It is the dream of all footballers to play in the champions league and ultimately have their hands on the coveted trophy. So far only 3 Nigerians have won the trophy since its renaming in 1993. Here, I will be taking you through some unforgettable moments of Nigerians in the most-watched competition in the world.
Daniel Amokachis historic goal for Club Brugge
The Nigerian forward had made a name for himself at the 1990 African Nations Cup and it was no surprise when he made the switch to Club Brugge in Belgium. A new format had just been introduced in 1993 to the European Cup with the name changed to the Champions League and the Belgian champions had made it to the group stages. Club Brugge, also in the same Group A with eventual winners Marseille and Scottish champions Rangers, were to face CSKA Moscow in the groups opening match. The stage was set for Amokachi to write his name in the history books and he seized the opportunity. Smartly beating the offside trap, the Nigerian forward used his pace to get past the goalkeeper and smash the ball into an empty net, securing a 10 win over the Russians. Amokachi thus became the first player to score in the UEFA Champions League.
Kanu and Finidi lift the trophy with Ajax
Before the 1995 UEFA Champions League Final, no other Nigerian had ever appeared at the final stage of the competition. The only time any Nigerian had come close to anything that compared to that grand stage was when Stephen Keshi was on the losing end of the 1990 European Cup Winners Cup. But here were two Nigerians, Nwankwo Kanu and George Finidi, helping the Dutch champions coached by a certain Louis Van Gaal to only their fourth European triumph.
In the final against AC Milan, Finidi played all 90 minutes while Kanu was introduced into the game for Clarence Seedorf seven minutes into the second half. But it was fellow substitute, Patrick Kluivert who would break Italian hearts with an 85th minute goal. The celebration scenes at the final whistle were wild and magical and made even more beautiful by the fact that two Nigerians made it possible.
Finidi and Kanu again in the 1996 Final
Defending champions Ajax were once again in the final having sent home the likes of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Panathinaikos. Kanu had established himself as a first team starter ahead of Patrick Kluivert, and his partnership with top goalscorer Jari Litmanen had grown to be one of the most feared in Europe.
However, another Italian side Juventus was waiting in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Scores stood at one-all after extra time, Litmanen having cancelled out Ravanellis opener. But it was Juventus who were more decisive at the penalties as first Edgar Davies, and then Silooy missed their kicks for Ajax. Nigerians were as sad as Ajax fans as Kanu and Finidi suffered heartbreak at the last hurdle.
Obafemi Martins ran riot against Arsenal
Internazionale FC launched their challenge for the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League with a stunning 3-0 victory at Highbury against highly rated Arsenal FC with tremendous help from a certain Nigerian teenager. Inter Milan made an imperious start, with Obafemi Martins at the heart of everything good in the Italians attack.
First, Martins provided a headed assist for strike-partner Julio Cruz to open the scoring with a nicely executed finish before Van der Meyde struck a superb volley to make it 0-2. The Nigerian striker would have the final say, though. After collecting a disguised pass from Emre Belözoglu, the teenager held off the challenge of Sol Campbell to fire the ball past Jens Lehmann in Arsenal goal. It would be one of Obafemi Martins finest performances in Europe.
Mikel Obi conquers Europe with Chelsea
Not since George Finidi in 1995 had a Nigerian had such an impact on the final of the UEFA Champions League as John Obi Mikel in Chelseas title winning 2011/12 campaign. The odds were stacked steeply against the English team who faced a Bayern Munich side that had knocked out favourites Real Madrid in the semi-final. The Blues had achieved their own giant-killing feat by upsetting Barcelona in the semi-finals but a poor league form and the fact that the final was to be played at the Football Arena Munich, home ground of their final foes, suggested that the momentum was with the German champions. But Chelsea was not intimidated. They fought like lions and their defense stood firm like a concrete wall. Didier Drogba was irrepressible upfront while Mikel Obi was a colossus in midfield all game for Chelsea as they claimed the European title for the first time in dramatic circumstances. Thomas Müller headed the Germans into an 83rd-minute lead and just as Munich was preparing to celebrate, Drogba brought Chelsea level. The Londoners went on to prevail on penalties. And another Nigerian wrote his name in the history books.