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INTERVIEW – Ugbade: How Super Eagles Overcame ‘Unfriendly’ Algeria In 1993 For NIgeria’s First World Cup Ticket

INTERVIEW – Ugbade: How Super Eagles Overcame ‘Unfriendly’ Algeria In 1993 For NIgeria’s First World Cup Ticket

Ahead of the inconsequential matchday-6 game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup African qualifying Group B between the Desert Foxes of Algeria and Super Eagles of Nigeria in Constantine, former Nigeria international, Nduka Ugbade tells Completesportsnigeria.com‘s JAMES AGBEREBI what transpired when the two nations clashed 24 years ago (October 1993) in a crucial 1994 World Cup qualifier in Algiers. Ugbade also talks about his current relationship with Nigeria’s first World Cup finals coach, Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof.

What was it like going into the final and decisive away match with Algeria in 1993 for a place at the USA 1994 World Cup?

Towards the World Cup qualifier away to Algeria in 1993, it was anvery serious affair. It was very serious because we needed to pull a draw or win for us to have a chance to qualify for the USA 1994 World Cup. So when we got to Algeria, Finidi (George) scored first before they equalised. I remember when I replaced Austin Eguavoen who got injured, the pressure was on us.

Before the game, flowers were given out to the Algerians. What were they for?Can you explain that?It is true. We gave them flowers before the game, but the Algerians were like we should just leave the flowers and get on the pitch for a fight. They were not interested in the flowers. Their main concern was to beat us and stop us from qualifying for the World Cup.

So What was the flowers presentation all about?

It was some kind of friendly gesture that is common in Arab land. We were just extending a hand of friendship, something like a fair play. But they just took the flowers from us and kept it somewhere.  Their interest was that we must lose to them, especially having beaten them 4-1 in Nigeria.

Whose idea was it to present the flowers?

It was the idea of the Nigeria Football Federation. But like I said, the Algerians were not happy after losing 4-1 in Lagos. But at the end of the game we were able to hold them to a 1-1 draw in Algiers.

What kind of pressure did the players and coaches experience before the match, especially knowing that a defeat would blow up Nigeria’s dream of qualifying for USA 1994 World Cup?We weren’t under serious pressure considering the kind of team that we had. We were very strong. The Algeria were also a strong footballing nation. Even in the first leg in Lagos, they scored first before Okocha (Austin) equalised and the late Rashidi Yekini, and Daniel Amokachi also scored.

What was the preparation like before that decisive game in Algiers?

The preparation was very intense because we didn’t want to take anything for granted, and at the end of the day everything played out the way we wanted it. I could remember Clemens Westerhof changing cigarettes, consuming almost about 10 sticks before I was brought on.

Talking about when you were introduced into the game at a crucial moment, what was going through your mind?

Nothing. Because we all had the same desire to qualify for the World Cup which should be done at all cost. Back then, the kind of team we had, whoever we faced, there was always the question of ‘can we survive’ by our opponents. And after the first 10 to 15 minutes, our opponents will then get an idea of what the 90 minutes will be like. This is the kind of mindset I want the current Super Eagles squad to have so that a good result against Algeria Constantine will help us get better FIFA ranking. Also, it will help when the seedings are done for the Russia 2014 draw.

Looking at the upcoming game on Friday, what kind of game should we be expecting?

The Super Eagles should expect a very tough game from the Algerians.  Fine, it maybe an inconsequential game, but the Algerians I know will give their all to get something from the match.

The Super Eagles will be missing some key players for the Algeria game in Constantine. What impact do you think it will have on the game for Nigeria?

It wouldn’t impact negatively on the team. In fact, this will be good for new players to be tried. And when preparing for the World Cup, you must have about 40 players to look at before finally picking your final 23 players. So it is important to give other players the opportunity to have a feel of what national team is all about. And we should know that while some players are going out, some are coming in. We have a very young team with the likes of Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Moses Simon who have about three more World Cups to play.

Nigeria and Egypt have already booked their tickets for the 2018 World Cup with more African slots remaining. Which other African teams would you love to see at next year’s World Cup along with Nigeria and Egypt?

I would want Morocco to qualify. Tunisia have been to the World Cup before and it wouldn’t be bad if they qualify as well. For the game between Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco, it is going to be a very difficult match. There is the possibility that Cote d’Ivoire might squeeze out something because most of their players play in top clubs in Europe. But like I said, I wouldn’t mind if Morocco qualifies because they’ve been to the World Cup and did very well especially in Mexico 1986.

Finally, in the final selection for the USA 1994 World Cup squad, you were dropped by Clemens Westerhof. Have you forgiven him for that?

I have forgiven him long ago. After the disappointment, I have achieved a lot especially after taking Nigeria junior team to the World Cup and also winning it. It was very painful (not going to the senior World Cup), but it was one of those things in life.. However, it’s not something I must hang on to. It was something I had to forgive and forget.
And have you met Westerhof since then?Yes, we’ve met on two, three occasions. I remember during a book  publication, we met and he (Westerhof) apologised to me. He even told me that if he had the chance to re-sign for Nigeria again, surely I will go to the World Cup because then I had not even stopped playing.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 1
  • Nduka how far?