Monday, June 14, 2010
Truth for Nigeria's Super Eagles
I have had to explain my decision to change my attitude towards national team games to many people since I wrote about my soccer heartbreaks sometime ago, and I must say that almost everybody agreed with me, hoping to find their own defining moment and discover the strength to bear such moments. However in the cause of the many discussions my views sparked, I found out how many joyful moments I’ve had as a football lover and national team supporter. It may never be as many as the heartbreaks but the joy of it lingers on and since this is a massive football year, we might as well get the party started in our own little way here. Let’s go 2010 abi? Yeah right.
Going back to the Nigeria versus Tunisia game that ended 2-2 in Abuja, just recently I was chatting with a friend on facebook and he told me how a man died of heart attack while watching the game, as a matter of fact on the stroke of that Tunisian equalizer hitting our net, not an unusual story but never less saddening especially when you know such victims. I was not there when “Odiye scored against Nigeria” in 1977 and made us loose the 1978 world cup ticket but the pain with which those who saw the game reminisce is something else even after over 3 decades. So I still strongly stay with my decision to take it easy with these football thing especially national teams. This has nothing to do with my patriotism as you will find out here but just a precaution. Besides, not many of us can boast of having given as much as our footballers to our fatherland? So, they remain our heroes no matter what, but I just don’t want to be killed by my hero.
The year was 1998 in a beautiful country called France; Nigeria had been drawn in the same group with the then almighty number 3 ranked Spain in the world cup. It was to be our opening group game and the world was looking forward to the massacre of our darling super eagles – the previous edition’s Cinderella team (though not all the way). Spanish football has always been at the top and they were always among favorites in most tournaments they entered for, whether they lived up to such ratings is a story for another day but with Raul Gonzalez, Fernando Hiero and co, then at the top of their game, it was like a suicide mission playing against them. We were scared and were not surprised to have gone behind in the game, before nko? But the spirit with which our darling eagles came back was amazing! Oh Sunday Oliseh you made me shed tears of joy with that goal; It is for me the best goal ever scored by a Nigerian player and I can never ever forget his celebration – from the resolute expression on his face to the wild sprint he ran pointing his finger to the stands! I was down with malaria and totally weak before the game but all my pains disappeared with immediate alacrity! We went ahead to beat the tournament favorites against all odds suffice to say Mr. Garba Lawal single handedly retired the Spanish goalkeeper Zubizerreta and it remains one of my best moments as a Nigerian soccer supporter.
I do not know if the David and goliath fixation is influencing my choices but looking back now, Atlanta 96 semi final against Brazil remains very special to me because of Bebeto’s pre match comments, we were told he said he could take on the whole of the Nigerian team alone and still beat us. Papilo who happens to be one of my favorite world footballers of all time was the hero of the night. It was such fun to see Bebeto stranded and Dosu Joseph shedding tears of joy after that beautifully taken golden goal. The can-do, never give up, die hard spirit of the Nigerian youth made the difference, and if we had lost the final eventually, that semi final performance and victory would have been enough for the MON awards that was given to the players and officials of our one and only Dream Team. Incidentally such a team remains a dream that has not come true for us after years of trying, not even the France 98 team could re-enact that feat despite being a fusion of the best of USA 94 and Atlanta 96.
Like I said, do not expect too many joyous moments to be here, it is only natural because we are talking about Nigeria a supposedly big football nation, many of our sweet victories were expected and that is why they would turn out not to be big deals anymore just after few days of celebration. An example of that is the 3-2 victory over Kenya en-route South Africa 2010; besides the fact that we all knew God became a Nigerian for the day (between Mozambique and Tunisia) in far away Maputo, to be realistic, lets forget this talk about us having average players, only a few coaches will not qualify the Nigerian team for the world cup in that group, even a high school coach with some common sense can do it but we all know we need more than depending on luck, players’ profile and CAF to win away games on the continent. Well, I am just saying the victory in Kenya was a sweet memorable one but we shouldn’t have been in the scary position in the first place, so you find it easy to overlook.
My attention shifts to Julius Aghaowa twice against Senegal in the nation’s cup co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria in 2000 and Mali 2002. How he managed to pull off those miracles and saved us on both occasions remains a mystery to me. The second one was really amazing because prior to that game I had predicted that it was going to be dejavu and he was going to be the savior again. True to my prediction we were down and the game was winding up only for him to come on and switch the destiny of the game, just like that? The guy was the genius of his time, simple! Ironically I can not remember any spectacular moment outside my national team as being most joyous, I get a lot of joy watching my darling Arsenal FC and I think that might mean “nothing dey shack me again, I’ve seen it all nothing dey dia again”. Maybe, if I’d not been heartbroken by Samuel Eto’o and Belleti at the champion’s league final in 2006, it would have been a night to savor for ever.
I can not forget the players that have given me my many sweet moments in the history of my life watching football, JJ Okocha, Sunday Oliseh at the CAN 2000 final, Kanu Nwankwo in Atlanta ’96 and for Arsenal against Chelsea (of course). Patrick Kluivert, Davor Suker, Thiery Henry, Herik Larsson, Claude Makalele, Zinedene Zidane, Dele Aiyenugba for Enyimba FC… just naming a few. I wont bother trying to acknowledge a particular player that was outstanding in the USA ’94 final match, they were simply a product of tight team work, but I remember being so joyous at seeing Roberto Baggio miss that penalty for Italy to give Brazil the world cup victory, my joy was more of seeing Italy loose rather than Brazil win, so I can say he belongs to this list of special players though in an unusual way.
As for the fate of our super eagles at the World Cup 2010... hmnnn, well lets just say I am willing to enjoy this world cup the way i enjoy watching the premiership, if as an Arsenal fan you're able to bear 5 years without winning a trophy, then it will be unfair to castigate the team if they perform below our expectations, its not like we expect them to go bring the trophy anyways, besides they will be playing at least 3 "good" matches! If they go beyond that, I'll just gladly take it as a bonus to me for my years of loyalty. I dont think any one of us needs the success at that tournament more than the players themselves. For crying out loud, there are many matches to look forward to! Portugal vs Brazil, Cote d'ivore vs Brazil, Cameroon vs Holland, England vs USA... and of course Nigeria vs Tevez, Aguero, Milito, Higuain, Maxi, Heinze, Mascherano, and MESSI... Abeg, where ever you'll be watching from, whether at home, in the bar, the many pako viewing centers or out there in South Africa, just sit back relax grab your drink or vuvuzela and enjoy it. I wish every one of you happy viewing, hoping we find some of those wonderful moments that will live with us for ever. AMEN