By Emmanuel Iheaka
Our hearts quaked. Our blood pressure rose. Our nerves got frayed. Tension rent the atmosphere. We shouted ourselves hoarse. We even became time keepers, feeling like turning back the hands of time. But that was impossible. Time was fast flying as if it was a conspiracy.
Many were sweating profusely. There was frustration. Some were praying earnestly. You could sense the prayer from their optimistic confessions. Confessions of a favourable end. Some others were busy hauling abuses on the boys and their master, making reference to the good old days.
We were about sinking. We panted for victory. A victory much needed but seemed elusive. At the Red Sea we were. But who would divide the sea to enable us cross over? The ‘Egyptians’ were fast closing in. The time was ticking so fast. Only a Moses in the hands of God Almighty was needed to save us. At the appointed time, the Moses emerged. And we were saved. He led us across.
Oh! What a game! What a tension-soaked moment! A moment to remember. Thank God for the Moses of Nigeria who saved our hearts and gave us victory. He delivered us from the hands of the determined ‘Egyptians’ (Ethiopians).
I am talking about the final group game between Nigeria and Ethiopia in the ongoing African Nations Cup in South Africa. The match was played on Tuesday January 29, 2013. It was a must-win game for Nigeria to qualify for the quarter final. And Nigeria actually won.
But it was a very tough encounter. We struggled and laboured for victory. First half had gone without a goal. The second half was almost ending and still no goal. Everyone became agitated. The coaching crew was on the verge of being fired. Nigeria was about repeating history, a negative one for that matter. The history of being eliminated at the group stage of the competition. The last time Nigeria got eliminated at the group stage of the African Nations Cup was in 1982 in Libya.
How could we repeat such history. 77 minutes had gone. Just 13 minutes away from shame. But God decided to deliver us. Like the biblical Moses whom God used to lead Israelites across the Red Sea when the Egyptians were pursuing them, God decided to use our own Moses to save us. At the 78th minute, hard-fighting Victor Moses was brought down in the 18-yard box and it was a penalty. Same Moses delivered the penalty and did it perfectly. Hey! The atmosphere changed. From anxiety to exhilaration. There was joy. God has spared us the shame. What more could we do than praising God. Thanks to Victor Moses.
However the anxiety didn’t leave us entirely. We were still scared of an equalizer. It had happened to us in the two previous games against Burkina Faso and Zambia. But instead of an equalizer, a consolidation came. Moses won another penalty, at almost full time. He executed the second penalty successfully. And the victory was secured. Thanks also to the goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama for the spectacular save he made.
While still savouring the joy of the victory, the hearts of many Nigerians began quaking again. When it became clear that Nigeria was placed second in Group C and as a result will meet the rampaging Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, many Nigerians began to tremble. They felt Nigeria has been condemned for slaughter, considering the unimpressive performance of the Super Eagles and the fantastic form of the Elephants. There is no way Nigeria can stand Cote d’Ivoire, they submitted and still submit.
It is true that the Nigeria team in South African has not been impressive. The team finds it difficult netting goals and even defending properly. It has been hard for the Eagles to soar. When they make effort to do so, it seems they are being affected by the Law of Gravity. The law states that whatever goes up must come down. I know that the law does not have any effect on the eagle bird. So why would the Super Eagles not defy the law?
The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire are spectacular. The team is currently rated first in Africa. And it deserves the exalted position. The team has the current African Best Player of the Year, Yaya Toure, who also won the award in 2012. Toure is wonderful at the midfield. He is a great distributor.
Among the experienced Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire is also a man I adore. A courageous player I will not forget as far as football is concerned. A reliable striker. He goes by the name Didier Drogba. He has brought honour to Africa. Drogba set a record in England. Till today, he remains the highest goal scorer for Chelsea Football Club in European competitions within eight years he spent in the club.
The Champions League trophy had eluded Chelsea FC for many years. But Drogba’s superlative performance earned the club the trophy. Drogba and other African footballers like our own John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien of Ghana, Solomon Kalou made me to develop love for Chelsea FC. I saw the club as that of Africa. And the Africans there made me proud.
