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Dammam Miracle: a nostalgic relive of one of Nigeria’s greatest football matches.

At the Prince Muhammed bin Fahd Stadium, Dammam, Saudi Arabia, with about 10,000 spectators howling in abject bewilderment, Nigeria pulled the greatest comeback in the history of FIFA World Cup at any level.

USSR was the opponent in the quarter finals of the 1989 U-20 World Youth Championship and the Soviet Union had mounted a seemingly insurmountable 4-goal lead as early as the 46th minute and it looked as though the Flying Eagles were in for a total annihilation.

With brace from Sergie Kiriakov and additional two goals from Bakhva Tedeev and future joint-top goalscorer at 1994 World Cup, Oleg Salenko, the now defunct USSR were in total control of the Nigerian team which encompassed the crux of the Golden Eaglets that won the U-16 WYC in China, four years prior.

Four goals up against a discombobulated side, Boris Ignatyev, the USSR head coach, adjudged the game already won. And with over 30 minutes left to play, he started pulling apart the vital cogs of his team to rest them for the bigger semi final game against United States of America, and his decisions proved costly as they sparked an unprecedented drama that even he was shell-shocked as the script unfolded before him.

At the 61st minute, a foul was committed at the edge of the Soviet Union’s 18-yard area. Up step Christopher Ohenhen. The then 18-year-old picked the ball, placed it the spot. Backpedalled for momentum and the ball was knocked forward for him by team captain, Nduka Ugbade. Ohenhen strided towards the layup and hammered it with his left bootlace. The low shot flew around the horribly-constructed wall and past the sprawling limbs of Gintaras Stauce, USSR goalkeeper, as it bulged his bottom left corner’s net. 4-1. The Nigerians began to dream.

The goal swung momentum behind the Flying Eagles as they began to attack in drove. Wave after wave of opportunities but it didn’t seem they’d made anything out of it. Until 75th minute, Mutiu Adepoju was upended about 30 yards from goal and Ohenhen reached for the ball again. He twisted the ball a few times on the spot, finding the perfect position; it almost appeared he was screwing the ball to the ground. Finally he got a position he believed perfect and he backtracked again for momentum. He took the run-up, bearing towards the ball with a blistering speed . He connected his left bootlace into the ball again but this time with more power, and the technique proved superb. He struck it hard and the ball rose, high above the wall, it almost appeared to be going over until it took a timely dink and Stauce looked on helplessly as the ball sailed into his top right corner. Beautiful. 4-2. The Nigerians weren’t just dreaming, they were starting to believe.

Eight minutes later, the belief became grounded. Bawa Abdulahi orchestrated a cross-field pass from the center circle and he found Samuel Elijah, who drifted past bodies of defenders before slamming a shot that was too heavy for the fingers of Stauce to stymie and the ball trickled in. 4-3. They were almost there. They were on the cusp of the unbelievable, could they achieve it?

Somehow the ball got to Adepoju at the edge of USSR 18-yard area and he was surrounded by white colors of the Soviet Union. He couldn’t have done much. He opened his body and searched for options but saw none except for flurry of white shirts barreling towards him to bully the ball off him. He turned his back to the goal to shield the ball and at least get a free-kick out of the smouldered attack, when, suddenly, he saw a blur of green shirt fly past the defenders, with acres of spaces ahead of him. Adepoju chopped a pass behind the last defender and set Ugbade up for a one-view-one with the goalkeeper. As the Nigerian captain ran to meet the ball, the entire stadium fell quiet. All mouths shut, all eyes widened as the then 19-year-old scooped the ball over the inrushing Stauce and into the grasp of the open net. The stadium erupted into bedlam. Noise took the air as the arena shook in fitting response to what it had just witnessed. A miracle.

It was a scene too fantastical to be true for the USSR as the players collapsed onto the pitch in self-beratement. The Flying Eagles piled atop one-another at a corner of the pitch in maddening celebration. Nigeria completed the comeback and won 5-3 in the resulting penalty shootout.

Although the team would eventually lose to Portugal in the final, Flying Eagles, coached by Olatunde Disu, had conjured what would be aptly labelled: the Dammam Miracle, a match whose hysteria still remains unrivaled in the memories of Nigerian football fans who witnessed the wonder on that Sunday night.

Shehu Idris Tẹjumọla​4 Posts

Shehu Idris Tẹjumọla​ is a football fanatic, a voracious reader of football contents and an Indefatigable football writing junkie. Author of future Man Booker-winning, best-selling books.

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