“Mathematical Odegbami” – Nigeria’s first national football star

“Mathematical Odegbami” – Nigeria’s first national football star

He was Nigeria’s first nationwide football star. Tall, elegant in movement on the pitch and fleet of feet on the ball. Segun Odegbami was that player who never polarised opinion amongst Nigerian football fans in the mid-70s to the early 80s.

When the Green Eagles of Nigeria started the campaign for the 1978 World Cup, the core of the side that was not allowed to play in the ’76 Montreal Olympics was still there. Odegbami was the late addition to the team. He had to be as he was the star of the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan side tearing up Africa on their way to eventually winning the Cup Winners Cup. By the time Nigeria got to final round of the World Cup qualifiers, top scorer Thompson Usiyan had departed for the US on a student scholarship.

Odegbami picked up the mantle. A goalless draw in Tunisia was followed by a 4 nil destruction of Egypt in Lagos. A match in which Odegbami scored twice and proceeded to run the Hassan Shehata led team on a merry dance all afternoon. For the return in Egypt, the hosts did everything possible to cage the winger in a 3-1 win. That defeat and a follow up defeat at home to Tunisia meant Nigeria missed out on Argentina ’78.

At the AFCON in Ghana later that year he continued his good form scoring in the victories over Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Tunisia in the 3rd place match. 2 years later it was Nigeria’s turn to host. At such times the big players are expected to turn up. Odegbami did not disappoint. In the opening game he scored the 3rd goal that curbed the rally of Tanzania. He saved his best for the final. A performance that was of such high quality that no Nigerian has matched to this day. Emmanual Amuneke scored twice in 1994 final but that match was not about him. The 1980 AFCON final should be called “The Odegbami Final” in truth.

Odegbami scored one of the best AFCON finals goals of all time with the first. Scored another just before half time. In between, he had destroyed left back Moustapha Kouruchi with runs, dribbles and sheer directness. He was unplayable. His three goals in 5 games made him top scorer as Nigeria won the tournament.

In this period he was studying Engineering at The Polytechnic, Ibadan so Radio Nigeria commentator Ernest Okonkwo nicknamed him “Mathematical Odegbami”. It is a big shame that Odegbami never had the chance to play at a FIFA World Cup. He would never have been out of place with his complete forward play.

On this occasion of his birthday we at aclsports.com wish an authentic Nigerian hero many happy returns.

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