Sadly, Nigeria’s flag and anthem will not grace the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Ranking the Super Eagles' 23 World Cup goals
In ascending order, here is a ranking of all of Nigeria's goals across their six FIFA World Cup appearances
However, through the years Nigeria have accumulated quite the highlight reel when it comes to goals, with many of the Super Eagles’ strikes fondly remembered worldwide.
Here is a ranking, from bottom to top, of Nigeria’s best goals at the World Cup. Attention was paid to aesthetic quality, build-up play and execution, among others. Less important though is the context within which the goals were scored, so a goal would not necessarily be penalised for coming in a defeat.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
23 Andoni Zubizarreta [OG] v Spain (1998)
By the 1998 World Cup, Andoni Zubizarreta was comfortably over the hill. The only person who didn't seem to think so was Javier Clemente. His unwillingness to move beyond the former Barcelona no 1 came back to bite him in a major way.
We can all agree Garba Lawal was trying to cross, yes? Super pass in the build-up by Jay-Jay Okocha though.
22 Yakubu Aiyegbeni v South Korea (2010)
Penalties are difficult to rank particularly highly. However, the circumstance surrounding this match, as well as Yakubu himself (that tragic miss), means this is doubly unremarkable.
21 Victor Moses v Argentina (2018)
A more important penalty than Yakubu's, in that it – for a time – meant the Super Eagles had their own destiny, as regards advancement to the Round of 16, in their own hands.
20 Kalu Uche v Greece (2010)
Kalu Uche is one of only four players to have scored multiple times for Nigeria at the World Cup. That is surprising, especially considering he is not even the most memorable Uche.
Nevertheless, in the absence of his brother, he came correct at the 2010 World Cup. This particular goal, from a free-kick, ranks low because it was sort of fluked: Osaze Odemwingie missing the header was the difference.
19 Wilson Oruma v Paraguay (1998)
Having won their opening two matches and secured top spot in the group, Bora Milutinovic named a much-changed starting lineup to face Paraguay.
The result was a 3-1 defeat, with Celso Ayala scoring in the first minute. This goal briefly tied the game though. Stunning pass by Oliseh in the build-up, but Tijani Babangida overran the ball and Oruma completely scuffed the finish.
18 Osaze Odemwingie v Bosnia Herzegovina (2014)
After drawing against Iran, Nigeria needed a win over Bosnia to get back on track in 2014. They got just that, courtesy of Odemwingie's neat finish, Vincent Enyeama's heroics and some iffy officiating.
Emmanuel Emenike really could (and should) have been called for a foul on Emir Spahic prior to the assist though.
17 Daniel Amokachi v Bulgaria (1994)
On their World Cup debut, the Super Eagles put on a clinic against Bulgaria, going into the half-time break two goals up. This by Amokachi was the first of his two goals in 1994.
The Bull was in, well, bull mode. It's a quite ugly goal in truth, from Rashidi Yekini's over-hit pass, to the tangle in the middle, to Amokachi just barging his way through to finish into an empty net. Plus marks for the dance though.
16 Emmanuel Amuneke v Italy (1994)
It could all have been so different.
Nigeria took the lead in their Round of 16 meeting with Italy through this deft bit of improvisation by Amuneke. It looked like it would be enough, until Roberto Baggio stuck late and twice to reverse the course of history.
15 Kalu Uche v South Korea (2010)
Uche's second strike in South Africa was infinitely better than the first. His movement to emerge from the defender's blindside was excellent and expertly timed, and the finish itself was a lot more difficult than it looked.
Plus marks for Chidi Odiah's flash of inspiration too.
14 Emmanuel Amuneke v Bulgaria (1994)
There is something incredibly satisfying about a diving header. This was even more so because it came from one of the smallest players on the pitch.
A testament to Finidi George’s delivery, if he needed one, and icing on what was a very sweet cake: a 3-0 win on debut for Nigeria's Super Eagles.
13 Mutiu Adepoju v Spain (1998)
Spain were one of the big favourites for glory in France that year, and accordingly started like a house on fire in their opening match. When Fernando Hierro’s free-kick was deflected in, it seemed like they were set to steamroller Nigeria.
That all changed when Adepoju, living up to his ‘Headmaster’ nickname, rose highest and crashed a header into the roof of the net from a Lawal corner. A competitive match was about to break out in Nantes.
12 Julius Aghahowa v Sweden (2002)
Headers are a much more difficult skill than many realise. Aghahowa was not particularly known for them, but he soared here to power a header past the flailing Magnus Hedman to open the scoring.
Having lost to Argentina, a win over the Swedes was vital for Nigeria. It did not arrive ultimately, but this was one of the iconic goals – and celebrations – of the tournament in Korea/Japan.
11 Ahmed Musa (second) v Iceland (2018)
Say what you like about Musa, but the man is rapid. It was a quality of his that seems to shine more on the world stage, and this was the most naked exhibition of that roadrunner speed.
