Today, many Nigerians recall the Clemence Westerhof era with nostalgia, especially the feat achieved in 1994 World Cup with the Super Eagles. The team, under his management, won the Africa Nations Cup and was voted the most entertaining team at the World Cup hosted by the United States. Notwithstanding these achievements, former Super Eagles Dosu Joseph, believes winning the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics is the greatest moment in Nigeria’s football history. Kunle Adewale reports
Most of his contemporaries chose to play in Belgium which was then the Mecca for Nigerian footballers. He, however, elected to ply his own trade in the Italian Serie A, a league that is not only noted for its defensive tactics but boasts of great goalkeepers. Yet, Dosu Joseph was able to command a regular shirt with his club, Regina. Unfortunately, however, an automobile accident on Ikorodu Road shortly after the Atlanta Olympics football victory cut short his career.
Joseph would not forget the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games in a hurry. He described the Dream Team gold medal feat in the football event of the games as the golden moment of Nigerian sport.
Asked if qualifying for the second round of the USA `94 and being voted the second most entertaining team after Brazil was not Nigeria’s greatest moment in football as opposed to winning the Olympic gold medal in the soccer event in Atlanta `96, the former Regina goalkeeper said.
“There is no doubting the fact that Nigeria could boast of a lot of talented players during the 1994 Mundial but I don’t really see what the team achieved. I believe our feat in Atlanta was the best achievement ever by any of our national teams in the country. The Olympics is the next competition to the World Cup in FIFA`s calendar and Nigeria is the first African country to win the competition. That’s not a small achievement by any standard. Maybe if you ask some of the players that played in 1994 and were not part of the Olympics they might have a different view. I’m sure those of them that participated in both competitions will tow the line of my reasoning.”
“We did not only win the Olympics gold, we also played entertaining football. All the countries; everybody that came to watch our games, accepted the fact that Nigerian team was the best. Before we left for Atlanta, people doubted our ability after losing to Togo by 3-0 in a friendly game. We did not only go to the Olympics as dreamers but we turned the dream to reality.”
The Olympian said he would always recall the moment Nigeria defeated the Argentines in the final with nostalgia. “I was proud to be an African; we wanted to be champions forever and when we arrived the country the atmosphere was unforgettable. People came out in their thousands to welcome us at the airport and it was as if that moment should last forever. But then, celebration must end one day,” an elated Dosu added.
On why most Super Eagles players are not playing for top European teams unlike in the past when Nigerians could boast of players in big teams in Europe, Dosu said, “Generations differ; our own generation is different from this generation and we have different mentality to the game. If you look at this generation of players, they may not be playing in the best clubs but they are still playing regularly in their clubs. Some of them are playing in the English Premiership, which is the toughest league in the world. We have the best legs that can play for this country, but the most important thing is the individual character and determination of the players. It does not really matter where they are playing. A player may be a reserve in his team but when called upon to play for his national team, you will marvel at his performance and start asking yourself why he is not playing regularly for his team. It all depends on the players’ attitude towards the national team. If players have the right attitude towards the green-white-green shirt they will surely do well not minding where they plying their trade.”
The former Julius Berger goal tender is of the opinion that Nigeria should stop crying over the fact that the country is in a difficult group for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, noting that any country that wanted to win a championship must be ready to face any opposition.
He said, “To be the best, you have to beat the best. So, Nigeria cannot expect to be in Niger Republic’s group and expect to be called the best, being drawn in the same group with Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria should bring out the best in us.
“If you want to win the World Cup, you must be ready to beat the likes of Brazil and Argentina at any stage. But if you are lucky to play them at the beginning, why don’t you oust them from the championship. During the Atlanta `96 Olympics, we had the opportunity of eliminating Brazil in the group stages of the competition but we lost and Jo Bonfere was so mad at us, saying, ‘If you guys had won the game against Brazil you would have knocked out the South American giant out of the competition and thereby moving closer to winning it. Now you’ve given them an opportunity to go further in the championship.’ But along the line, we met again and we were lucky to knock them out of the competition.”
Dosu helped Julius Berger win the Nigerian FA Cup in 1996, by keeping a clean sheet in the finals against Katsina United. His career came to an abrupt end after a car accident in Lagos in 1997, almost left him paralysed.
After the 1996 Olympics, Dosu signed with Serie A club Reggiana, but never got to make an impact in Italy and was forced to hang his boots at a young age of 23, due to the career-ending accident.
He was the only home-based player to be included in Nigeria’s I996 Olympic team, where despite being the least experienced of the three goalkeepers, ended up as the team’s first choice. He then went on to play three more international games for Nigeria– 1998 World Cup qualifiers against Burkina Faso, which the Super Eagles won 2–0 in Lagos, the friendly against Morocco in 1996, where he kept another clean sheet, and the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Kenya in 1997, which was his last game for the Nigeria