A history lesson in World Cup goals & celebrations

By James Ezimoha

While the goals and the glory of the World Cup will typically steal the international headlines and attract the attention of the masses, the celebrations that follow these game-changing moments help to generate the colour and the spectacle that makes the tournament such a major attraction worldwide.

Doubtless, many Super Eagles fans will be excited to see the ‘Naija Flavour’ that Keshi’s men can add to the razzmatazz with their vivid and expressive post-goal antics.

This article aims to reflect on some of the memorable, history-defining goals and celebrations at previous World Cups, and the unforgettable contributions of the Super Eagles.

During the early years of the game, it was considered un-gentlemanly to celebrate a goal, but all that changed when the Scottish started playing. Over the years, fans have been treated to some spectacular, if not outrageous, goal celebrations, so much so that the expectations have sky-rocketed. The regular jump-and-punch-the-air, group hug or adrenaline-fuelled almost-aimless running celebrations have all become stale and are now deemed too ordinary by the entertainment-seeking average soccer fan.

Did you know that the first World Cup goal was scored by France’s Lucien Laurent? He scored in the 4-1 victory against Mexico at the maiden edition of the World Cup in Uruguay, 1930.

Rashidi Yekini| Celebrates Nigeria's first World Cup goal with passion

The cradle-rock celebration was made famous by Brazil’s Jose Roberto Gama de Oliveira aka Bebeto at the 1994 centrepiece. This celebration aimed at celebrating the birth of a child has been performed by many players in honour of their new born babies, and with a slight nod to Bebeto’s original, iconic visual.

The Samba dance is a joy to watch, especially when performed by Brazilians. Former Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho leaves the viewing audience mesmerized with his nimble movements as he continues to perform the famous South American dance.

The 1990 World Cup in Italy saw Cameroon become the first African nation to reach the quarter-final, but it was Roger Miller who stole the show. His audacious dance moves were breath-taking; wriggling and twisting at the corner flag every time he scored—I remember mimicking this one, trying to be the ‘Oldest Swinger in Town’ myself!

Did you know the first African to score at the World Cup was Egypt’s Abdulrahman Fawzi? He scored a brace in the 4-2 loss to Hungary at the 1934 World Cup in Italy.

At the 1974 edition in Germany, tournament debutants, Haiti, stunned Italy by taking the lead through Emmanuel Sanon – it was the Caribbean nation’s first goal in their first and last World Cup appearance. The celebration from the players and technical staff was electrifying – a series of unorthodox joy-filled hops.

Senegal | Bring West Africa to the global stage in 2002

The Senegalese team of 2002, led by Papa Bouba Diop—the goal scorer—treated the watching world to a typical African dance as they circled the midfielder’s jersey which he pulled off at the corner flag. It was the first goal of that particular tournament.

Eight years later, South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala also led his team-mates in the Macarena after scoring the opening goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Did you know Roger Miller is the oldest player to score in the FIFA World Cup history? He scored in Cameroon’s 6-1 defeat to Russia in USA 1994 at the age of 42.

Super Eagles icon Rashidi Yekini scored Nigeria’s first goal at the 1994 World Cup in the USA against Bulgaria and the celebration that followed was indeed memorable. The Nigerian legend shook the net intensely, with his arms through the net, tearfully clutching his face and screaming, “Rashidi Yekini!”

In that same year, Finidi George scored a beauty of a goal against Greece but the celebration that followed left many wondering what the message was. He ran towards the corner flag, crawled for a few seconds and then mimicked a urinating dog! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found that weird.

This piece will not be complete without mentioning the acrobatics of Julius Aghahowa.

I have witnessed acrobatic celebrations before but never seen anyone do it quite like Aghahowa. At the 2002 World Cup, ‘Agha-wonder’ performed a sequence of seven somersaults to celebrate his goal against Sweden after meeting a perfect cross from Joseph Yobo. At a point during the move, I was afraid thinking he was never going to stop his magnificent rotations.

Aghahowa | Just don't stop spinning

Did you know the overall top goal scorer in World Cup history is Brazil’s Ronaldo? He scored 15 goals from 1998-2006. The Brazilian national team has also scored the most World Cup goals; a total of 210.

Coach Stephen Keshi, has often stated that he always encourages his boys to have fun on the pitch but the lack of imaginative celebrations from his players, which is the least of his worries, should also give him some minor concern. It wouldn’t be a misconception to state that the Super Eagles have lost some flair, in terms of goal celebration, over the past decade.

The vocal support of the fans certainly gives the players extra motivation as exemplified during the recent Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Kelechi Iheanacho—the tournament’s MVP--celebrated all of his six goals uniformly. He led the fans, as though in a dance class, in a stylish upward-downward movement with fingers pointing to the Heavens.

Iheanacho’s goal celebration not only added extra excitement to the tournament, but made the team very popular, capturing local support in the process.

The Super Eagles, as an entertaining side, will be welcomed in Brazil. Buoyed by their tactical preparedness, inspired by a blend of gifted & experienced players, and hopefully, with a bit of luck thrown in, they are expected to score goals. Therefore, the addition of a synchronized etigi, azonto or skelewu dance, a series of somersaults, or an off-the-chain mind-blowing gesture, as celebration, will certainly not be a bad idea.