Hero Spirit of ’94: Austin 'Jay Jay' Okocha

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Widely considered one of the most naturally gifted footballers to ever come out of Nigeria, Jay Jay Okocha was a relative unknown in 1994

By the time the northern hemisphere summer over, however, he was on a number of lips for the right reasons.

He was left out of the line-up for the opening game, a triumphal 3-0 win over Bulgaria which set the Super Eagles on their way, and only featured as a late substitute in a losing effort against Argentina. A 20-minute cameo followed against Greece in the final group game.

However, Okocha was surprisingly selected from the start in the crunch Round of 16 meeting with Italy, as coach Clemens Westerhof sought to add ball retention and creativity. The Dutchman was rewarded with a performance for the ages: Okocha’s array of dribbles, shimmies and tricks bamboozled the Italians in Foxborough.

GFX Jay Jay Okocha

As the Super Eagles lost both Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke to injuries, the Eintracht Frankfurt man was required a great deal of responsibility getting the team up the pitch, as well as holding up the play to relieve pressure and await support.

Ultimately, Nigeria would not hold on to the early lead. Roberto Baggio levelled the score at the death, before driving a dagger to Nigerian hearts in extra-time.

However, as far as individual performances on the global stage go, Okocha’s wizardry against the Italians, who boasted some of the most rugged defenders in the game, will live long in the memory of Nigerian football lovers everywhere.

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