The Super Eagles of Nigeria painfully pecked the fast growing Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the Quarterfinals 2-1 of the 32nd edition of the African Cup of Nations living them to lick the wounds of their 8th defeat from a country gradually becoming their soccer lords.
The defeat was so painful that the players stood at the Cairo Stadium looking like stranded passengers. Their Scottish Coach, Baxter in a strangulated voice said the match was very painful to them especially in the manner by which they lost conceding the vital goal in the 89th minute when they were bracing up for extra time. His plan was to stretch the Super Eagles to the penalty shootouts. Apart from their 1996 victory, this is the third time South Africa will be ousted in the quarters, in 2002, 2013 and now 2019. They look jinxed at the quarterfinal level.
Instead the Super Eagles were on another side of the field combining Atilogwu and the break dance steps before the world an envy of the novelty of the Nigerian Dancing Senator and not like the Squirrels of Republic of Benin who ran into the dressing room and turned it into the legendary John Travolta dancing hall.
Nigerians fans refused a peculiar celebration of running round the streets for a dance party for they were busy discussing in hushed voices that the NFF should still protest the equalizer allegedly dashed to the South Africans from an obviously offside position by the VAR men. The linesman had waved his flag offside and the ref so blew before the VAR overturned for South African equalizer which Nigerian fans claim is the height of a painful unwholesome officiating.
Nigeria opened scoring through super brat under 20 kid, Samuel Chukwueze of Villarreal in27th minute from an Alex Iwobi of Arsenal assist before the dramatic header of an equalizer from Zungu of South Africa in the 71st minute and then Nigeria’s defender, William Trust-Ekong slot the winner with a knee push in the 89th minute that made the South Africans looked like stabbed fellows from a roforofo fight in the Ajegunle slum of Lagos. It was Ekong’s first goal ever with the Super Eagles.
The stats are now 8 wins for Nigeria, 2 for South Africa and 5 draws. During the match Nigeria dominated in shots on target 4-2 as well as in the corner kicks 6-1. Ironically, South Africa has more ball possessions 61-39; more yellows flew towards the end of the match when the tension heightened so South Africa bagged 4 yellows from 19 fouls while Nigeria got only one yellow given to stand in Captain, Ahmed Musa from 22 fouls.
Quickly, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari probably celebrating with a bowl of Kunu Zaki common in Northern Nigeria told the Super Eagles to brace and up their game for the remaining two hurdles to lift the coveted trophy. He meant the semifinal and final. It is not immediately clear whether he has plans to be in Egypt if Nigeria gets to the final but it will be recalled that aged President Buhari kept beaming a boyish smile when the Super Falcons of Nigeria presented the women African Cup of nations won for the 7th time to him earlier this year.
Nigerian Super Eagles won the Nations Cup trophy thrice – 1980, 1994 and 2013; won silver (Runners up) thrice – 1984, 1988, 1990 and 2000; bronze (third place) seven times – 1976; 1978; 1992; 2002; 2004; 2006 and 2010 but lost in Quarterfinal once in 2008.
I had reported the credentials of South Africa when a preview of their match with Egypt was reported. South Africa was banned from 1959 to 1992. They did not qualify in 1994 but hosted and won in 1996. They won bronze in 2000; they were quarterfinalist in 2002 and 2013.
Consequence upon this victory, Nigeria moves forward to the semifinal to battle winners between Desert Warriors of Algeria and the Elephants of Ivory Coast both teams are regular customers of the Super Eagles. Nigeria I recall beat Algeria in the finals of this tournament to lift the trophy at the National Stadium, Lagos in a team that starred players like Chairman Christian Chukwu, Mathimatical Segun Odegbami, Block Buster Alloysius Atuegbu, Mudashiru Lawal, Quick Silver Silvanus Okpalla, Unbreakable Felix Owolabi, Chief Justice Adokie Amaesiemeka, Kunle Awesu, Taller than the goal post was Goalkeeper Emmanuel Oguejiofor Okala, Henry Nwosu youngest lad, Shefiu Mohammed, Patrick Ekeji who later became Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Sports, Sam Ojebode. I could go on and reel out the names of the 23 players for Nigeria because it was the team I was closest to in my reportorial days and was there in 1980. Odegbami will never forget Algerian defender, Belloumi.
Elephants of Ivory Coast were boastful they would beat Nigeria silly when Drogba was captain. The team was star studded. Lanky Wilfred Bony is still there for Ivory Coast.
- ENIOLA OLATUNJI.