FULL NAME: Samson Yebowei Siasia
DATE OF BIRTH: 14th August, 1967
START OF FOOTBALL CAREER: In Ajegunle, 1979
CLUB SIDES PLAYED FOR: Julius Berger FC Lagos; LUTH, Lagos; Flash Flamingoes, Benin; El-Kanemi, Maiduguri; Lokeren, Belgium; Nantes FC, France; Tiense FC, Portugal; Al- Hilal, Saudi Arabia; Perth Glory, Australia; Hapoel Zfarim, Israel.
CLUB HONOURS WON: French Championnat, 1994 with Nantes; Nigerian Championship, Asian Champions League with Al-Hilal.
NATIONAL TEAM HONOURS: 1992 Nations Cup bronze; 1994 NationsCup gold; FIFA U-21 World Youth Championship bronze 1985; FIFA World Cup appearance in 1994
START OF NATIONAL TEAM CAREER: 1985
OPPONENTS (EVENT): I can’t remember.
FIRST NATIONS CUP APPEARANCE: 1992 in Senegal
NIGERIA was grouped together with our great rivals Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo and Burkina-Faso in the qualifying tournament for the 1992 Nations Cup finals in Senegal. We did well particularly in most of the away games, beating Benin 1-0, drawing with Togo 0-0 and Burkina-Faso 1-1. We lost 1-0 only to Ghana in Kumasi rather controversially in a game our goalkeeper Aloy Agu lost a tooth.
I also remember the tense return leg we played against Ghana at the National Stadium in Lagos. Thompson Oliha was fantastic and was probably our man of the match except for the heroics of the Ghanaian goalkeeper Edward Ansah who stood between us and victory. We drew that game with Ghana 0-0 but, at the end of the day, our record 7-1 thrashing of Burkina-Faso in our final match in Lagos helped secure our qualification. A funny episode before the Burkina Faso game was that the NFA forgot to bring our playing pants to the stadium and we had to play in tracksuits which were cut to size! Even then, Rashidi Yekini scored four of our goals with Finidi George providing most of the crosses. In fact, that was Finidi’s breakthrough game in the national team. He became a superstar with that game.
PREPARATIONS AND SQUAD SELECTION
The 1992 Nations Cup was my first, though I had been called to the national team seven years earlier after my performance at the 1985 World Youth Championship in Russia where we won the bronze medal. My first day in camp was just normal but I was excited and happy to be there. My room-mate was Thompson Oliha and we were all looking forward to the Nations Cup in Senegal.
We were lodged at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel and most of our preparation was done at home in Nigeria. Our training was a mixture of all sorts. When you prepare for a tournament of that nature, you do physical exercises, running and tactical works. But we didn’t do any road works or run on the beach. We did just more of physical build-up and ball work.
Clemens Westerhof was in charge of the team, and everyone would agree with me that he was a great coach. He was good with the players and he was also a good manager. He gave us all we needed to perform and greatly encouraged us. We played a couple of friendly games before the Nations Cup. We went about our preparation quite efficiently. I knew I had made the team to the finals when the list was called out at the Sheraton Hotels in Lagos. Thereafter, we camped for some days in Papendal, Holland from where we flew to Senegal for the tournament. We arrived looking very fit. We were a very strong collection with big players like Stephen Keshi, Austin Eguavoen, Uche Okechukwu, Rashidi Yekini and others.
Our opening game against the host country, Senegal, was quite explosive. It was played under floodlights and that made it very suitable for us because the weather was nice and cool.
I scored the opening goal from a long pass which I chested down in the 18-yard box before firing an angled shot, giving their goalkeeper no chance. I’m not trying to be immodest, but it was a wonderful goal and even the journalists later said so. Senegal managed to equalize before half time but then Keshi scored the winner for us towards the end. Everybody started tipping Nigeria for the cup because of the way we played. We were so strong.
The pace of our second game against Kenya was slow because it was played under the sun, unlike our first game. However, Yekini scored two quick goals for us and we decided to relax and take things easy. Kenya won a penalty towards the end and scored but we held on to win and qualify for the quarter-final. The weather was a key factor for us in Senegal because most of our players were coming from Europe where it wasn’t as hot as in Africa. So when our quarter-final match against Zaire was to be played again under the sun, we knew we had to be careful since the majority of the Zaireans were based at home.
Luckily for us, Yekini scored early again and all we had to do was make sure we didn’t concede a goal. The Zaireans pushed us very hard till the end, but we held out for a 1-0 win. Now, our semi-final clash with Ghana had been highly anticipated as the two teams were considered as favourites for the trophy. In fact, it was dubbed the “final-before-the-final” and it turned out to be so.
