BY KUNLE SOLAJA
It is 44 years today that Nigeria football legend, Segun Odegbami made his official debut for the national team.
The tall speedy winger who was an inside left player for the then IICC Shooting Stars had had his first national call-up in 1974 when the national coach, Othman Calder assembled a selection of 33 players from the first National Sports Festival held in the previous year.
But Odegbami did not feature in the national team until his sensational form in the 1976 Africa Cup Winners’ Cup which was in its second edition.
Odegbami was a major actor in Shooting Stars continental success that year. He was invited again into the national team while he was on club action against Rokana United of Zambia in Lusaka.
With the then Green Eagles’ qualification for the Montreal Olympics, Odegbami was included in the list of players. But there was a challenge of getting his passport photograph affixed into the entry form.
Odegbami was then away with Shooting Stars in Lusaka. His passport photograph had to be curled from a Daily Sketch publication.
On return from Zambia, he teamed up with the Green Eagles who were Germany-bound on a training tour. National coach, Jelisavicic Tihomer-Tiko (Father Tiko) of the then Yugoslavia had selection problem for the centre forward position where Thompson Usiyan appeared to have secured a place after his sterling performance at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia.
In the trial matches with German clubs and Yugoslavian clubs, Father Tiko alternated Odegbami and Usiyan in each half of the matches played. Coincidentally, they scored the same number of goals in the matches they played as centre forwards.
The dilemma for the coach was solved on this date 16 October 1976 in a World Cup qualifying match against Sierra Leone in Freetown. Odegbami started from the bench in a game that turned to be his official first Grade A game as previous encounters were against amateur European sides.
Right winger at the match, Baba Otu Mohammed lost form and Odegbami was called up as a substitute as the match wore out to its last 15 minutes.
Then began the great adventure of Odegbami on the right wing. He also suddenly had a striking partnership with Usiyan at the centre forward. The match ended goalless.
Odegbami rose to become the best right winger Nigeria ever produced. But despite his wonderful acceleration on the wings, he only made it to two Africa Cup of Nations editions in 1978 and 1980.
He had 46 caps and scored 21 goals in his five-year career in the national team.