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Flying Eagles of Nigeria Create Football History at Saudi Arabia 1989

In the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship held in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria won the silver medal, after defeating the USSR in the most thrilling semi-finals ever in FIFA championship history. U-20.

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 scoring the two vital goals for Nigeria. The next match was against Portugal, and it went against the expectations of boy-led coach Tunde Disu, who were beaten 1-0 by a strong Portuguese side. The Flying Eagles, however, managed to secure a ticket to the quarter-finals after earning a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia in their last group match. Christopher Ohenhen once again saved a point for Nigeria by scoring the decisive equalizer in the 72nd minute of play.

The quarter-final match saw the Flying Eagles being paired with the USSR.

The game was played in Dammam, and was later renamed “the miracle of Dammam”.

It was a game that saw Nigeria trail by 4-0 minutes from the end of the quarter-final tie-breaker. Legendary Oleg Salenko of the USSR was among the scorers in this memorable match. Within 30 minutes, Nigeria fought back to equalize 4-4 and lead the game on penalties. The comeback was kicked off by star player Christopher Ohenhen who scored a brace in the 61st and 75th minutes to make it 4-2 with 15 minutes left in regulation time. Samuel Elijah, who was later dubbed ‘Prophet’ Samuel Elijah scored in the 83rd minute to reduce the aggregate 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 had to go to a penalty shootout after the 90 minutes expired, and the Nigerians triumphed 5-3, after Mirdjalal Kasimov missed his kick to bring the game to a climax. It was the biggest comeback in world football history to date.

In the semi-finals, the Flying Eagles narrowly beat the United States 2-1 after the game had to go into another extra time with the games tied 1-1 in regulation. Mutiu Adepoju, who later became an integral part of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, scored the two goals that eliminated the United States from the tournament. In goal for the United States on that momentous day was goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who later became a household name in world football.

It was a weary Flying Eagles team that qualified for the final of the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship, having played two successive games that ended in penalties. This was to 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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