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Football as at today is the most popular sport in Nigeria and in so many other countries around the world. Though Nigeria started playing football with other colonies in unofficial games since the 1930s, the country did not play its first official game until October 1949 when as a British colony, it played its first international match against Sierra Leone in Freetown on 8th October, 1949. Nigeria won the game 2-0. That team had players like the goalkeeper, Sam Ibiam, Teslim Balogun and Richard Etim Henshaw who was the first captain of the Nigeria national football team and was the son of the Nigerian ambassador in London. From then till now, Nigeria has produced many great footballers many of whom plied their trade in various leagues across the world. Today, we look at 10 men who played football and we consider the greatest to ever represent Nigeria nationally and internationally.   10. Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal muda This midfield maestro, popularly called Muda Lawal in his playing days, made his national team debut in 1975. He played with Nigerian clubs such as Shooting Stars FC, Stationery Stores FC and Abiola Babes. In 1976, he helped the Shooting Stars FC to their first continental title; they won the African Cup Winners Cup, becoming the first Nigerian team to do so. Muda Lawal won 86 caps and scored 12 goals for Nigeria and holds the record of being the first player on the continent to have appeared at five consecutive Nations’ Cup finals (1976, 1978, 1980, 1982 and 1984). He was also part of the team that won Nigeria its first African Nations Cup title, at the 1980 African Nations Cup. He died in 1991 at the age of 37. 9. Christian Chukwu Okoro chucks Christian Chukwu is probably the best Nigerian defender ever. He was also the captain of the famous Nigerian club (Enugu Rangers) during his playing days. He played in three consecutive African Cup of Nations, from 1976 to 1980 and was the captain when Nigeria lifted its first Nations Cup trophy on home soil after a 3-0 victory over Algeria in the final of the 1980 tournament; becoming the first Nigerian captain to do so. 8. Stephen O. Keshi keshi Stephen Keshi is a reliable center-back and the longest serving skipper of the Nigerian National team who represented Nigeria in African Cup of Nations four times, (1982, 1984, 1992 and 1994). Keshi was one of the first set of Nigerian players to move to Belgium in the 80’s. He played for Belgian side, Lokeren in 1986, before representing Anderlecht and Strasbourg later. After a long career that lasted between 1981 and 1995 where he amassed 64 caps and nine goals, he went to the United States to be educated in coaching. Till date, Keshi remains one of only two people, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach. 7. Daniel Amokachi connectnigeria-AmokachiAmokachi nicknamed the “Bull” for his style of playing was part of the Nigerian team that participated in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 1998 FIFA World Cup. He also won the 1994 African Nations Cup with the Super Eagles in Tunisia as well as the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta 1996, scoring in the final game against Argentina. Amokachi became the first player to score in the new format of the Champions League competition after his goal for his club, Club Brugge, secured a 1–0 win in the opening match in the group stage against CSKA Moscow. His national team career lasted from 1990 till 1999 with 44 appearances and 13 goals. 6. Finidi George finidi george Finidi George, once described as the best right winger in the world, was a Nigerian player whose No. 7 jersey became synonymous with grace and elegance as he ran past defenders delivering passes that seemed to simplify the work of his strikers. Finidi was an important member of the Nigerian team during the 1990s, appearing in two World Cups and four African Cup of Nations tournaments. Alongside Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi became the first Nigerian to win European club football’s most coveted Champions league trophy in 1995 when his team, Ajax edged past AC Milan 1-0 in the final. His playing career lasted from 1991 to 2002, racking up 62 appearances and 6 goals. 5. Sunday Ogorchukwu Oliseh Sunday Oliseh Sunday Oliseh was a physical and technical defensive midfielder who represented Nigeria in three African Cup of Nations (1994, 2000, and 2002), and two World Cups (1994, 1998). He is best remembered for his 25 yards screamer scored against a surprised Andoni Zubizarreta of Spain in France’98. He played for well-known clubs such as AFC Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus F.C. and was part of the Nigerian Olympic gold medal winning team of 1996. He played for Nigeria from 1993 to 2002 appearing 54 times and scoring 2 goals. 