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Flying Eagles of Nigeria Create Football History at Saudi Arabia 1989

At the 1989 World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria won the silver medal by defeating the USSR in one of the tightest semi-finals ever played in the history of the FIFA U-20 Championship.

The Flying Eagles’ first game was against the host nation and they defeated Saudi Arabia 2–1 with two crucial goals from midfielder Mutyu Adepoju and striker Christopher Ohene for Nigeria. The next match was against Portugal, and it went against the expectations of the boys led by coach Tunde Niu, who were beaten 1-0 by the Portuguese team. The Flying Eagles, however, managed to book their ticket to the quarter-finals with a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia in their final group game. Christopher Ohene scored the decisive equalizer in the 72nd minute of the game to give Nigeria a point once again.

The Flying Eagles were paired with the USSR in the quarterfinal game.

The game was played in Dammam and was later named the “Miracle of Dammam”.

It was a game in which Nigeria trailed 4-0 with minutes remaining in the decisive quarter-final match. USSR legend Oleg Salenko was among the scorers in that memorable match. Nigeria leveled at 4-4 after 30 minutes and took the match to a penalty shootout. The comeback was started by star player- Christopher Ohne, who scored two goals in the 61st and 75th minute to level the score at 4-2 with 15 minutes to play. Samuel Elijah, who was later nicknamed “Prophet”, scored in the 83rd minute of the game to reduce the score to 4-3 before inspirational captain Nduka Ugbade scored an incredible equalizer in the 84th minute to make it 4-4. The Russians were astonished beyond their imagination. After 90 minutes the match went to penalties and the Nigerian team won 5–3, with Mirdjalal Kasimov missing his spot kick to bring the game to an anti-climax. It was the biggest comeback in world football history till date.

In the semifinals, the Flying Eagles narrowly defeated the USA 2–1, before the game was tied 1–1 in extra time. Mutiu Adepoju, who later became an integral part of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, scored both goals that knocked the USA out of the tournament. Scoring for the USA on that memorable day, goalkeeper Casey Keller who later became a household name in world football.

The Flying Eagles team, which qualified for the finals of the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship after two consecutive games in penalty shoot-outs, looked tired. It was 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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