As you read this piece, the Amuneke's abode will still be basking in the euphoria of not just Christmas day activities but also celebrating a man of many parts, a national icon and a football great who usually celebrates his birthday on the same day. The former Super Eagles winger recently had to clear the air with the public as regards whether he was part of the voting panel for the 2023 CAF Awards following some barrage of criticisms.
Most importantly, he's loved and respected within the country
and beyond especially after making a name for himself as a player
and now as a coach. An African champion, both as an individual and
at club level is undeniably deserving of legendary status.
On this special birthday celebration, let's relive some of his key moments for Nigeria:
A brace in the 1994 AFCON Final
Following successful stints with Julius Berger FC of Lagos, Zamalek and Sporting FC in Portugal, the winger with pace and exciting diagonal runs was a deserved member of the Super Eagles golden generations – qualifying Nigeria to its first ever World Cup, won the nation’s second AFCON and moved it to have a brilliant showing at the World Cup before helping the team to its first ever Olympics football success in 1996.
Amuneke had started in the final against all odds versus Zambia in Tunisia as he found a place in the national team hard to come by. Before the match, Amuneke had yet to play a minute all tournament so featuring in the final was a daunting task somewhat but he took the opportunity presented to him by Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof to select him and never disappointed with a stunning performance that saw him bagged a brace.
Zambia went into the lead as early as the third minute with Elijah Litana powering home a header but Amuneke promptly replied two minutes later, the score stayed level until two minutes after the break. Amuneke’s well-timed angled run had connected with Oliseh’s pass and his perfect first touch set up the strike for what later proved to be the winning goal.
He was quoted after the game to have said that he was glad that he eventually featured in the last game and was able to prove a point – A point that saw him become an integral part of the team going forward.
1994 World Cup Goal
The team had qualified for its first World Cup and Amuneke was part of that debut against Bulgaria inside the Cotton Bowl stadium that had almost 45,000 spectators watching. A game of many histories and emotions for Nigeria but Amuneke scored a brilliant goal in the second half to seal victory for Nigeria in what was dubbed as an upset following a 3-nil win over one of the European favourites. The team eventually lost to beaten finalists Italy in that tourney but that didn’t stop Amuneke from scoring in that Round of 16 tie. He finished as the team’s joint top-scorer with two goals.
African Player of the Year in 1994
Amuneke was also a quite prolific scorer averaging more than one goal every three games for both Zamalek and Sporting CP over a five-year span. Within that time, the stocky, powerful frame with a lot of tenacity had won league titles with Julius Berger in 1992, before winning back-to-back league titles in 1992 and 1993 with Zamalek of Egypt with which he also helped win a third CAF Champions League crown in 1993 even scoring in the penalty shootout win over Asante Kotoko of Ghana to complete a double for the White Knights. And with starring performances with the Super Eagles that made him part of the side that delivered a second Africa Cup of Nations title and also featuring in Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup all within the year in review (1994), Emmanuel Amuneke was voted CAF’s African Player of the Year in 1994 ahead of Liberia’s George Weah and his Super Eagles teammate Rashidi Yekini.
Olympic Gold Medal with the Super Eagles at Atlanta 1996
Another key moment for Amuneke was scoring the winning goal that secured the country’s first ever football gold medal at the 1996 Olympics that was held in Atlanta, USA. Amuneke described that goal scored in the final against Argentina as his best career goal. Nigeria's U-23 side known as the Dream Team were locked in a 2-2 draw against South American powerhouse Argentina with goals so far from Claudio Lopez and Hernan Crespo for the Argentines while Celestine Babayaro and Daniel Amokachi had found the back of the net for Nigeria. One minute to the end of the game, Amuneke outsmarted the Argentine defense to volley past Pablo Cavallero in goal and gave Nigeria a huge win that secured the country's and Africa's first Olympic Games football gold medal.
A World Cup winning coach at youth level in 2015
Amuneke made history in Chile with the Golden Eaglets back in
2015 when he led the side to another junior World Cup title beating
fellow West Africans Mali, 2-0 in the final with second half goals
from the current African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen and
Funsho Bamgboye. The win secured Nigeria a record fifth title at
that level and also meant that the U17s defended the title they had
won two years earlier – 2013 while he was an assistant to the then
chief coach, Manu Garba. His coaching style was “dominate
possession and attack”. There are many other moments but, on this
day, we’d leave you with these few.
From all of us, have yourself a Merry Christmas!