the semi final. For Ignatiev and the Soviet players, a nightmare began. Within 24 minutes the unbelievable, unimaginable had happened – Nigeria scored 4 goals in 23 minutes.
In the space of few minutes, Nigeria fought back to equalise 4-4 and took the match into penalty shoot-out. The comeback was started by star player- Christopher Ohenhen who scored a brace in the 61st and 75th minute to bring scores to 4-2 with 15 minutes of play left to regulation time. Samuel Elijah, who was later nicknamed “Prophet Samuel Elijah” scored in the 83rd minute of play to reduce the tally to 4-3, before inspirational captain, Nduka Ugbade came from nowhere to level score 4-4 with an incredible equaliser in the 84th minute. The Russians were stunned beyond their imagination. The match had to go into spot kicks after the mandatory 90 minutes and after a hectic half hour of extra time, where the players’ nerves were right on edge, penalty had to decide the outcome, and Nigeria triumphed 5-3, after Mirdjalal Kasimov missed his spot kick to bring the game to an anti climax. It was the greatest come back in the history of world football.
In the semi finals, the Flying Eagles narrowly defeated USA 2-1, after the game had to go into another extra time with the game tied at 1-1 at regulation time. Mutiu Adepoju, who later became an integral part of the Super Eagles of Nigeria scored both goals that eliminated USA from the tournament. In goal for USA on that memorable day, was Kasey Keller, who later became a household name in world football.
It was a tired Eagles team that qualified for the final of the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship, after playing two consecutive games that came into penalty kicks. The Flying Eagles were defeated 2-0 by Portugal, who had previously beaten them 1-0 in the group stage.
Sergei KIRIAKOV (URS) 30’,
Bakhva TEDEEV (URS) 45’,
Oleg SALENKO (URS) 46’,
Sergei KIRIAKOV (URS) 58’,
Christopher OHENHEN (NGA) 61’,
Christopher OHENHEN (NGA) 75’,
Samuel ELIJAH (NGA) 83’,
Nduka UGBADE (NGA) 84’
The Russians were actually a good team and also favourites to win the game. The Flying Eagles struggled in the group matches after the opening match win against Saudi Arabia and the struggle continued from then on. They lost to Portugal in the second match and struggled against the Czech Republic in the last match. By the time the group games were over, the Eagles had accumulated three red cards, countless yellow and the team needed some new infusion.
All the goals the Soviets scored were excellent and with great teamwork and precise passing. There was nothing anyone could do about it. Every mistake made was turned into a goal. After going down 4-0 the scores brought back sad memories of Chile’87 once again when people said this might be the worse team ever. The loss to Brazil was also by the same score line and people were already satisfied with a quarter final place which was at least better than the Chile’87 squad.
Even when the boys were making a comeback one by one, people were still looking at the goals as consolation because, at least, they weren’t disgraced like the Chile’87. It wasn’t until it was 4-2 that people felt there was a way out if Nigeria could actually take her chances. When Sam Elijah scored that third goal, everybody knew that the game would be tied and it did.
By the 84th minute, when it was 4-4, the whole stadium was in a frenzy standing on chairs for the last extra 15 minutes. They played extra time, then Nigeria won by penalty kicks.
The highlight of the tournament was watching Ugbade playing with one leg and was still able to score that equaliser that tied the game 4-4. He had to play through extra time with only one leg because all the substitutes had been used and there was no way he could have been taken out and so, they decided to leave him in the game till the end. After that, he was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.
He was well treated by the Saudi Arabian authority as a wheelchair awaited him when he wobbled down the aircraft that brought the team to Mecca where they brushed aside the USA in the semi-final after taking down two super powers in quick succession.
Back home, in the usual character of not taking care of those who struggle to make the nation proud, the treatment stopped. Nobody took responsibility for the fate of the young man. Providence helped him to recover.
The Nigerian 1989 squad to Saudi Arabia showed a lot of character, team spirit, grit, passion, fire, emotions and all worked well together despite their limitations. Nobody gave them an ounce of chance before they left home. After the Chile’87 debacle, football followers didn’t forget things very easily. Saudi’89 Squad really changed a lot of people’s perception and turned them around in one game because people never forgave the Chile’87 squad after so much expectations. Promise was put on that team only to disappoint in the end.
Despite losing to Portugal in the final, people still regarded them as champions because of what they did with limited personnel, players getting injured and much more. They were the heroes and will always be forever. The silver won at the competition was as good as gold. It was celebrated everywhere while the players were received with pomp and ceremony with promises and a place in football’s hall of fame. Till now, for those who still remember the game, it was indeed ‘the miracle of Damman’ and will never be forgotten.