It was a very nervy encounter
with the Eagles not even playing really well, but in the end it was
Alex Iwobi’s goal that ensued Nigeria would not have to wait until
the trip to Algeria to qualify for the World Cup.
Nigeria on Saturday, became
the first African country to qualify for the World Cup. Though Egypt
followed a day later, we are talking about Nigeria in this piece.
The scenes in Uyo reminded me
of Port Harcourt in 2001 when against all odds, Nigeria won 3-0
against Ghana to qualify for the World Cup in 2002.
Against all odds, not because
beating the Ghanaian side would have been insurmountable on the day,
but because a few match days earlier, it didn’t seem like Nigeria
stood a chance of qualifying for the World Cup.
After beating Eritrea 4-0 on
aggregate, Nigeria was placed in a group that had Ghana, Sierra
Leone, Sudan and Liberia but things were not easy as Bonfrere Jo just
could not get his charges to win games.
Nigeria started with a 2-0
home win in Lagos over Sierra Leone, Austin Okocha and Ben Akwuegbu
scoring before losing on the road to Liberia 2-1.
Home games were moved to Port
Harcourt and a 3-0 home win against Sudan was followed by 0-0 in
Accra against Ghana and then a 1-0 loss to Sierra Leone leading to the sack of Bonfrere Jo on April 26,
Shuaibu Amodu was brought in,
assisted by Stephen Keshi and Jo Erico and Nigeria got wins over
Liberia in Port Harcourt (2-0), against Sudan in Omdurman (0-4) and
against Ghana in Port Harcourt (3-0).
Nigeria had qualified for its
3rd consecutive World Cup and the people of Port Harcourt
were to to thank for their support and all.
Move the hands of the clock
forward by sixteen years and the Eagles were in Uyo to qualify for
their 6th World Cup and it seemed an easier ride.
Nigeria had won the first
three games 2-1 against Zambia in Ndola, 3-1 against Algeria in Uyo
and then 4-0 against Cameroon in Uyo, giving the Akwa Ibom State
capital the sobriquet, “Lucky ground” that Port Harcourt was
named some years back.
Forget about the 2-0 loss to
South Africa, people still thought Uyo was a lucky ground for the
After a draw in Yaounde
against Cameroon (1-1) it was a nervy game against Zambia but Nigeria
finally made it to the World Cup.

Coach of the side, Gernot Rohr
almost messed up his good works with that loss to South Africa in
Uyo, destroying a 25 year record against the Bafana Bafana, but like
we say in football, “there will always be days like those.”

If he was a Nigerian coach, he
may have been sacked by the morning after the game, but I digress.
Against the Zambians he acted
like every coach would do, holding up high the mantra, “You do not
change a winning team” but it was obvious the Zambians were
sleeker, faster and obviously had more energy that the Eagles on the
Then again the frailties in
our team were out there for all to see- Elderson Echiejile, William
Troost Ekong and later on in the game, Mikel Agu. Also the fact that
Victor Moses has just refused to be a team player was glaring on the
Certainly, some players in the
team too should be counting their days but that would be a decision
he (Rohr) has to make, and I digress again.
I remember the Rohr signing
almost a year ago and the mandate given to him was to qualify for the
World Cup before an extension would be discussed.
He is there, but let somebody
tell him that he hasn’t really done anything special by qualifying
for the World Cup- Clemense Westerhof did it in ‘93, Phillipe
Troussier in ‘97 and Shuaibu twice in 2001 and 2009 before Stephen
Keshi did it in 2013.
The point is that Nigeria have
qualified for five World Cups before now and the joy at being in one
more would be a fraction of what happens if the country makes it past
the 2nd round in Russia next year. Gernot Rohr has a job
on his hands. Nigeria need to play in the World Cup quarter finals.
Mikel Obi and Victor Moses factor
I remember chatting with John
Mikel Obi at the departure lounge of the airport in Calabar after
that game that ended 2-2 against South Africa, ensuring we did not
qualify for the AFCON in 2015.
At that point a lot of
Nigerians (I was not one. In fact that was the basis of our talk)
believed he was not doing enough for the country when he played and a
lot wanted him out of the team for “younger players” who they
thought would be “more committed” and bring in more energy.
However, between then and now,
Vincent Enyeama left the team and after Ahmed Musa, John Mikel Obi
was named substantive captain and his dedication to the cause has
known no bounds.
The way he has led the much
younger players around him and how he is revered by the rest of the
group show he is a great leader.
His commanding presence in the
center of midfield also cannot be overemphasized.
Victor Moses was also at some
point at the receiving end of the Nigerian stick as it was thought
that he feigned injuries to avoid playing for the country, but during
the World Cup qualifiers he proved a great asset to the team.
One revelation, though has to
be the former Kano Pillars boy, Shehu Abdulahi who seems to have
sequestered the Right Back role in the team to himself. Winning the
Man of the Match Award in the game against Zambia was just icing on
the cake.
The new boys who decided
against all odds to play for Nigeria instead of their adopted
countries would now be thinking they made the right choices.
you Akwa Ibom
Just like Rivers State in
2002, the story of Nigeria in Russia 2018 cannot be told without
mentioning Akwa Ibom State and Uyo.
Yes, the pitch was not in tip
top shape, like before the game against South Africa when home side,
Akwa United was stopped from playing there to give it a make over.
And even during the game
against Zambia the balding and uneven patches of brown were clearly
noticeable, but the Godswill Akpabio Stadium seems the best the
country has currently for the national team, asides the Abuja
National Stadium.
Without hungry fans who
patiently cheer you to victory, you will be a stranger in your own
home game.
Without the state government
lending their support in terms of logistics and other places they
took charge, just maybe, the Super Eagles’ adventure in Uyo would
have been a monumental failure.
Certainly there were mistakes
along the way in terms of over zealous security, crowd control, poor
handling of the fans and the media as well as lots others mentioned
in another piece, but the Akwa Ibom State government gets a pass mark
for hosting the Eagles to success.
Amaju Pinnick 
When the current Nigeria
Football Federation leadership under Amaju Pinnick got in, sometime
in 2014, their first year and some months was a complete disaster.
They failed to qualify for
almost every tournament the country went for, biggest of all being
the AFCON in 2015 and in 2017.
But Nigerians will now forgive
them, the World Cup being the cheery on the cake.
Though a lot of followers of
the Nigerian league will voice their displeasure over its neglect by
the Federation, Pinnick can beat his chest now and say the decision
to cap some “foreign” Nigerians like William Troost Ekong, Alex
Iwobi and Leon Balogun is eventually paying off.
Maybe, Pinnick and his board
will be able to convince more Nigerians born in diaspora to play for
the Super Eagles.
The point of this piece is to
share that qualifying for the World Cup was a joint effort by the
players, coaches, NFF, people of Uyo, people of Nigeria, the Akwa
Ibom State government and the media.
Nigeria will play in another
World Cup. That is what the fans want.
Welcome to Russia, but there
is still a lot of work to be done.

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