Angola – Thorn in the flesh?

I do not like football matches against Angola.  Since that fateful day of August 19, 1989, at the National Stadium in Lagos, when a match ended tragically with the death of Nigeria’s great and gifted midfield ‘general’ Samuel Okwaraji, I have not got over the depression that sets in whenever the Super Eagles are to play against the Palancas Negras of Angola.  Today, I find myself in an unusual situation. I am writing this on Thursday night. I cannot preview the match against Angola coming up on Friday because this would be published on Saturday. Unless I can predict the future, there is no way I can either do a preview or a review of that most important high-stakes’ match that will determine the fate of both countries.  I have a problem with Angola. I never played against them throughout my career in the 1970s and 1980s. They did not even exist in the radar of major African football at the time.

Since then, however, more as a result of the psychological effect of that August 19, 1989 sad event in Lagos, any mention of the country bodes something negative.  Decades after the Okwaraji episode, as if Nigeria was in a trance, the country took its last qualifying World Cup match to the one place that the Nigeria Football Association under Ibrahim Galadima had no business taking the match to – Kano.The players played on a totally unfamiliar bad turf, under unbearable scorching heat, and ‘lost’ by playing a draw.  It was against Angola again. They halted Nigeria’s dream of going to the 2006 World Cup. That added salt to the injury of a crisis in Nigerian football administration that has remained unresolved till now.  I have good reasons not to like Nigeria playing against Angola. They have always been unknown foragers in Nigeria’s ‘forest’, a small football country that shows up from nowhere like a thief in the dark, and poses a threat, becomes a lump in the throat and creates palpitations in the heart of Nigerians.  So, this article is neither a preview nor a review. It is also not any attempt to tempt or test the elements by predicting what would have happened last night.  The stakes are very high again. The Angolans are not the unknown quantity of the past. They got to this stage of AFCON 2023 on merit, topping their Group, scoring the highest number of goals, conceding the least, and winning their round-of-16 match playing with 10 players. They are a dangerous but known opponents now.

So, this time, with no place to hide and no sneaking up on the Eagles, by the time you are reading this, the Antelopes would have joined the list of the casualties along Nigeria’s unstoppable march to the AFCON 2023 trophy.I hope I am right!Nigerian Supporters take battle to the streets   I had planned to travel to Abidjan from Lagos in a branded trailer-home. It was to be a novel roadshow that would  ‘rock’ the entire route from Lagos to Abidjan, and paint AFCON 2023 Red, Black and Blue during the one-month period of the championship.  It was an audacious plan that had to be minimised only when the luxurious bus  could not be fixed on time for the long, 1100km, three-days adventurous trip along the West African coastline.  On Thursday, I went to apologise to Dr. Ladipo and his officials who had to make alternative arrangements to get to Cote d’Ivoire at their base in Ejigbo Parapo, headquarters of Nigerians in that country, where they were holding a strategic meeting for last night’s match.

That engagement became my baptism into a new area of football. I joined the supporters to walk the streets, singing and dancing, mobilising, sensitising and motivating Nigerians living in Cote d’Ivoire to come out and support their national team in its quest to win AFCON 2023.  It was a long walk, through the streets of Ejigbo Parapo community.  It was a new, strange but beautiful experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the engagement with the public.  What I realised at the end is that, indirectly, Nigeria  has taken the battle for the 2023 AFCON to the streets of Abidjan.

No audience with the Eagles this time!I did not pay my usual visit to the Eagles Camp last Thursday night as has been my practice.  I sensed that with the sweetness of Nigeria’s last victory against Cameroun, there may be a flood of dignitaries going to visit the players in patriotic solidarity. So, I chose not to add me to any further burden on the players.  I sent a message to them through their captain wishing them well. He thanked me in his response and promised they would do well and win.   I hope they did.

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