“The Saudi Arabian fans were happy with us and we received lots of gift items from some fans and from the King.” – Christopher Nwosu
When the USSR raced to a 4-0 lead in the 58th minute of the quarter-final match against Nigeria at the FIFA 1989 World Cup, the African team lost all hopes of a semi-final ticket.
There was no coming back from that. They would be on the next available flight out of Saudi Arabia within the next 24 hours.
The Miracle of Dammam as it had come to be known is a folklore that is still told in Saudi Arabia today.
Surviving The Czech Onslaught
In the final group match, Nigeria needed just a point to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition.
After defeating hosts Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the opening game of the tournament, Nigeria lost to eventual winners Portugal 1-0 in their next group game.
Stuck on the same points and goals with the Czech side, both teams battled for the quarter-final slot left.
In a keenly-contested match, the Czechs went ahead through a Radoslav Latal goal in the 14th minute.
Hoping to deny the Flying Eagles the quarter-final ticket, they held on to that lone goal lead until the unexpected happened.
In the 72nd minute, Flying Eagles midfielder Christopher Nwosu pounced on the ball around the middle of the pitch and proceeded on a long menacing run.
Finding himself one-on-one with the Czech Goalkeeper, he put the ball in the back of the net for the equalizer that kicked the Czech side out of the tournament.
Facing The Dreaded Soviets Again
The USSR were the 1989 FIFA U-20 World Cup tournament favorites parading a team that comprised of the famous Oleg Salenko and Sergei Kiriakov.
When the Flying Eagles qualified to play the Soviets in the quarter-final, no one expected the Nigerian side to scale through.
2 years prior to this tournament, the Nigerian side had faced the Soviets in the final of the U-16 FIFA World Cup in Canada.
After playing a 1-1 draw in the group stages, both teams faced off again in the final of the tournament.
The Soviets won 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in regulation time.
The game left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players who had strived really hard for that gold medal.
So when both sides faced each other again in the quarter-final of the 1989 FIFA World Cup, everyone knew the Nigerian team had an axe to grind with the USSR side.
The Nigerian team coached by Tunde Disu was made up of Nduka Ugbade, Emeka Amadi, Angus Ikeji, Christopher Ohenhen, Christopher Nwosu, Bawa Abdullahi, Jimoh Balogun, Samuel Elijah, Mutiu Adepoju, the late Philip Osondu, Peter Ogaba, Mohammed Oladimeji, Oladuni Oyekale, and Enegwea Taiwo.
Oh No! Not Again!
What no one expected was how things played out. The USSR side went on an early rampage, tearing the Nigerian team apart 4-0 in just 58 minutes.
Sergei Kiriakov scored the first goal on the half-hour mark before Bakhva Tedeev added a second on the stroke of half-time.
After the game restarted for second half, the dreaded Oleg Salenko added salt to injury with a goal in the 46th minute.
The whole nation had been thrown into mourning as the USSR side showed no mercy on the Nigerians.
Sergei Kiriakov then completed his brace in the 58th minute with a goal that seemingly put the nail in the coffin for the Flying Eagles.
With a 4-0 lead, the USSR Coach Ignatiev Boris decided to rest his key players for the semi-final match ahead.
He substituted goal-scorer Sergei Kiriakov for Nikiforov on the hour mark so as to have him rested well for the match against the United States.
It was all over for the Nigerian side. The Soviets had shown them who was boss again.
Many Nigerians back home had left their TV sets in anger while some stayed glued watching their battered side run haplessly on the pitch.
The Miracle of Dammam
The USSR Coach’s tactics proved too costly for him as things took an ugly twist. Like a perfect scene from a movie screen, Nigeria bounced back.
In the 61st minute, the Soviet Union committed a foul on the edge of their 18-yard box.
18-year old Christopher Ohenhen and Captain Nduka Ugbade stood behind the ball.
The former backpedaled for momentum and the ball was perfectly knocked up for him by Nduka Ugbade.
Christopher Ohenhen ran up towards the layup and hit a ferocious shot past the Soviet wall and Gintaras Stauce in goal into the back of the net. 4-1!
The goal boosted the morale of the Nigerian team and they began to attack the Soviets in droves.
In the 75th minute, Mutiu Adepoju was fouled 30 yards out and guess who reached for the ball! Christopher Ohenhen again!
Placing the ball on the spot, the 18-year old backpedaled again before running towards the ball and smashing a thunderous volley with his left foot.
The ball went flying high past the Soviet wall and dipped at the last minute giving Gintaras Stauce no chance as he slunk to his knees. 4-2 Nigeria!
The screams of the second goal from Nigerians at home attracted many who had earlier abandoned their TV sets.
As Nigerians back at home started to dream, the team on the pitch started to believe in their dream of a comeback.
7 minutes to the end of regulation time, Bawa Abdullahi timed the run of Samuel Elijah and sent a long pass forward.
Executing a perfect ball control, Samuel Elijah maneuvered his way into the Soviets 18-yard and sent the ball past the helpless goalkeeper to make it 4-3.
That goal reinforced the belief of the Nigerian side and charged the atmosphere in the Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz Stadium.
The team was almost there. All they needed was just one more goal. One goal that would change the course of history.
Nigerians back at home began offering prayers up to God and every deity they offered sacrifices to for a 4th goal in the game.
With everything falling in place for the Nigerian side, the team made a string of short passes that split open the Soviet defence.
Mutiu Adepoju then opened up and set Nduka Ugbade free in the Soviet penalty area with a precise pass.
With the Soviet Goalkeeper onrushing, Nduka Ugbade lobbed the ball into the roof of the net for a joyous celebration that screamed, “E don happen I don tell! am E don happen I don tell am! Motor don jam am I don tell am!”
The stadium erupted. The spectators went wild in disbelief of what had just happened before their very eyes.
Never had any team pulled off such an incredible feat in the history of the FIFA World Cup at any level.
Nigerians home and abroad celebrated this feat. Nigerians back at home ran out of their houses and down the street in excitement.
Some people driving parked in the middle of the road to join in the celebration.
It was one moment that shook the world of football. Everyone had just witnessed a miracle. The Miracle of Dammam!
The Flying Eagles went on to defeat the USSR 5-3 in the ensuing penalty shootout.
The Nigerian side set a record as the first team to come back from 4 goals down to win a match in the history of the FIFA World Cup at any level.
Nigeria defeated the United States 2-1 in the semi-finals of the competition with a brace from Mutiu Adepoju to set up a meeting with Portugal in the final.
They set a record as the first African team to qualify for a FIFA World Cup final.
The Portugal side clipped the wings of the Flying Eagles with a resounding 2-0 win to win the gold trophy.
Although the Nigerians felt sad about losing 2 finals within the space of 2 years, their performance against the USSR earned them much accolades from football lovers all over the world.
18 EMEKA AMADI GK
1. ANGUS IKEJI GK
16 BAWA ABDULLAHI DF
13 TUNDE CHARITY DF
12 CHINEDU ODIARI DF
15 MIKE ONYEMACHARA DF
5 SAM ELIJAH DF
6 TAIWO ENEGWEA DF
3 NDUKA UGDADE DF
9 MUTIU ADEPOJU MF
7 OLUDUNI OYAKALE MF
11 TONY EMOEDUFU MF
9 PETER OGABA ATT
4 CHRIS OHEHEN ATT
10 MOHD DIMEJI ATT
2 JIMOH BALOGUN ATT
14 CHRISTOPHER NWOSU ATT
17 PHILIP OSUNDU ATT