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If Samuel Okwaraji, the fallen Nigeria midfield footballer were alive, he would have been 56 years old today as he was born on 19 May 1964.

Last year, search engine giants, Google, honoured the Nigeria’s late football that died on the field, playing for the Super Eagles in 1989 in an Italia ’90 World Cup qualifying match against Angola.

It was the first time that Okwaraji played at the National Stadium Lagos. It was also the last time he lived. Google Doodle posthumously marked the birthday.

Google doodle on Okwaraji on this day last year

The Google Doodle is used on the search engine home page for different seasons or special days such as birthdays of famous people. Google Doodles are very clever, and people look forward to them.

According to Google while justifying the choice of Okwaraji last year, the player stood as a symbol of national pride.

Born in Orlu, Nigeria on this day in 1964, he moved to Europe in 1982 to further his education, though his greatest passion was soccer.


While earning a law degree at the University of Rome, Okwaraji played for the Italian club A.S. Roma.

Fluent in several languages, he bounced from club to club, ending up at Germany’s SSV-Ulm 1846 team where he emerged as a standout player. Still, he wanted nothing more than to represent his homeland.

Okwaraji returned home to compete for a spot on the Nigerian “Green Eagles” team that played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

With his energetic style of play and his love for his homeland, he soon became a fan favorite. Okwaraji was unhappy to learn that his German club was charging the Nigerian Football Association for lost revenues while he played for Nigeria.

Okwaraji fell and died on the National Stadium turf while playing for Nigeria

Reminding the team that he was a lawyer, Okwaraji passionately wrote “I am going to represent my country in the World Cup in Italy whether you like it or not.”

Unfortunately, his dream of playing in the World Cup for Nigeria did not come to fruition.


On August 12, 1989, with just fifteen minutes left in a tough World Cup qualifying match against Angola, Okwarji’s life was tragically cut short when he fell down on the field at the National Stadium in Lagos and could not be revived.

Today, a statue of Okwaraji stands in front of that same National Stadium and reads: In memory of an illustrious and patriotic Nigerian sportsman.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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