Interview with Super Eagles legend Daniel Amokachi
Nigeria takes on South Africa in the semi-finals of the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023 on Wednesday, 07 February, in Bouake.
This will be a meeting of two old-time foes with an intense rivalry dominated by Nigeria in the 14 times they have met, where Nigeria won 7, lost 2, and drew the other 5.
A man who knows a lot about this meeting is other than TotalEnergies CAF AFCON winning star Daniel Amokachi, who won it as a player in 1994 as well as assistant to the late Stephan Keshi when the Super Eagles lifted the title on South African soil in 2013.
The Bull, as he was affectionately known during his playing days, is amongst the star-studded lineup of CAF commentators and analysts in Cote d’Ivoire.
In this sit-down with CAFOnline, he goes down memory lane on the 1994 success, honors the late Stephan Keshi, and shares his views on the similarities between the current Super Eagles generation and 1994 and 2013.
Daniel, we are just a few days away from resuming the competition, but just briefly take us back to your playing days and the success of your generation.
The 1994 success started in 1989 when Clemens Westerhof took charge of the Nigerian national team. He’s going around the country selecting quality players. I remember when he met me. First, in Abidjan (laughs), we played Asec Mimosas in the WAFU Cup final, where we won 3-1, and I scored a brace.
He came into the locker room, and I was told there was someone who wanted to see me. I was 16 then, and when I met him, he said I had an excellent game and wanted me to play for the Nigerian national team. I said I was too young, and he insisted and said we would qualify for the WC for the first time and win the AFCON. It didn’t make sense, but years later, it did, and that’s why I always say the 1994 success started in 1989.
We played the slickest football in 1994, and to date, people still reminisce about it.
Looking at your AFCON 1994 triumph, are there any similarities you can draw from the 1994, 2013, and 2023 generations?
Similarities in a couple of ways. First, the big boss, Stephan Keshi, won it for us. It was a significant loss for Nigerian and global football because he was destined to be one of the greatest coaches from Africa.
We drew our first and second games in 2013. Nigeria drew their first game here, and the similarities are that Keshi was almost sacked after the first game, and Peseiro was nearly sacked in the first game.
How we won it in 2013 is similar to what is happening now. We grew from strength to strength one game at a time, and 2023 is identical. Game 1 wasn’t good, game 2 got a little better, game 3 was still shaky, game four was starting to shape up, and this is what has happened this year where we are peaking at the right time.
In 2013, we had an individual quality like Sunday Mba, who won it for us, which is sometimes needed for such competition.
We had Emenike, and now we have Moses, so the strength up front is similar. At the back, we had the big man, Joseph Yobo, and now we Ekong, showing that leadership and a rock in the back.
What do you make of this current South African team compared to previous years?
I’m a big fan of a team represented by homegrown players. We should give credit to SAFA and the League. The League is doing well and that is why we see the quality football.
They are the only country that has a philosophy that is well known, so thumbs up to SA for that because it dates back to previous generations and has lived on. They have quality, and it speaks volumes about the League. They also have a good coach in Hugo Broos. I was under him at Club Brugge when I scored my first UEFA Champions League goal.
When you look at the Nigerian team, we have the potential and can dominate African football if we keep our minds right. South Africa has a good style of football and keeps possession well. I love their number 10, Percy Tau, so there is a lot to look at, and I think it will be a good game. The team that wants it more will come out top.
What did you make of your stay in Cote d’Ivoire during this competition?
First, it starts when you land at the airport—the treatment, getting stamped, getting transport, driving through the city, and arriving at your hotel. We could sense that the AFCON is here, so it is up to CAF. The stadiums have been world-class. The hospitality from the Ivorian people is top-notch. If you have not enjoyed football, then you don’t know football.
How would you rate the standard of football in this edition?
The shock results have been there. Equatorial Guinea topped a group with Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, and Cape Verde topped a group with Ghana and Egypt, the hosts finishing third and potentially going to the final. So I rate it highly, and I would say now at the semi-final, it is already at 99% perfect, and now we wait for the final for the 1%. Congratulations to CAF for making our football grow; we can see it happening.