THE BEAUTIFUL GAME (PART 1)

What is it about the beautiful game that brings out the raw emotions from fans watching the game, that for the 90 minutes (or 120 minutes if there is extra time) a fan of the game forgets all about his/her problems or even successes and all that matters is what is happening on the pitch, you see fans biting their fingers, hoping their team wins, people making bets and obviously fans (like me) boasting that their team is going to win despite what the scoreline is saying at that point.(however, if the match is about to end and our beloved teams are still losing, we change our tune and blame the referee or a player on our team or the opposition team or the coach or heck we may even blame FIFA or UEFA or CAF, i’m sure fans have heard people call Barcelona Uefalona when refereeing decisions begin to go their way too often).

You see fans in tears when their team loses, watching the last world cup (which was hosted by Brazil), when Brazil were hammered 7–1 by Germany, the fans were inconsolable, whether young or old, male or female, it did not matter, they could not believe it, they were heartbroken

Inconsolabe Brazil Fans

It’s also complete ecstasy for the team who wins, take the German fans after their team won the World Cup in 2014

German Fans Celebrating

In case anyone is still wondering (highly unlikely though) what game am i talking about?. What game is beautiful? It’s obviously football, what else could it be?(American’s?! no, we would not call it soccer till you win the MALE senior world cup then we would all embrace the term soccer wholeheartedly. So as at now, American Football isn’t the real football).

Fooling around aside, I have reflected in recent times when did i start liking the game, what was the trigger, what were my first images of the game.

I sometimes wish I was old enough to have understood the game and what was going on in 1994 when the super eagles (the Nigerian senior male team) made their debut, when i hear some folks who are older than me talk about it, their eyes always glow, they talk about Rashidi Yekini and how he held the net shouting Rashidi Yekini for Nigeria when he scored Nigeria’s first goal ever at a world cup against Bulgaria.

Rashidi Yekini after scoring Nigeria’s first ever goal at a World Cup

I have heard stories that the team was so good that they would have beaten any team on their day. I mean they finished top of their group and a team like Argentina was in the group. A lot of people claim that they were our best team ever and the coach Clement Westerhof who is Dutch,apparently understood how to get the best out of our players.

However, like most sport stories, it ended with disappointment, in the next round, Nigeria met Italy led by Roberto Baggio and they (the super eagles) actually scored first but Roberto Baggio scored two goals and the super eagles were out. One of my older cousins always says that it was because Amuneke got injured, that’s why we lost, that if he was on the pitch, it would have been a different story, we would have won the game, he said the Italians targeted Amuneke knowing fully well that if he was on the pitch, he would have caused damage (we fans tend to have one excuse or the other when our teams lose) but right or wrong, I’ll never really know because you cannot compare watching a match live to watching a repeat of the match or just the highlights, you can’t recreate the feeling of seeing it live. But the general feeling I get from everyone is they were devastated but on the flip side, Nigeria rose to the number 5 position in the FIFA rankings, so even FIFA saw something good.

Then there was Atlanta 96 (the olympics), the song “when Nigeria beat Brazil, when Nigeria beat Brazil oh! Bebeto come dey cry, when Nigeria beat Brazil (when Nigeria beat Brazil, Bebeto started crying)” was coined from this tournament. Apparently, we were 3–1 down in the men’s semi final and we came back and won the game 4–3. I heard Kanu was in form on that day.

Kanu up against Roberto Carlos

The final was not easy either, we were up against Argentina and we won.. We won the gold medal… No bad ending, it ended the way everyone wanted it to end. They still show the images on some of the local stations in Nigeria, it must have been a good day. I didn’t watch this tournament too.

My very first image of the game that i really remember is Sunday Oliseh scoring for the super eagles of Nigeria against Spain during the 1998 world cup, it was a thunderbolt, it went like boom!!! or pow!!! and it was a goal!!! He scored against the almighty Spain (they were a good talented team but they were still perennial underachievers at that point) and we won the game, I cannot remember the other players who scored, i just remember Oliseh’s goal and that everyone around was happy… Good times..

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zwNmuudmUU (Sunday Oliseh’s Goal)

We were on top of our group, I heard from older people that we (the super eagles) would beat Denmark, already looking ahead to who we would meet in the Quarter Final, a potential match against Brazil (the defending world champions), the mighty mighty Brazil. Nigerians where curious, where we ready to play and beat Brazil, there was excitement in the air but alas, seems like fans forgot that it’s a world cup, you don’t get walk overs, Denmark were a solid team and they won the Euro’s in 1992, they destroyed us, it was 4–1. That game was awful, the only good thing i saw was a certain Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha dribbling everyone, that guy was just too good i was like this guy whose hair was dyed yellow (i think) was just too brilliant, he became my first football hero from that day going forward.

