Former Nigeria striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni marked his 35th birthday by announcing his retirement from football on Wednesday.
‘Yak’, with 21 goals from 57 appearances, is third on Nigeria’s list of all-time goalscorers, although he is perhaps best remembered for his glaring miss against South Korea at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa; a miss immortalized by rapper MI.
To commemorate his birthday and celebrate his international career, we present five of the best goals Yakubu bagged for Nigeria.
Sydney 2000: Nigeria 3-3 Honduras
Nigeria arrived at the 2000 Olympic Games as champions after being the first African country ever to win the gold medal, and were expected to steamroll their way past Honduras. However, Los Catrachos had other ideas, and were 3-1 up by the hour mark and on course to embarrass ‘Dream Team 2’.
That is until Yakubu stepped up.
Yak took things into his hands, terrorising down his favourite left side while Pius Ikedia was doing damage on the right, but it was the largely unknown 17-year-old from Maccabi Haifa who hauled the champions back into it.
First he danced his way past his marker to drop a perfect ball for Victor Agali to head in for 2-3, and then he scored the goal of game: cutting in from the left, shaking off one man and muscling his way past two others before unleashing an unstoppable rocket into the roof of the net for a share of the spoils.
Omdurman 2001: Sudan 0-4 Nigeria
Running neck-and-neck with a George Weah-led Liberia in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria travelled to Sudan trailing the Lone Star by two points and needing to win in the fortress that was Omdurman to upstage the group leaders, who had been beaten 2-1 at home against Ghana hours earlier.
Austin Jay-Jay Okocha gave the Super Eagles a 40th-minute lead, but it was all about the Yakubu show. The forward again mesmerised down the left in an unplayable performance, scoring just after half-time, and then again with minutes left after Julius Aghahowa had added a third goal.
Nigeria won the ‘Battle of Omdurman’ 4-0 and some fans actually went to visit Yak’s parents in Benin City to offer their gratitude. Those were the only points Sudan dropped at home in that qualifying campaign.
Sadly, a team upheaval later that year meant Yabuku was not selected for the World Cup.
Mali 2002: Mali 0-1 Nigeria
A tempestuous Nations Cup had seen the Super Eagles, led by Amodu Shuabu and skipper Sunday Oliseh, in a bitter war of attrition with the Nigerian media. By the time the team lost their semi final 2-1 to Senegal, there was a siege mentality about and enough bad blood to fill a lake.
A demoralised and spiritless team had little motivation to turn up for the third-place match, and the team looked mostly listless as they went through the motions. Not Yakubu, however, who scored after 29 minutes, and proceeded to play his heart out for the rest of the game as the Super Eagles held on to claim bronze.
Sadly, that was not enough to stop the inquisition that followed on their return home, which ended with Amodu and his assistants getting fired, and two thirds of the squad, including Yakubu, axed.
Nairobi 2009: Kenya 2-3 Nigeria
Obafemi Martins scored a brace, and rightfully deserved most of the plaudits, but Yakubu was very much an important part of this result.
Nigeria had trailed Tunisia by two points from the very first day of qualifying all the way till the last matchday, and the World Cup ticket was balanced on a knife edge.
The Super Eagles went to Nairobi needing a win, and hoping that Mozambique did them a favour by plucking points off Tunisia.
Denis Oliech put a knife in Nigerian hearts with an early goal, but Martins restored parity from a Yakubu cross on the hour-mark and, four minutes later, Yak himself pounced to make it 2-1 to Nigeria. Allan Wanga made it 2-2 on 77 minutes before Martins again popped up to score the winner with nine minutes remaining.
With Mozambique beating Tunisia, Nigeria qualified for South Africa 2010.
South Africa 2010: Nigeria 2-2 South Korea
Tragically, this is the game that Yakubu will be most remembered for by Nigerians — and for THAT miss — despite all his previous good work.
However, it speaks to the character of the man that not long after the incident, and with the Koreans leading 2-1, the Super Eagles won a penalty kick.
Not many players would have had the confidence to step up and take such a high-pressure spot-kick, but Yakubu did, held his nerve and calmly placed the ball into the net to earn a 2-2 draw.
However, it proved insufficient to guarantee qualification, and the Super Eagles went home early, with Yak earning villainy status.