HAIL THE AFRICAN CHAMPIONS

We
congratulate Nigerians for this epoch making victory which the Super Eagles
have recorded at the just concluded African Cup of Nations Tournament. It is
also in order to extend special congratulations to Mr. President, Dr. Goodluck
Ebele Jonathan for this victory which has happened under his watch as we pray
for more Good luck for the Nation as he pursues his transformation agenda. We
wish him well and wish to observe that it is morning yet on creation day and
that the stone which the builders malign and impugn will by His grace become
the cornerstone. Amen.  This victory is
of such a gargantuan proportion that it has taken nineteen years for the Cup of
Nations to berth this shores again. Nigeria has so far recorded sixteen
appearances at the Cup of Nations and has won the cup on only two occasions.
The first was in 1980 when as a host the country won the cup for the first
time, the second was in Tunisia in 1994 which eventually led to the country’s
first appearance at the World Cup. And therefore the Country with this win has
now won the cup for the third time. What makes this victory sweet and most
delectable is that the Nigerian squad was considered underdogs upon the
commencement of the tournament on January 19, 2013. Nobody gave Nigeria any
chance in this tournament, but after three weeks of dramatic goals; where
Nigeria scored 11 goals during the tournament and conceded four, referee’s
error particularly by referees from North Africa and a dramatic closing
ceremony, the Super Eagles were crowned African Champions for the next two
years. What a relief; it is about time for a change for some good news rather
than unfortunate incidences of insecurity to be coming out of this country.

I managed
to watch some of the matches particularly the one against the Cote d’ Ivoire
and the finals against Burkina Faso. Let me say that if one does not have a
healthy heart, one is advised to avoid watching the matches but to simply wait
for the results. And to worsen tension, the Super Eagles did not make things
easy going for any patriotic Nigerian who cared about seeing the country win.
At the group stage when they led by one goal, they refused or rather were
unable to score again and this happened in the first two matches against
Burkina Faso and the reigning champions, the Chipolopolo of Zambia  and there were also suspense soaked moments
with goals coming at times when it was difficult to be hopeful.  During the first match against Burkina Faso,
we led until the last minute of extra time before they got an equalizer which
was quite heart rending. At the second match against Zambia, the Super Eagles
led by a goal until towards the last five minutes when a difficult to rationalize
penalty was awarded by the Egyptian referee, Grisha Ghead for what at best was
a doubtful foul committed by Efe Ambrose outside the penalty box. With the
match against Ethiopia which the Super Eagles needed to win to guarantee a
place at the knock out stage, Victor Moses came to the rescue as he earned two
vital penalty kicks for Nigeria which he also promptly converted. This was how
Nigeria managed to qualify for the knock out stages setting up an encounter
with Cote d’Ivoire which most compatriots wished they could have avoided if the
team (super eagles) came top of the group. This manner of qualifying did not
give much confidence to most compatriots particularly the Nigerian Football
Federation big shots which precipitated the problem with Keshi which eventually
resulted in the rumor of his purported resignation after the cup had been won.

Cote
d’Ivoire was ranked favorite to win the cup considering the team’s pedigree and
the number and caliber of players, it paraded. The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire
it must be recalled paraded amongst its players the current African player of
the year, Yaya Toure. And going by FIFA ranking, the team is ranked 22 in the
world ahead of any other African country. It was therefore not surprising that
not many people gave the Super Eagles a dog’s chance against the team. Keshi
was correct when he observed that not more than 20 per cent of Nigerians gave
the team a chance against Cote d’Ivoire. Some of us did base on our patriotic
wish. But the Super Eagles demonstrated the resilience and never say die
Nigerian spirit by putting up such a superlative performance that confounded
most naysayers by defeating the favorites. And that was a match during which
the Super Eagles outplayed The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. It was not against
the run of play. This match was rightly dubbed the final before the final and
as Nigeria scaled through this hurdle they became automatic favorites to win
the trophy.

During the
Semi final match against the Eagles of Mali, the momentum which the team
gathered during its victory against Cote d’Ivoire was too much that the Malian
became a push over. They were humiliated with a margin of four goals to one.
And from then on, cautiously every one suddenly expected the Super Eagles to
carry the day barring any unforeseen development as with football it is not
over until it is really over. It is now on record that the Super Eagles carried
the day with a slim margin of one goal. But this was a match that the Super
Eagles could have won by a much wider margin considering the run of play and
particularly the number of scoring chances which were not converted during the
game and this brought the issue of juju or black magic in African football to
the fore. It was reported that the Burkina Faso team had a juju man amongst its
supporters who was on open display!

Surprisingly
there is wide held belief in sub-Saharan Africa that magic could influence the
outcome of football matches; that the performance of players could be enhanced
by the use of charms, juju or muti. As a result, before embarking on major
tournament some players and sometimes team officials consult witchdoctors and
spiritualists. One recalls here that during the time of coach Siasia, before
one of those make or break matches that it was reported after by Osaze Odewinge
that the prediction of T.B.Joshua of the Synagogue Church of all Nations cost
them the match. At the 2002 AFCON the former keeper of Cameroun, Thomas Nkono,
was caught burying some bones under the turf and spraying strange elixir in order
to cast a spell on the players before a crucial semi final match against
Zambia. In 2012 Ghana’s former Coach, Goran Stevanovic attributed the failure
of Ghana at the tournament to witchcraft accusations which undermined team
spirit. In spite of the litany of missed opportunities which the Super Eagles
recorded during the final match, it remains a fact that they did not lose the
match and in spite of the claim of the potency of African magic, no African
country has so far been able to win the world cup!

Watching
the Super Eagles play is not for the faint hearted. A number of deaths were
reported of fans suddenly collapsing and being pronounced dead upon arrival at
the hospital. A 65 year old retired banker, Mr Felix Bassey was reported to
have collapsed while watching the final match in Lagos and upon being rushed to
EKO Hospital where incidentally his wife works as a matron, he was pronounced
dead. Similarly in Abeokuta, Ogun State a 40 year old, Moshood Owolabi also
collapsed while watching the quarter final match against Cote d’Ivoire and at
Ikoyi club 1938 in Lagos, someone also collapsed during the match against Mali
and died on the spot. I am sure that there are many more deaths which have not
been reported!

Then as if
I was in a dream, my wife startled me out of my sleep as the news was going on
to alert me of the breaking news that Keshi had resigned his appointment as the
national coach. Well that could have been a disaster and a bit unfair. Though
it must be admitted here that Keshi alluded to this in his several press
conferences and it could also account for his sing song complaint about foreign
coaches whom he referred to as mercenaries, not being better than indigenous
coaches and in fact it is on record that he dedicated the victory of the Super
Eagles to all indigenous coaches, reminding all concerned that they are not
necessarily inferior to foreign coaches. We will not say more about this as it
has been reported that there was no resignation after all. But it is in order
to note that Keshi as a coach needs the Super Eagles just as the Super Eagles
need him now to continue with the excellent rebuilding job he has started.
There are not many African countries that will give him the sort of
possibilities to make a name as the Super Eagles. We wish the Super Eagles well
as we expect them to sustain and build on this sterling performance during the
Confederation Cup next June in Brazil where they will square up against the
best footballing nations of the world.

 

 

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