In everything, the Good Book says we must give thanks. First of all, we thank you dear God for the small but mighty victory you gave us on the field of football at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon on Tuesday when we faced the most dreaded foe of this tournament: the Pharaohs of Egypt.
One nil against Egypt but what a mighty victory it was! This victory is a testimony that you have not given up on Nigeria, a country blessed with so much talents. This victory has confirmed who you are. To us, you are the same God who never changes. The God of our past, our present and our future. The God who delivered us from captivity in Egypt, who took us across the Red Sea, who drowned the pursuing red-jersey army of Pharaoh with all their horses and chariots blazing. The miracle-working God, whose names and attributes we sing on the field of play amidst the sound of trumpet and drums, wearing our green-white-green jerseys, our faces tattooed in white paint to support our Super Eagles. The God we praise and call the Alpha and Omega. The One who is always on our side because we pray together and call His name on the field of play. The One who makes the way and creates opportunities for us to score goals. The One who made man to invent football, a game of war that unites the world in the time of peace.
For a very long time, we have not seen our boys play the kind of football the Super Eagles were noted for: the ability to hold the ball, control the ball, play as a team, play it beautifully, score great goals and mesmerize the football world with their flair and flare.
Football is a game of beauty and the Super Eagles used to play it beautifully in the good old days such as Nigeria featuring in USA 94 FIFA World Cup. Nigeria parading stars like Rasheed Yekini, Finidi George, Thomas Oliha, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike, Sunday Oliseh, Victor Ikpeba, Mutiu Adepoju, Peter Rufai, Augustine Eguavoen, Ben Iroha, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okechukwu, Chidi Nwanu and a few others.
And how can one forget the Nigerian “Dream Team” that played gallantly in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA, beating world-beaters like Brazil (4-3) and Argentina (3-2) to win the Olympic gold? Nigeria parading heroes like Joseph Dosu, Uche Okechukwu, Mobi Oparaku, Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro, Emmanuel Amunike, Jay Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Tijani Babangida, Kanu Nwankwo, Garba Lawal, Victor Ikpeba and a few others.
From the height of glory, Nigeria fell like those rebel angels from heaven. No longer were we kings of the round leather game in Africa. Nigeria that was once feared and revered by all, lost its glory to the point where soccer minnows on the African continent stood up against us to challenge, defeat and shame us right at home, in front of our own bewildered crowd. Our glory like the glory of our Naira or the glory of Israel “is slain upon thy high places. How are the mighty fallen.” We hired foreign coach after foreign coach in the quest to restore our fallen glory but it never worked. No sooner had we hired one foreign coach than we fire him to bring in another foreign coach whose magic wand would fail.
The last of the fallen foreign coaches was the German Gernot Rohr who lost his job close to the starting of the Cup of Nations because we were losing at home to minnows and we no longer had what made our Eagles Super in the world of football. Gernot Rohr’s job was given to a caretaker coach in the person of an old Super Eagles defender Augustine Eguavoen who has surprised us all and brought back joy and laughter on the faces of Nigerian soccer fans.
Under his leadership, we are seeing what our eyes cannot believe: a rejuvenated Super Eagles that play the way we expect our Super Eagles to play. Super Eagles playing as a team, playing with a sense of purpose, playing with confidence, playing like a world-class team that they used to be, coming with a good game plan, getting their strategy and tactics right, every player doing what he has to do, not being intimidated by the army of Pharaohs, and having the winning streak. In the words of J.J. Okocha, the legendary Super Eagles midfielder running commentary for Super Sports: “It was all about Nigeria to be fair. It was us coming with a good game plan, executing it, showing that as a team, we have matured. We were a bit concerned about our players still being young but they showed that they’ve been in this kind of situation for a while now and that they are mature. Iheanacho really worked hard for the team today. He had a good match. I had a different Man of the Match but Iheancho’s goal deserves to win him Man of the Match. The goal was the difference. He won the game for us with this stunning strike. So, congratulations to him.”
And from Coach Eguavoen: “Egypt we all know is a respected team. We respect them. But we also have players that need to be respected. We had one thing on our mind. The strategy was: try to cut Salah off the ball and try to play high pressure every given time. And we know we can mix it up by ball possession and going direct where necessary. So we have three things in mind. First is to win the game, and how do we win the game? The process is keeping the ball and then keeping Salah off, trying to cut him off the game. We are going to approach every game as if it is a final. We are going to take it game after game and see where we get to. Because every team that has come to AFCON should be respected, regardless of the name of the country. There are no minnows anymore in football. So if you don’t plan well, you don’t put in effort, you can be shocked. I don’t know who is going to win but we would try in our own way to approach every game with all seriousness.”
On that note, I say thank you God for giving us back our Super Eagles. Our prayer is that the Cup and the glory will return to Nigeria, the home of African football.