- Emmanuel Amuneke says playing at the FIFA World Cup in the United States in 1994 was a dream come true for him
- He was part of the team that qualified Nigeria for their debut appearance at the global tournament after winning the AFCON title in Tunisia earlier that same year
- His performance that year earned him the Africa's best player award, beating George Weah and late Rashidi Yekini to the award
Ex-Nigeria international Emmanuel Amuneke has recounted his experience playing for the national team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.
It was the first time the Super Eagles would qualify for the global championship having won the African Cup of Nations the same year in Tunisia.
The three-time African Champions got their campaign off to a flying start with a 3-0 victory over Bulgaria in their first group game.
However, they were unable to go beyond the second stage of the competition, following their 2-1 defeat to Italy in the knockout stage of the summer competition.
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Meanwhile, the 1994 African footballer of the year said playing at the World Cup for the first time was an opportunity every member of their team had dreamt for a long time before it happened.
He maintained that his closest awareness to the tournament was in 1986 when Diego Maradona led the Albiceleste to their second global title in Mexico.
Amuneke further stated that he was glad they were able to announce themselves to the world in that first appearance in the United States.
“It was a big opportunity for most of us, something that we have dreamt of to play in the World Cup," Amuneke told Pulse.
“My first World Cup experience was in 1986, Maradona in Mexico that was the awareness of most of us playing in the World Cup and since then we had dreamt of playing in the World Cup and then having the opportunity of playing in the World Cup in 1994 for me it was one of the highest things ii achieved that year.
“We thank God we were able to make statements in the World Cup not just making up the numbers. As a country, we were able to tell people that apart from individual qualities we had, we could also play as a team.
“We believed in ourselves, we came to realise that we had a good team, we were like brothers.
“Each time we came to the national team there was this unity, this understanding and harmony in the team and everyone realised that the only way we could achieve something is by working hard.
“Even if you were playing in one of the best clubs, if you are not working hard you will find it difficult to play in that team.”
When asked how he felt after scoring against Bulgaria in their first game, Amuneke said: “It was great scoring against Bulgaria.
He further revealed that he had to contemplate before going for the ball with a flying header, which eventually cemented Nigeria’s victory in that game.
“When you score in the World Cup that is when people start to recognise and know you. The goal I scored, the goalkeeper was not expecting it.
“It was a cross from Finidi (George) and I had to anticipate before the defender and flew in and headed the ball."
“The Italy goal was a great goal, but unfortunately it didn’t win us the game. It was painful very painful but of course, we learnt from there and I think that experience helped us to win the Olympics (1996)
“Because we had the opportunity again in the Olympics and we were able to manage things better than what we had done at the World Cup. We were not able to manage the game against Italy."
Amuneke kicked off his football career at Julius Berger, former Nigeria Premier League side in 1991, and three years after, he joined Egyptian top side, Zamalek.
Three years into his contract in the Egyptian topflight, he was signed by Portugal Primera Liga side, Sporting CP, where he scored 17 goals from 51 appearances.
He joined the Catalan club in 1996 and spent four seasons at the Camp Nou. He however scored just once for the club 19 league appearances before being offloaded to Albacete in 2002.
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