On our part, we were very determined to avenge our away loss to Ghana during the qualifiers plus the fact that they managed to escape defeat in the second leg in Lagos. We started very strongly and opened the scoring through Mutiu Adepoju who headed in Thompson Oliha’s floated pass. Ghana equalized through another great header when Abedi Pele flicked home from a corner kick to end the first half 1-1.
In the second half, Ghana scored early to lead 2-1 and try as much as we did, we couldn’t rescue the game. In fact, I came closest to getting an equalizer when I fought my way into the box in the dying moments only for my shot to hit the crossbar. It just wasn’t our day, and we were all so disappointed at the final whistle. We had to face Cameroun in the third place match but the majority of the first team players didn’t have the motivation to play since the cup had been lost. So Westerhof fielded something like a second string team but we still managed to beat Cameroun 2-1 and win the bronze medal.
Looking back, I am still convinced that we were the best team at Senegal ‘92. We were just not destined to win the cup that year but God compensated us two years later at Tunisia ‘94.
We had some good time in Senegal. We didn’t have any camp commandant at our hotel as we were all mature players and there was no need for one. It was fun flying with the team to the tournament. Most of us came in from Europe and we were really happy to see each other and chat about old times.
My roommate at the tournament was again Thompson Oliha. We provided company for each other and cracked a lot of jokes. The food was good at the competition, and our nutritionists made sure we ate the right meals. There was no clown in the team. I can’t say any particular person was that funny.
In terms of the most stubborn player in camp, I think that tag fell on me. But personally, I don’t think I am stubborn. I just feel that I am a little bit more outspoken. When you talk and defend yourself, most Nigerians and indeed most Africans feel you are being difficult.
In our approach to matches, Westerhof simply told us to go out and win but we were also cautioned to be tactically disciplined and take our chances. I think we were well treated at the finals. Our daily allowances and match bonuses were paid in dollars and we weren’t owed a dime. Shina Peters’ Afro-Juju music was in vogue that year, but on our way to games we sang church songs and there was no particular lead singer. As for the team prayer before matches, anyone could lead that for the team.
The NFA chairman was Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah, and he was very good with us and gave us a lot of pep talk going into games. Our captain was, of course, Stephen Keshi who was a great leader with a big charisma. He was a defensive midfielder, but also scored lots of goals for the team, so he was well respected. Scoring our first goal of the tournament against Senegal in our opening game is one episode I will never forget about 1992. In terms of an embarrassing moment, I think our semi-final loss to Ghana really made us feel bad.
On our return from Senegal, there was no reception for us at the Lagos airport as Nigerians weren’t happy that we didn’t win the tournament. But they apparently realized that we gave our best, so they just carried on with things and nobody caused any uproar about our third place finish, though we knew Nigerians expected more.
The newspapers gave me some good rave reviews. They wrote that the whole of Africa really got to know me at Senegal ‘92, as they didn’t know where Siasia came from before the championship. The press wrote well about my performance and that of the team in general. We did not get any special rewards from the government or the NFA, neither were there any unfulfilled promises other than the houses in Abuja which they promised us for winning the Nations Cup title two years later in 1994 but which we are yet to receive till date!
My fondest memory of the tournament was our gathering together as a team, since we were all coming from our various bases in Europe. We were like young holiday-makers returning home to their friends to show-off what they had achieved in Europe. It was lovely then. Overall, I just feel we should have won the tournament in Senegal because I think we had a team good enough to win it. But it wasn’t meant to be.
GOALKEEPERS: Alloy Agu, David Ngodigha, Ike Shorunrnu (Stores, Lagos).
DEFENDERS: Augustine Eguavoen (Kortrijk, Belgium), Stephen Keshi (cpt) (Strasbourg, France), Ajibade Babalade (Stores, Lagos), Reuben Agboola (Swansea, England), Uche Okechukwu (Brondby, Denmark), Nduka Ugbade (El Kanemi, Maiduguri), Abdul Aminu (El Kanemi, Maiduguri).
MIDFIELDERS: Emeka Ezeugo, Mutiu Adepoju (Castellon, Spain), Thompson Oliha, Friday Ekpo, Friday Elaho, Finidi George (Sharks, Port Harcourt), Ene Okon, Dotun Alatishe (Rangers,Enugu)
FORWARDS: Samson Siasia (Lokeren, Belgium), Rashidi Yekini (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal), Victor Ikpeba (RTFC Liegeois, Belgium), Jonathan Akpoborie (Saarbrucken, Germany).
COACH: Clemens Westerhof (Holland).
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