With no British representation at the ’94 World Cup Kevin Henning feared the worst. Would he have to learn the Samba or worse yet, root for the defensive Italians? Worry not because soon soured into his life the mighty Super Eagles, and a beautiful love affair began.

The denouement of England’s Frank Spencer-esque qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup Finals, was the realisation that the festival of football in the States would be rather like watching tennis from Wimbledon. I despise tournaments where I have no reason to back anyone.
My old man was born in Germany (albeit on an English army camp) and usually declared his affinity with the enemy shortly after any English debacle. My Grandfather, a Tipperary man was giving me that “I always knew my lad’s were better than your lot” look and it was promising to be a most frustrating tournament for a reason different to every World Cup I’ve witnessed since. I simply had to find a team to follow. I admired the Brazilians but don’t like glory hunting. I respected Italy but didn’t fancy a summer backing “Catenaccio”. A look around the rest of the competing nations left me bereft of ideas. Then I stumbled on my new favourite team. On the 21st of June, I sat down to watch match number 13, Nigeria versus Bulgaria. Far from unlucky for me as little did I know at the time, but I was about to discover new heroes.
It began with what still ranks as my most iconic World Cup moment (and I witnessed Gazza’s tears as they flowed). Nigeria started brightly and took the lead through Rashidi Yekini. The Setabul forward then celebrated his goal in a way that I will never ever forget. He followed the ball into the net and appeared to pray to his God above. He was lost in a moment, his arms through the netting, his hands covering his eyes, Yekini easily equalled the release of tension displayed by Paolo Rossi twelve years earlier.
Nigeria immediately had my attention. The more I watched, the more the names seduced me. Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Samson Siasia, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh and the marvellous Finidi George, or George Finidi depending on which continent you happen to be in when recalling him. They went on to batter the brilliant Bulgarians 3-0. No mean feat when you consider that Bulgaria went on to dispatch Germany on their way to the Semi Finals.
I anticipated the Super Eagles next match against Argentina and was hysterical when Siasia put them one up within 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the long haired thespian Claudio Cannigia scored a brace and my boys were faced with a make or break match with Greece. They made it via a 2-1 victory with goals from Finidi George and Daniel Amokchi (remember him at Everton?) and were heading for the knockout stages. At this point, I’d long forgotten the fact that I was an Englishman and my Dad had become suspicious of why I had began shouting and bawling at random times.

The Super Eagles were like a holiday romance that I look back on with fondness.

Unbelievably, in winning Group D, Nigeria had helped Bulgaria in eliminating Argentina at the first hurdle and were drawn to play the Italians in the second round. In Boston, Emmanuel Amuniki put the Africans into a first half lead in a game that a more efficient European side would have put to bed especially as the Italians were reduced to ten men. However, Nigeria’s inexperience exposed itself. The mercurial Roberto Baggio equalised with little more than a minute of the match remaining. I was panic stricken in my bedroom, a team I’d known for less than a fortnight putting me through the wringer. Onto extra time and I could sense what was impending. The Italians, however disappointing, had one more ace card up their sleeve and it was that man Baggio again. The divine ponytail earned and converted a penalty and the Super Eagles were heading home. All the World Cup had left for me was the joy of watching Bulgaria turf Germany out mit meinem vater.
The Super Eagles were like a holiday romance that I look back on with fondness. They weren’t the love of my life, but for one summer, they seduced me and gave me nights of teenage romance. Four years later, they were to give me a night of passion for old times sake when they stunned Spain 3-2. It was a match that brought a warm glow to my senses and reminded me of that glorious few weeks in’94. By then though, the rocky marriage with England was well and truly underway…….