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In this special before the Champions League final, Goal.com brings you the profile of the six Nigerian football Legends that have visited the Champions Planet in Lagos

SPECIAL
By Babajide Alaka

The Heineken Champions Planet is located in the heart of Victoria Island. It is a cosy duplex filled with football memorabilia and beautiful hostesses who make sure that fans of the beautiful game never want for anything on match days.

In football-speak, the Heineken Champions Planet is football heaven. It is where the coolest fans go to unwind and support their teams playing in the world’s biggest club competition.

In this article, Goal.com brings you a profile of some legendary Nigerian footballers that have graced the Heineken Champions Planet to share their wealth of experience.


MUTIU ADEPOJU

Mutiu Adepoju, the ‘Headmaster’ of the 1989 Damman Miracle where the Nigerian Under-20 team came from four goals down to the Soviet Socialist Republic to win on penalties. He also scored the winning goal against the USA in the semi-finals against Kasey Keller.

Adepoju had a long career but it never really hit the heights that people thought of him. A good box-to-box midfielder with a powerful header and a good shot, his career highlight will be the match against Spain at the 1998 World Cup where he scored the first equaliser. Nigeria went on to win 3-2. He was a member of the 1994 Super Eagles that won the Africa Cup of Nations and participated in the World Cup for the first time. He also went to the 2002 World Cup but did not play any minute which must have been a huge disappointment.

He is now the general manager of Nigeria Premier League side Shooting Stars Football Club of Ibadan.


EMMANUEL AMUNEKE

Emmanuel Amuneke is the first Nigerian to play for the revered Catalan side, Barcelona. Amuneke was the quintessential left-winger with a lot of pace, trickery and a bullet shot. His main claim to fame will be the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations final match against Zambia in which he scored the brace in a 2-1 victory in only his first appearance in the tournament. This earned him the African footballer of the year award in 1994. He scored two goals at the 1994 World Cup and scored the winning goal in a 3-2 defeat of Argentina at the 1996 Olympic Games.

Amuneke also played for Zamalek of Egypt, Sporting Lisbon of Portugal where he played arguably his best football. When he transferred to Barcelona, he was seriously hampered by injuries and he stopped being an offensive player into an overlapping full-back in Barcelona’s 3-5-2 formation. He is now assistant coach of Nigeria’s U-17 national team.


VICTOR IKPEBA



The ‘Prince of Monaco’ was discovered as an exciting winger in the Under-17 national team at Scotland 1989. After the championship he was transferred to Belgium. In Scotland, Ikpeba played as one of two wingers, with a licence to change wings with Jide Oguntuase –where he scored three goals.

From there his career took an upward trajectory through Belgium but he really made his name in France with AC Monaco under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, yes the same one. Here he won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, played at Nigeria’s first World Cup, won Olympic gold in 1996 and won the 1997 African footballer of the year award. He also played in Germany with Borussia Dortmund but it was a frustrating stint under coach Mattias Sammer. He played four games in two seasons.

He is now part of the Nigeria Football Federation’s Technical Committee while he also does football punditry on cable channel, SuperSport.


AUSTIN 'JAY JAY' OKOCHA

Austin Okocha will live long in the folklore of Fenerbahce. There are so many sides to this gifted Nigerian footballer. Arguably the most gifted Nigerian footballer of his generation, he played in the Fenerbahce team that beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. But he shot to fame in 1993 in a match against Algeria at the National Stadium in Lagos. Algeria had taken the lead but he equalised with a sublime free-kick and thus began his romance with Nigerian fans.

He never won the African Player of the year award but he won so many other accolades. Okocha was part of the all-conquering 1994 Eagles that won the Africa Cup of Nations, played at the World Cup and won the 1996 Olympic gold.

It was when he moved to England to play for Bolton Wanderers that his status really increased. He led Nigeria to the 2002 World Cup and scored the 2000th goal at the Nations Cup in 2004. His greatest disappointment will be being unable to help Nigeria qualify for the 2006 World Cup as the Eagles were overhauled by Angola on a head-to-head ruling.


PETER RUFAI

Peter Rufai is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers to have come out of Nigeria. He did not perform wonders at his clubs abroad but was always a colossus for the national team especially at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations where he saved the country’s blushes in the semi-final penalty shoot out with Cote D’Ivoire and the World Cup where he shone like a million stars. He played in many clubs in Holland, Portugal and in Spain where he played with Deportivo La Coruna.

He was called from holiday in 1998 to attend the World Cup, where his form was at the lowest and he will never forget the 4-1 humbling received at the hands of Denmark. Rufai was the first Nigerian goalkeeper to play professional football when he joined Dragons FC of Benin Republic.


TARIBO WEST


West will live long in the memory of Italian football fans as a hard-tackling defender. In a league famed for brutish defenders, West carved a special niche as one who took no quarters. He was a member of the Auxerre team that got to the quarter final of the Champions League and on that basis transferred to Inter where he played with Ronaldo.

His career high point will have to be winning the 1996 Olympics football gold medal. He finished his career in Germany when his contract with Kaiserslautern was cancelled after he went AWOL. He is now a full-time pastor with a church in Milan.






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