4. Patrick Segun Odegbami 01segun-odegbami Segun Odegbami was nicknamed “Mathematical” in his playing days for his precise style of play. He was known for his skill with the ball, speed, precision of his crosses from the right wing, and running down the touchline with the ball to prevent opponents from getting it. Odegbami who studied Engineering at the Nigeria’s premier technical institution, The Polytechnic, Ibadan played for Shooting Stars of Ibadan in his entire club football career and was part of the Nigerian team that won Africa Cup of Nations title at the 1980 tournament. Odegbami was the highest goal scorer in both the 1978 and 1980 African Cup of nations. He was also in the CAF Team of the Tournament on both occasions and played for Nigeria National team from 1976 to 1982, appearing 46 times and scoring 23 goals. 3. Rashidi Yekini rashidi yekini After helping the Super Eagles win the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations where he topped the goal charts and was named best player of the competition, Rashidi Yekini was part of the Nigerian team that participated in the 1994 World Cup in USA, where he netted Nigeria’s first-ever goal in a World Cup. His celebration after scoring the opening goal against Bulgaria, screaming while holding the goal’s net, became one of the iconic images of the tournament. Yekini was the highest goal scorer for most of the teams he played for in his career, he is also the third highest goal scorer in the history of the African Cup of Nations with 13 goals in five appearances (1984, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994). He is currently the Nigeria’s highest goal scorer with 37 goals in 58 matches during a career that spanned between 1984 and 1998. Yekini also won the African Footballer of the Year award in 1993. Yekini died in 2012. 2. Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha OkochaJayJay Jay Jay Okocha is regarded as one of the best Nigerian players of his generation. He is known for his step overs, skill, technique and free kicks. Okocha joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 1992 where he shone brightly for the German side, one highlight being a goal he scored against Karlsruhe, dribbling the goalkeeper and his defenders in the penalty box and even going past some players twice before slotting the ball past goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn. The goal was voted Goal of the Season by many soccer magazines, and also voted as 1993 Goal of the Year by viewers of Sportschau (an ARD German TV sports program). Okocha never won the African Player of Year award, becoming arguably the best player never to win the award despite coming second twice in 1998. He did however win the inaugural BBC African Footballer of the Year and the successive one, becoming the only player to retain the award and win it more than once. In 2007, he was voted number 12 on the greatest African footballers of the past 50 years list, on a poll conducted by CAF on their 50th anniversary. He represented Nigeria in five African Cup of Nations (1994, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006) and three World Cups (1994, 1998 and 2002). He represented Nigeria between 1993 and 2006 appearing 75 times and scoring 14 goals. 1. Kanu Nwankwo kanu Papilo as he is fondly called is the most decorated Nigerian player of all time and captained the Nigerian national team for 16 years from 1994 until 2010. He won the European Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the Dutch Title all in 1995. He also won the African Footballer of the Year in 1996, 1999 and was the 6th FIFA World Player of the Year in 1999. He won the Olympic Gold medal in 1996, two English Premier League titles, and three English FA Cups among other awards. He has represented Nigeria at Under-17, under-23, and the Senior National team. He represented Nigeria in five consecutive African Cup of Nations from 2000 to 2010 and three consecutive World Cups (1998, 2002, and 2010). His career spanned from 1993 to 2011, he appeared 87 times and scored 12 goals for the senior team. Kanu is a UNICEF Ambassador and known throughout Africa for his philanthropic works through his “Kanu Heart Foundation” an organization that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects.         About the Writer: Chris Bamidele is a passionate and unapologetic Nigerian, who believes in God and humanity. He is a writer, blogger, and an aspiring Television Director; and an optimist to the core. He blogs at and tweets @Chrisbamidele  

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This article was first published on 22nd April 2015


Chris Bamidele is a passionate and unapologetic Nigerian, who believes in God and humanity. He is a writer, blogger, and an aspiring Television Director; and an optimist to the core. He blogs at and tweets @Chrisbamidele.

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