Like a colossus, Rashidi Yekini bestrode the football world with an aura that many of his contemporaries wished they could attain. The former Nigeria striker distinguished himself in a career that spanned almost 25 years. Playing at a time when only a handful of African players were popular with top European club sides, Yekini was among the first generation of men from the continent that opened the doors of fortune and fame for today’s African players.
Even then, Yekini left his indelible mark on the game as he achieved many firsts in his country as well as on the continent. During the height of Yekini’s football career, the striker commanded enormous respect from team-mates and opponents alike. For his international team-mates in the all-conquering Nigerian side of 1994, many envied his achievements. The word ‘gangling’ became a moniker that the local press bestowed on him.
In international circles, he was the scourge of defenders and goalkeepers were wary of his powerful shot. It was the reason why in only 58 international appearances for the Super Eagles, he was able to score 37 goals. He was also the first Nigerian to win the African player of the year award and he scored the nation’s first ever goal at the World Cup. An illustrious career was carved in gold with the national team’s triumph at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, where he emerged as top scorer.
Goal.com presents some of the most memorable highlights in the career of the Nigerian legend, who passed away on May 4, 2012.
|5. PORTUGUESE TOP SCORER AWARD
Being among the early batch of Nigerian players to make the transition to Europe, Yekini found a home at Vitoria Setubal (club logo pictured right), a mid-level Portuguese Primeira Liga side, where he played for four years, from 1990-1994. In his third season, Yekini became the fourth African since Eusebio, Angolan Vata and compatriot Richard Owubokiri to win the award for the most goals scored in a Portuguese top flight season.
With 21 goals scored in the 1993-94 season for lowly Setubal, Yekini took home the prestigious Bola de Prata trophy given out by O Bola newspaper. It was the first top scorer title for Setubal since Francisco Rodrigues did the double between 1943 and 1945. No Vitoria Setubal player has since won the top scorer title.
|4. ENDURING NATIONAL GOALS RECORD
Yekini played with such great focus that he scored 37 international goals for the Super Eagles in only 58 appearances. He earned an average of 0.64 goals per game. Since his last game for the Eagles in 1998, that record is yet to be breached. The record-holder until Yekini put his name on the records book was Segun Odegbami, who scored 24 goals in 48 matches.
Yekini struck off Odegbami’s record by the time he won his 37th international cap with a hat-trick against Ethiopia in a 6-0 thumping at the National Stadium, Lagos on July 27, 1993. He would go on to raise the bar a notch higher with 37 goals before he played his last match for the Nigerian team in 1998.Some of those goals remain memorable. A thunderous free kick scored in Pointe Noire against Congo Brazzaville for a 1-0 victory that ensured the Super Eagles were held up in traffic by irate fans for hours after the game, and four goals against Burkina Faso in a 1992 Afcon qualification game in Lagos that ended 7-1, while he also scored two each in the 4-1 defeats of Algeria and Cote d'Ivoire on the road to qualifying for USA '94. Home or away, Yekini was never without his talismanic goal scoring instincts.
|3. AFRICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR 1993
Yekini set a precedent for Nigerian football when he won the Caf African footballer of the year award in 1993.
He became the first Nigerian to win the title. It was a feat achieved playing in Portugal, away from the French league that had dominated the awards for most of the preceding years.
Yekini’s win opened a floodgate of best player titles for other Nigerian players, when Emmanuel Amuneke claimed it in 1994, Victor Ikpeba in 1997 and Nwankwo Kanu took the title in 1996 and 1999.
Such was his pioneering impact on the country’s footballers that he made everything look possible to achieve, and acted as a great role model for his peers and those who followed after him.
Sadly, no Nigerian has won the title since Kanu’s triumph in 1999, making the 1990s a glorious era for Nigerian football.
|2. ICONIC WORLD CUP GOAL CELEBRATION
One of the most enduring goal celebrations ever seen at the World Cup happened on the night of June 21, 1994, when the big striker scored what was Nigeria’s first ever goal at the World Cup finals against Bulgaria. The Super Eagles had qualified for the Mundial, their first appearance on the big stage, courtesy of goals from Yekini. He scored eight goals in the qualification series to ensure Nigeria’s flag was finally flown at USA ’94.
As if fate was rewarding him for all of his previous efforts, he latched on to a cross from Finidi George to score what looked like an easy goal by his own standards. As it dawned on him that he had scored the first ever goal for Nigeria at the World Cup, Yekini ran into the goals, grabbed the net, and shook it endlessly while screaming to the high heavens. Nobody really knew what Yekini said to the net or if it was praise to God or his ancestors, all that was evident was the fact that the event left him delirious and helped to create one of the most memorable World Cup goal celebrations ever.
In 2010, Goal.com listed Yekini’s jubilation from the simple tap-in as their eighth best-ever goal celebration at the World Cup and described it as “one of the iconic moments in World Cup history. Raw emotion at its absolute best.”
|1. AFRICAN CHAMPION IN 1994
Perhaps the greatest ever achievement of Rashidi Yekini’s career was when he won the Africa Cup of Nations title with Nigeria in 1994. Playing in Tunisia under Clemens Westerhof at his fifth Afcon tournament, Yekini scored five goals to win the top scorer’s award and also help propel the team to victory.
Yekini (pictured right, kneeling second from left) scored a double in the opening 3-0 victory over Gabon, before scoring another two in the 2-0 defeat of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) in the quarter-finals before scoring once in the semi-final against Cote d’Ivoire. All the defenders’ attention was on him in the final against Zambia, a move that allowed winger Emmanuel Amuneke to go unnoticed and score the brace that got Nigeria their 2-1 victory.
It must be noted that Yekini won the Afcon title as a reigning African player of the year. No reigning player of the year has won the Afcon trophy since he did in '94.
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