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Flying Eagles of Nigeria Create Football History at Saudi Arabia 1989
At the 1989 World Youth Championship held in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria took the Silver medal after defeating the USSR in the most thrilling semi-final matches ever played in the history of the FIFA U-20 Championship.
The Flying Eagles’ first game was against the host nation, and they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 with midfielder Mutiu Adepoju and striker Christopher Ohenhen getting the two vital goals for Nigeria. The next game was against Portugal, and it went against the expectations of coach Tunde Disu led Boys who were beaten 1-0 by a strong Portuguese side. However, the Flying Eagles were able to secure a quarter-final ticket after securing a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia in their final group game. Christopher Ohenhen once again saved Nigeria a point by scoring the decisive equalizer in the 72nd minute of the game.
In the quarterfinal match, the Flying Eagles were paired with the USSR.
The game was played in Dammam, and was later called the “Miracle of Dammam”.
This was a game in which Nigeria trailed 4-0 with minutes to go in the quarter-final decider. The legendary Oleg Salenko of the USSR was among the scorers in that memorable match. Within 30 minutes, Nigeria fought back to tie the game 4-4 and send the game to penalties. The comeback was started by star player Christopher Ohenhen who scored twice in the 61st and 75th minutes to make it 4-2 with 15 minutes left in regulation time. Samuel Elijah, who was later nicknamed “The Prophet” Samuel Elijah scored in the 83rd minute of the game to reduce the score to 4-3, before inspirational captain Nduka Ugbade came from nowhere to level the score at 4-4 with an incredible equalizer in the 84th minute. The Russians were stunned beyond their imagination. The match went to penalties after 90 minutes and the Nigerians triumphed 5-3 after Mirdjalal Kasimov missed the spot-kick to bring the game to a climax. It was the biggest comeback in world football history to date.
In the semifinals, the Flying Eagles narrowly defeated the USA 2–1, as the game had to go to another extra time with the games tied 1–1 in regular time. Mutiu Adepoju who later became an integral part of Nigeria’s Super Eagles scored both goals that knocked the USA out of the tournament. In the USA goal on that memorable day, was goalkeeper Kasey Keller who later became a household name in world soccer.
It was a tired Flying Eagles side that qualified for the final of the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship after playing two consecutive matches that went to penalties. This would prove decisive as the Flying Eagles were beaten 2-0 by Portugal, who had previously beaten them 1-0 in the group stage.
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