Metropole Magazine

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27 Dec Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

The Year in Football

The defeat in February 2006 of the Super Eagles by the Ivorian national team remains in my memory a most painful loss. It was the semi final of the 25th Africa Cup of Nations. I had such faith in the indomitability of the Eagles that even after a goalless first half, and after Didier Drogba put his team ahead in the second half, I held on to my belief in the ability of the Super Eagles to rebound, thereby making for a sweeter victory. I believed that because it was the Eagles, because it was Nigeria, somehow, something miraculous would happen before the final whistle; an illogical conviction based on nationalism.


A defeat at the group stages of a tournament may be pardonable as the fate of a team in the tournament is still negotiable, besides, more than one country will be responsible for preventing another member of the group from proceeding to the next round. It is a concerted effort, no particular country can be identified as the enemy. A defeat at the quarter or semi finals has more embarrassing consequences. The result of the match would be reported with sensational headlines: Ivory Coast Sends Nigeria Packing from AFCON, or as in this case, Ivory Coast Dashes Nigeria’s Hope of Nations Cup Glory.


More years of dismal performances followed, culminating in the country’s failure to qualify for the 2012 AFCON.


January 2013, football fans gathered around their television sets with cynicism about the ability of the Eagles to soar at the29th Africa Cup of Nations tournament. The widespread cynicism was understandable, many were reluctant to invest emotions in the team. But years had passed, and the Drogba-defeated set of Eagles had more or less retired, almost an entirely new team of footballers, technical crew, and sport administrators was in place.


I watched the first two matches against Burkina Faso and Zambia with un-uttered optimism, with hope hidden in my heart, that somehow, something good would happen. Both matches ended in a draw. There was little cause for excitement. Jokes appealing to the Eagles to stop eating draw soup were made of the tragedy.


Then there came the one goal difference defeat of Ivory Coast, payback in equal measure. The victory was made more resonant by the memory of that loss seven years earlier. It began to look exciting. People began to talk again about the Super Eagles in fond terms, showering them with encomiums, comparing them to the set of 1994; a superlative compliment, after all, they eventually achieved the same feat as the much praised ‘94 team.


Whereas when a team loses, its members sneak into the country or depart to their various destinations from the venue of the tournament, the victorious announces its arrival with drumming and singing, with fans waving and hailing. So it was with that the Golden Eaglets on their return to the Nigeria from FIFA U-17 World Cup. Their arrival at the Transcorp Hilton on the night of Saturday, 9th November was heralded by familiar tunes of Nigeria’s Supporters’ Club with such loud drumbeats and jubilation deserving only of world champions. It was the night of a major fashion show in Abuja. Guests at the event hurried out to greet the victorious Eaglets. Ladies considerably slowed by heels and body-fitting mini gowns were not left behind in the haste to glimpse players and the Cup.


But there would be more victory ahead for Nigeria. While in years past, having performed poorly in earlier qualifying matches for the World Cup, the country’s hope of making an appearance at the event would often depend on the success and failure of other members of its group, a situation that has made Nigerians proficient in permutations. Thus with fixtures spread out, we begin, if this country wins their final match, and that country loses, and we win by so and so margin…we would qualify.

The qualification for the 2014 World Cup did not require regular consultation of the fixtures. However the ecstasy following the express qualification would have been a tad diminished had any other countries besides Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina completed Group F, not minding that both countries are presently placed higher than Nigeria on FIFA world ranking. Being drawn alongside these countries proves that a measure of good luck has gone into the mix of talent, hard work, and whatever else is required for success in sports.