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Africa Cup of Nations

‘Scoring in the final opened more doors’ – Amuneke reflects on winning '94 Afcon with Nigeria

18:28 BST 10/04/2020
Emmanuel Amuneke
Now 26 years after Nigeria’s triumph, the former African Player of the Year reveals how the feat gave his career a boost

Emmanuel Amuneke says scoring twice in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations final was a major turning point in his football career.

Featuring in his first game of the competition, the winger got a brace in Nigeria’s 2-1 defeat of Zambia on April 10 of that year.

Elijah Litana’s header had handed Chipolopolo a third-minute lead inside Stade El Menzah, however, Amuneke completed a comeback win for Clemens Westerhof’s men.

With that, the Super Eagles sealed their second African title, having replicated the efforts of a stellar side 14 years before then.

Now, 26 years later to this day, Amuneke declares he is still savouring every moment of being a member of Westerhof’s star-studded squad.

“We were very young, growing and nursing our ambition of becoming great in the game. Having the opportunity to be selected to be part of that great generation where you have a lot of great players with different talents and mindset is a very big success,” he told Goal.

“Not playing any game and playing in the final and scoring the two goals that gave us the cup is a big achievement.

“I only did my part as a player because any other player could have done the same if given the opportunity. One thing about that team was that we had great players because those on the bench were superb.

“Also, there was mutual respect between players and that was the success story itself because the senior players were able to carry the younger ones along. At the end of the tournament, we achieve our dream. So, it’s a pleasure for me to serve the country.

“Scoring the two goals was a signal to the coaches that they could count on me. [Rashidi] Yekini, [Jay-Jay] Okocha, Finidi [George], Oliseh [Oliseh], [Samson] Siasia or [Daniel] Amokachi could have scored but I delivered a brace which I regard as a blessing from God because that helped me cement my place in the team.”

Several European clubs pushed and pull to have his signature and eventually, he joined Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon after helping Zamalek win a treble.

To the 49-year-old, who was later crowned as Africa’s best in 1994, that was made possible because of his notable expedition in Tunisia. 

He continued: “After the Nations Cup, it was a certain thing that a lot of clubs in Europe would be looking towards my direction

“At that time, I was in Egypt and doing very well as I helped Zamalek win the Caf Champions League, Super Cup and the Egyptian league title.

“Scoring in Africa Cup Nationa gave me more privileges and it opened more doors, most especially it drew a lot of people’s attention to me.

“I thank all Nigerians and the coaches during that period for finding me relevant in the team.

“Even as a coach, a lot of people are still looking up to me and I hope to continue bringing smiles on the faces of people.”

He spent two seasons at Sporting before sealing a deal to Barcelona, although he struggled with injury at the Catalan club despite spending four years there.

An injury-plagued two-year-stint at Albacete followed until he called time on his career in 2002 to focus on coaching.

Notably, he led the Nigeria U17 team to win the 2015 Fifa U17 World Cup in Chile and also helped Tanzania qualify for the 2019 Afcon – their first in 39 years.

Currently, he is with Egyptian Premier League side Misr Lel Makkasa as Sport Director.