VIDEO: Remembering Nigeria's greatest World Cup goal by Super Eagles legend Sunday Oliseh

Sunday Oliseh's piledriver against Spain completed a turnaround win for the Super Eagles in 1998.

THROWBACK VIDEO: Remembering Nigeria's greatest World Cup goal by Super Eagles legend Sunday Oliseh

Seye Omidiora 16:05 - 10.08.2023

Recollecting Sunday Oliseh's iconic goal against Spain at the 1998 World Cup, one of the Super Eagles' enduring memories at the global showpiece. The lead changed hands thrice, with Nigeria securing an unforeseen 3-2 win in Nantes.

Nigeria’s 1998 World Cup participation may have ended in ignominy with that Round of 16 hammering at the hands of Denmark, but it began gloriously against Spain.

The Super Eagles’ preparation was shabby (surprise, surprise) and, unlike four years earlier when they went to the USA as African champions, had not participated in the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations.

This was an upshot of the country’s late withdrawal from the 1996 continental showpiece, leading to their ban from the competition two years later.

Nigeria Atlanta 1996
Nigeria's conquering team of Atlanta 1996 missed the 1996 and 1998 AFCONs

It is a shame that Super Eagles iteration could not feature at consecutive AFCONs, even if they participated in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup finals.

Nigeria’s dispiriting World Cup preparation

The mood before the West African nation began its sojourn in France was bleak due to the discouraging results.

Their non-participation in Burkina Faso meant the Super Eagles had to make do with a friendly with Jamaica in February, a game that ended 2-2. However, that result against a side making their tournament debut in France represented the last positive result for the 1994 African champions.

Three defeats on the trot followed, with each result worse than the previous one. A 1-0 defeat by Germany in the April international window was followed by a 3-0 loss at the hands of former Yugoslavia and a 5-1 beatdown by the Netherlands. The World Cup spelt doom.

Nigeria 1998 World Cup
Nigeria thrived at the 1998 World Cup despite the team's second-rate preparation // IMAGO

What happened before Sunday Oliseh’s cracking decider?

Spain had been one of the four group winners in the European section that went the entire qualifying campaign without losing — eight wins and two draws. However, they accrued more points than all but Romania, who also outdid La Furia Roja’s 26 points by two.

Spain could twice have gone ahead in the opening minutes, but Peter Rufai got a big left hand to Raul’s right-footed effort shortly after kick-off, and the shot-stopper could only stand in hope as the then-20-year-old youngster’s header rattled the bar in the fifth minute.

Despite growing into the game, Nigeria fell behind in the 21st minute to a Fernando Hierro free-kick. Looking back at the goal, Rufai’s goalkeeping was suspect from the dead ball.

Nigeria 3-2 Spain World Cup
Fernando Hierro opened the scoring for Spain against Nigeria at the 1998 World Cup // IMAGO

However, that lead lasted just three minutes, with Mutiu Adepoju powering a header that was too quick for Albert Ferrer to react on the goalmouth.

Even if Javier Clemente’s men were dominant, the Super Eagles had their moments. 

Finidi George made the odd decision to shoot from a wide-right position after beating Sergi in the 28th minute, and an off-balance Victor Ikpeba shooting at the near post from an impossible angle in the 36th minute when a shot across Andoni Zubizarreta would have sufficed.

Nigeria 3-2 Spain World Cup
Victor Ikpeba missed a first-half chance for Nigeria against Spain // IMAGO

Nigeria were surprisingly level at the interlude, but no sooner had the second half commenced than they fell behind for the second time. Raul, denied by Rufai and the post in the first 45, finally got his break at his debut competition, latching onto Hierro’s through-ball over the West African nation’s defence to smash a volley past Rufai two minutes into the second half.

The flow of the game and events preceding the finals suggested Spain would see the game out or add to their advantage. But Bora Milutinovic’s troops had other ideas, even if Rufai was fortunate that Raul did not make it 3-1 after botching a weak attempt by the forward, who could have netted a hat-trick had he been more clinical.

The Super Eagles’ leveller happened fortuitously in the game’s 73rd minute.

Nigeria 3-2 Spain 1998 World Cup
Andoni Zubizarreta's mistake cost Spain against the Super Eagles

Garba Lawal had done well to ride Ivan Campo’s challenge inside the box, and his attempt to pick out a teammate should have been gathered easily by Zubizarreta. However, the custodian seemingly had his bearings all wrong and clumsily diverted the ball into his goal from Lawal’s low cross.

For the second time, Nigeria had fought back.

Oliseh’s incredible strike sealed Nigeria’s win

Nigeria could have fallen behind shortly after Zubizarreta’s own goal, but a young Raul contrived to drag an effort wide when hitting the target would likely have sufficed to put Spain 3-2 ahead. Spain were to rue that miss.

An Austin Okocha throw-in from the left side was headed clear by Hierro, who thought he got ample distance on the clearance, as the ball was sent circa 30 yards from their goal.

However, Oliseh smashed the ball past Zubizarreta with sheer ferocity and precision, beating the Spain goalkeeper, who got fingertips to the shot.

Nigeria 3-2 Spain 1998 World Cup
Andoni Zubizarreta could not prevent Sunday Oliseh's long-distance cracker // IMAGO

“People always talk about it back home,” Oliseh recalled in 2014.

“The fact that this goal propelled us to winning the group, eliminating a great team like Spain, and the fact that it cemented my family’s name in the history of world football, it couldn’t be better.”

The lead changed hands three times, but Oliseh had the final say. It was a goal worthy of claiming a victory against a side seeded 15th before the commencement of that showpiece.

Nigeria went on to win the group but suffered a 4-1 beatdown by Denmark in the last 16, with Taribo West’s disclosure in 2020 revealing the pre-game debauchery on the eve of the game.

The Super Eagles have not had too many top moments at World Cups since; however, Oliseh’s powered strike will never be forgotten. How could anyone fail to recall one of the enduring goals in the competition’s history?