BY – Isaac Faith
Samuel Okwaraji, the revered Super Eagles legend, who tragically collapsed during a 1990 World Cup qualifier in Lagos, continues to be commemorated by those who witnessed his remarkable play.
The skilled athlete, who fell during the 77th minute of the match against Angola on August 12, 1989, at the national stadium, was rushed to the hospital, but unfortunately, he passed away.
Though Super Eagles triumphed in the 1-0 victory over Angola, the incident left a lasting impact, with reports of at least five fans losing their lives due to the chaotic conditions in the overcrowded 40,000-capacity stadium.
Recollections from spectators at that time reflect Okwaraji’s exceptional talent and the shock of his sudden collapse.
Taiwo Stephen reminisced, “I vividly remember the moment he fell on the pitch. We prayed fervently for his recovery on our way home, only to learn of his tragic demise the next day.”
Okwaraji’s legacy endures through the retelling of these stories to younger generations. He inspired subsequent football successes, including Olympic gold and the African Cup of Nations victory.
Akintoroye Francis acknowledged, “Though his career was cut short, Okwaraji’s memory deserves ongoing celebration, and I’m glad media outlets still honor him.”
Ganiu Yusuf shared a chilling memory of witnessing Okwaraji’s collapse firsthand: “I was nearby when I saw him go down. It was a haunting moment that remains etched in my memory.”
Born on May 19, 1964, in Orlu, Imo State, Okwaraji was only 25 years old when he passed away. His devotion to both education and football led him to attain a master’s degree in International Law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
Okwaraji’s journey in European football commenced as he embarked on a career that saw him donning the jerseys of numerous clubs. His notable stops included Dinamo Zagreb in what was then Yugoslavia (now Croatia), Austria Klagenfurt, VfB Stuttgart in Germany, and SSV Ulm 1846. Renowned for his adaptability, he showcased his skills predominantly as a midfielder on the field.
Medical examinations revealed that congestive heart failure, an enlarged heart, and high blood pressure were contributing factors to his untimely demise.
The Nigeria Football Federation posted a tribute on Instagram in honor of the legendary figure.
Samuel Okwaraji’s unwavering dedication and passion for the sport continue to serve as a lasting inspiration to countless individuals.