It turned a hopeful long pass down the line into a genuine goalscoring opportunity, as Musa simply outpaced everyone between him and the goal – goalkeeper included – before slotting home. Quite why Kelechi Iheanacho was asking for, or even expected, Musa to pass it to him after all that work, only he can tell.
10 Ahmed Musa (second) v Argentina (2014)
Musa was involved in three phases of this: he won a header (recovery), carried the ball forward and played a pass into Emenike (transition) and then got on the return (penetration).
He then showed great composure while one-on-one, feinting to sit Sergio Romero down before finishing confidently inside the near post. Great goal.
9 Tijani Babangida v Denmark (1998)
You have to hand it to that Super Eagles vintage. When they went down, they did so in flames.
This was about as sumptuous a volley as could have been hit in the circumstance. Top marks, yet again, to Finidi for a superb assist, allowing Babangida to meet it at the far post perfectly, with just enough fade to take it away from Peter Schmeichel.
A shame it came with Nigeria four goals down already though. As far as consolation goals go, this is a classic of the genre.
8 Ahmed Musa (first) v Argentina (2014)
Everyone loves a counter-attack. There’s just something about winning the ball in your own half and then tearing down the other end to punish the opponent.
Michael Babatunde gets top marks for all that yardage – he got cleaned out for his trouble – but really it is the finish that makes this goal. Musa has it all to do when he receives the ball, but doesn’t he do it well. His curled finish is magnificently placed beyond the dive of Sergio Romero.
7 Finidi George v Greece (1994)
It’s a chip, so of course it was always going to rank quite high. To be clear though, what makes this goal is the run by Amuneke, carrying the ball all the way into the Greece half and pulling their defence out of shape before feeding Finidi.
The winger, so often the provider, displays consummate composure to lift the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. If there is a criticism, it is that the trajectory of the chip is a little too high.
6 Ahmed Musa (first) v Iceland (2018)
See above about counter-attacks, only on this one Musa’s technique is somehow even better.
If he meant to control it exactly like that, or even whether the pass from Moses was actually intended for him, I have no idea. What we do know is that with one touch he killed a difficult pass dead, and with another, he half-volleyed the ball into the roof of the net. Stunning goal.
5 Samson Siasia v Argentina (1994)
Having beaten Bulgaria, the Super Eagles were bullish coming into their second match against Diego Maradona’s Argentina. They went ahead early too, with Siasia chipping Luis Islas in the eighth minute. (Quite where the goalkeeper thought he was going is beyond me.)
What elevates this goal, beyond the neat finish itself, is the move that led to it: Nigeria (Siasia, to be exact) won the ball in the centre circle, and in five seconds the Super Eagles were behind the Albiceleste defence. Jurgen Klopp would be proud.
4 Sunday Oliseh v Spain (1998)
As modern football frowns increasingly upon spontaneity, goals like these spark a longing for a more impulsive time. This is a goal fit to win any game; as it happens, it drives a dagger into Spanish ambitions of global conquest.
The build-up is as agricultural as they come: a long throw cleared, but not far enough. All the better to make what followed stand out even more. Oliseh met the volley at just the perfect height to send it careening goalward. Zubizarreta actually got a hand to it, but the venom on it would not be assuaged.
3 Rashidi Yekini v Bulgaria (1994)
Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup goal was also one of its finest. The move is carefully constructed, with Amokachi’s movement key to overloading Bulgaria on the right flank.
The sudden change of tempo was too much for the Bulgarians to handle, as a disguised through ball sent Finidi skipping through. Iconic move, iconic goal, iconic celebration.
Considering the Super Eagles had been under the cosh early doors, this was an important goal to settle the nerves and rein Dimitar Penev’s men in.
2 Daniel Amokachi v Greece (1994)
Amokachi was a lot more central to the system in 1994 than many realise, but when he needed to go berserk, he went berserk. This one came deep in added time at the end of a match that was, for all intents and purposes, already won. It vaulted Nigeria into top spot in the group as well, which as it turns out was not a very good thing.
Anyway, let’s just focus on this goal for a minute. Amokachi just picked the ball up, powered his way upfield, and then… exploded. Good God, what a thunderbastard.
1 Victor Ikpeba v Bulgaria (1998)
Nothing beats a flowing move from back to front. Nigeria were bossing the game against Bulgaria, but needed to score while they were on top. Up stepped Ikpeba.
Ironically, if the officials had not had a collective brain fart, this goal would have never happened. Somehow, they missed Celestine Babayaro heading the ball out, and awarded a goal kick instead of a corner. From then on, the Super Eagles worked the ball up the pitch, culminating in Amokachi finding Ikpeba in space. His change of direction did for Trifon Ivanov, and the finish was customarily nerveless.