Of course people around me were disappointed and I was wondering why did we lose, I thought it was going to be a walk over. Then of course, the reason came out (you know how we fans always find them). Peter Rufai, our keeper during the tournament could not see well (whenever i remember this particular excuse, i still chuckle a bit; really the keeper could not see… smh.)

Peter Rufai at the 1998 World Cup

Nigeria hosted the u-20 youth tournament in 1999, i don’t remember much about that tournament, just the catchy song that was created for the tournament (at least the one i heard), It went like

“Welcome to Nigeria 99, welcome to Africa (2ce)…….. etc, I cant remember the lyrics( it was 16 years ago).

Then came the year 2000, the nations cup, Ghana/Nigeria 2000 we were definitely winning it, Kanu (our superstar) was the reigning African player of the year, my favourite player Austin “jay jay” Okocha was there, we had Tijani Babaginda, Sunday Oliseh and the final was going to be played in Nigeria, I mean what could go wrong. We won our group, we played Senegal in the quarter final and they were proving stubborn, heck they even scored first (ah! were we going to go out in the quarter finals when the final was going to be hosted in Nigeria, Lagos i believe) but close to the end of the game, our latest wonder kid Julius “Efosa” Aghahowa (quickly became known as aghawonder) scored the equalizer and he scored the winner in extra time and he was just 17… He was a hero, he would even later star in a popular advert in Nigeria (for a company called robb, it was actually fun. He was about to take a penalty then he had cramps then the crowd begins to shout ROBB IT ON!!! ROBB IT ON!!! They use robb on him to soothe the pain and he obviously then scores the penalty). That aside, the back flips he did whenever he scored became his trademark, he gave Nigerians pure joy. AGHAHOWA, remember the name was what we all said, he saved us.

Aghahowa doing one of his legendary backflips after scoring a goal for Nigeria

The semifinals came along and we were up against South Africa and we weren’t there to play around, Babaginda scored one of the fastest goals in AFCON history before he scored a second goal later on, 2–0. Bring on the finals, we were about to win the tournament, nothing could stop us.

So for the final, we got Cameroon, the match was to be played in Lagos, Nigeria. How would the Super Eagles lose a final in Lagos? it was not possible. My main guy (“jay jay” Okocha) even said we could not lose that game. Checking the history books, it even showed that the super eagles lost two finals to Cameroon (1984 & 1988). The excuse for 1988 was that the referee cancelled a legitimate Henry Nwosu goal (the usual excuses we fans have, they may or may not be right. I was surprised not to get any excuse from anyone i knew concerning the 1984 final loss but i guess it’s harder to come up with excuses when it’s a 3–1 loss)

A third final loss to Cameroon?? Not possible, not under jay jay’s watch is what i thought to myself but as the game started, the nerves began to creep in, i really wanted the win, i felt it was our right because it was Lagos. However, those Cameroonians looked so big, with their jersey’s that were way too tight, making them look even scarier. They looked like bullies or bouncers, my darling super eagles looked so small. Then before i knew it, they scored two goals, i could not believe it, is the tournament going to end like this for me, after all the emotions i put into it, no no no not fair was what I was thinking, then we came came back and we equalized ( jay jay scored one of the goals and it was a stunner). I started saying, Jay Jay said we can’t lose, we have to win. The game then went into extra time, oh the nerves, terrible feeling, no one could still score, so PENALTIES. I was there hoping please don’t miss, I know Okocha scored and Kanu missed but that was not the main story. The story was Victor Ikpeba who stepped up to take his penalty, the ball hit the underside of the bar, came down and crossed the line but the referee ruled it as a missed penalty. It was a goal (there was nothing like goal line technology at that time) there was a lines man there looking at it, was he blind was what we were all saying, it was frustrating, the next thing we said was why did Ikpeba also put his hand on his head like he had missed.

Victor Ikpeba

Cameroon converted their remaining pk’s and they won, they won in Lagos?? It was like a bad dream, the players were distraught, Sunday Oliseh (our captain) cried like a baby. We still blame that referee till today and some people even say it was a conspiracy from CAF because we have a Cameroonian as the president of the FA. Personally, i don’t think it was a conspiracy, so i blame only the linesman, was he blind or what?? Was he scared? Or was he just incompetent? Obviously, I couldn’t think that it might have just been a genuine mistake on his part. I was genuinely hurt, like what is this, after all the weeks of excitement, is this how it ends?? This game is cruel is what i probably thought. The whole nation mourned the result (yes we mourned, football is more than a game).

www.greenfootballzone.com

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