Ex-Eagles winger Finidi George, who attended the ’94 and ’98 World Cups, talks about his experiences at the Mundial
Finidi George. Remember him?
He was the dashing winger who made his debut for Nigeria in 1991 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Burkina Faso, providing three assists for Rashidi Yekini and scoring once in a 7–1 win in Lagos.
Then, he was with hometown club, Sharks of Port Harcourt. He would go on to join Dutch giants Ajax for a paltry sum in 1993, despite his enormous abilities.
“We didn’t have any money and we were bankrupt. I had to look to the youth. We scouted (Jari) Litmanen, a Finnish player, who we bought for £10,000. We also bought Finidi George. He was a Nigerian international. He was £3,000. I paid it by myself! And then, we bought Marc Overmars,” Louis van Gaal, who signed the Nigerian then, revealed.
Finidi arrived at Ajax alongside compatriot Nwankwo Kanu and his impact on the Amsterdam side was immediate as he scored four goals in 27 games to help them win the Eredivisie title, which was also achieved in the following two seasons. He also appeared in consecutive UEFA Champions League finals, winning the 1994/95 edition against AC Milan and losing the next to Juventus.
Rewind again to the World Cup finals in 1994, when the former Ajax and Ipswich man completed a brilliant breakaway on the stroke of half-time to open the scoring against Greece in their final group game.
The breathtaking goal even became more sensational as Finidi dropped to the ground walking with his hands and legs and cocking his leg like a dog.
He was also at the France ’98 World Cup and played in all four games as Nigeria crashed out in the Round of 16 to Denmark.
Now 46 years old, Finidi, who also played for Real Betis and Mallorca and scored six goals in 62 games for Nigeria, shares his thoughts on his World Cup experience:
Debut World Cup in 1994
It was fantastic. We were a little bit nervous for the first time, but again, we were so confident because most of us were playing top-level football in Europe. Nobody was sitting on the bench. I was playing for Ajax, and I was in the first team. (Daniel) Amokachi was also in the first team at Club Brugge. Sunday Oliseh and Emmanuel Amuneke and almost all the players were in the first teams of their clubs and we competed with these (World Cup) players. So, it was not difficult. But we were a little bit nervous because Nigeria was featuring at the World Cup for the first time and there was a lot of pressure. People were critical of how we were going to perform. But when the ball started rolling, we forgot about all that and gave it our all.
World Cup atmosphere
The World Cup is different. It is like the Olympics; it’s every four years that you have an opportunity to be part of it. I played in the UEFA Champions League and I won it; it’s a very good competition but the World Cup is top.
First World Cup win
We were playing a Bulgarian team that had the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Emil Kostadinov and Yordan Letchkov. They were very dangerous but we knew that if we defended very well, we would definitely have our opportunities to score goals. We had the late Rashidi Yekini and our firepower was unstoppable. We used it and got our victory. We won 3-0 and we celebrated it. We were very happy because it was Nigeria’s first ever World Cup game and victory.
It was something different, something I can’t explain. It’s the World Cup and all eyes are on you. You score a goal and you just go crazy. That’s what happened to me when I celebrated like that.
I had a lot of good memories and not too good ones as well at US ’94. I was a little bit sad with the way we exited the tournament losing 2-1 to Italy in the Round of 16. We had a team that was inexperienced and I believe that if we were to play that game against Italy now, we will do something differently. Two minutes before the end, we couldn’t hold ourselves land keep going; until the ref blows the final whistle, the match is not yet over. But it was a great experience for me to participate in that first World Cup Nigeria attended.
Playing against Roberto Baggio
He was a good player, one of the top players in Italy then when the Italian league was dominant in Europe. They also had Paolo Maldini. We always saw these players and since we’ve been competing at the highest level in Europe, we were not really shy. We matched them but we were unlucky, a little bit unlucky.
Round of 16 exit
We were all very sad because before that game (against Italy), we had a little bit of controversy. Clemens Westerhof wanted to leave the team because he didn’t like the kind of people coming into the players’ hotels. There were lots of arguments but finally, he stayed. But there was a problem before the game. We should have been relaxed before that game. There were so much arguments in the team before the match. I don’t know if that affected the team or not.
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