Ex-Teammates Pay Tribute To Okwaraji 33 Years Later
TODAY marks 33 years since Samuel Okwaraji collapsed and died while playing for Nigeria in a 1990 World Cup qualifier, but some of his teammates have yet to recover from his tragic death.
On August 12, 1989, during the Super Eagles’ 1990 World Cup qualifier against Angola at the National Stadium in Lagos, Okwaraji collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where he died.
On the same day, five fans were killed at the overcrowded 40,000-capacity stadium as the Eagles won the qualifier 1-0 in chaotic conditions.
Doctors said Okwaraji died of congestive heart failure, with an autopsy revealing he had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.
Okwaraji’s teammate Henry Nwosu, a 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner, described the fallen midfield maestro as a true patriot who wanted to prove to Nigerians that he was a good player but died in the process.
“Okwaraji was a gentle boy who was ready to do anything for people around him and particularly his country,” Nwosu had said.
“He was that player who was ready to die for his country and he died for his country. He was such a player who hated to be cheated but unfortunately, death cheated him in such a painful manner. It is painful that he’s been gone for so long.”
Former Eagles coach, Samson Siasia, who was closest to Okwaraji when he slumped on the fateful day, said the late Austria Klagenfurt and Stuttgart midfielder slumped after he could not breathe well due to the hot weather.
“You just reminded me of something very painful,” said Siasia
“He was a good friend and teammate. I just noticed he was getting choked up like he could not breathe well and then he fell. I was so scared just like the other players on the pitch were.
“I tried to help him stay alive by calling on the medical team and urging them to be fast. I believed they played their part but it was just unfortunate it happened the way it did,” Siasia said.
Another of Okwaraji’s teammates Etim Esin, added, “Okwaraji was my good friend back then, he was my roommate. It’s really sad and till date, I still remember him just like yesterday. It is always difficult to forget an individual who was so good even in death. I believe if he were alive we would have made it to the 1990 World Cup.