When Drogba left the club last year, his exit was very painful. His absence is still being felt. Clubs in England thanked God for Drogba’s exit. At least he can no longer bring them nightmare. This is the reason Nigerians are trembling.
If the form of the Super Eagles is to be compared with that of the Elephants of Cote d’Ivore, one will suggest that the match be forgotten and victory awarded to Cote d’Ivoire. But the fact is that football is neither Mathematics nor logic. In logic, if Team A defeats Team C and Team C beats Team B, it means Team A will win Team B. But this is not applicable in football. 90 minutes determine the outcome of every football match.
In Group C, before the beginning of the competition, Nigeria and Zambia were tipped to qualify for the quarter final. After Nigeria’s first game, the coach of Zambia, Herve Renard wrote off Nigeria’s team as the worst Super Eagles. But Zambia is gone. The country made history by being another defending champion to be eliminated at the group stage after over two decades.
Last year at the Nations Cup, the popular verdict was that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire would slug it out at the final. But Zambia surprised everyone by defeating both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
In 2012 when Chelsea FC clinched the Champions League trophy, who ever believed the club could achieve such feat. The club had started abysmally. It never looked strong to win the coveted trophy, to rule Europe. But it later confounded detractors.
That the Eagles didn’t start well does not mean they can’t end well. That they seem less strong does not mean they cannot defeat the strongest. The Eagles need to be determined. The coaching crew should equally go the extra mile.
I got worried when I learnt that midfielder John Obi Mikel and defender Fengor Ogude have two yellow cards and may miss the game against Cote d’Ivoire. If Mikel is out, who will deliver the intelligent passes he is known for? And if Ogude is missing, what will remain of the Eagles’ defence. Mikel and Ogude form the fulcrum of the Eagles’ midfield. Without good midfielders in a game involving Yaya Toure, there is trouble indeed.
I have been praying that nothing will stop Mikel and Ogude from being part of the clash against Cote d’Ivoire. I know God will grant the prayer. After all, the hearts of the kings (including CAF officials) are in God’s hands and He stirs them to the direction He desires.
With the Nigeria’s team complete, I am not scared of Cote d’ Ivoire. Yes, elephant is too huge to be wrestled down. But it is equally hard to catch an eagle when it soars. I pray the Super Eagles will really become super and soar on Sunday far above the Elephants.
I love Drogba and always pray for his continuous excellence in football. But I am currently praying against Drogba. I pray he will fall for the Eagles to soar. After the encounter on Sunday, I will continue to pray for Drogba’s success. I pray Drogba will bungle any chance he may get on Sunday. May the eyes and mind of Nigeria’s goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama go before those of Drogba and his hands be long enough to stop any of Drogba’s kicks. May this prayer equally affect Kalou, Gervinho and the rest of the Elephants.
For Yaya Toure, may his passes never reach their destinations. And may the ball play tricks on the Cote d’Ivoire’s goal keeper.
I know God has not finished with the Eagles. The Almighty is still at work. May Victor Moses remain a tool in God’s hands to deliver the Eagles from the Elephants. May the grace remain with Mikel to make intelligent and accurate passes. And may Emmanuel Emenike and co be rightfully positioned to convert the passes. For Ogude, Ambrose Efe, Kenneth Omeruo, Ederson Echiejile, may they never commit any blunder. And may the hearts of the match umpires also be in God’s hands that they will not be partial. This is my prayer for Nigeria and against Cote d’Ivoire.
There is something I have realized about football. Football is very unfair and selfish. It hardly considers the interest of the other person. It takes one’s sorrow for one to get joy in football. One only laughs in football at the expense of the other’s joy. This is football for you.
Mikel, Drogba and Kalou were together in Chelsea FC. Kalou is known to be Mikel’s friend. But the Ivorian said he loves scoring goals against the Nigeria. He loves hurting Mikel. This is football for you.
For Drogba, Mikel is a big brother. Drogba described Mikel as one of the best midfielders in the world. “We will laugh at the beginning of the game and we will laugh at the end of the game”, so said Drogba. May Nigeria laugh indeed.
Credit: Nigeria Newspoint