As some of you may know, I was in Franceville, Gabon, to watch the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final between Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions and Senegal’s Lions of Teranga. It was a very tough encounter, which took a penalty shootout to resolve.
After the match ended, I had to catch the shuttle bus to get back to Franceville airport and get our flight back to Libreville, which did not leave Franceville until 1am on Sunday (today).
In the shuttle bus, I had two legends of African football sitting very close by – former goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell, who sat by me and the great Roger Albert Milla (although his CAF nametag spelt it as “Miller”), who sat a row behind, on the other aisle.
“Jojo” as we fondly call Joseph-Antoine, began to boast that Cameroon, even though they have just two points in the final round of 2018 WC qualifiers – and Nigeria’s Super Eagles have SIX – will still snatch the ticket.
He began to remind me of how many times Nigeria has been bested by Cameroon, with Milla smiling as he talked. This bus was full of Cameroonians, including Geremi Njitap, who were excitedly listening to all Bell said, in English and French. (He speaks both languages excellently).
Senegal’s El Hadji Diouf, who was still feeling the pain of the defeat, was in the bus too, poor chap…
Besides myself, Colin Udoh was the only other Nigerian in the bus. But Colin decided to keep quiet, while Nigeria’s football honour was under attack and being rubbished by Jojo.
But I could not be quiet and I had to answer back. The disrespect to Nigeria was getting too much.
“Yes, you have beaten us in three AFCON final games,” I told him.
“But you know, very well, that only the victory in 1984 was clean. The second, in 1998, we were cheated. Roger tricked the referee (Idrissa Saar of Mauritania) into giving him a fake penalty. And the clean goal of Henry Nwosu was disallowed,” I told him.
“As for the 2000 Nations Cup, the Tunisian referee (Mourad Daami) denied us a penalty goal that Victor Ikpeba scored. We have been cheated many times in the AFCON final.
“We are in the World Cup qualifying driving seat now and you will never take over. We beat Zambia away and Zambia disgraced you at home. And we will do the same to you,” I told him.
But Jojo did not let up, telling me that Nigerian players tremble when they face the Indomitable Lions and they will never get over this mental block.
“August will soon be here and you shall see,” I told him.
Let anyone tell me that football is just a game or that national pride and honour is not at stake, when games are played.
The Nigeria Football Federation – and Amaju Pinnick particularly – better not tell me or any Nigerian any story about Russia 2018. We MUST be there.
After failing to qualify for two successive AFCON finals and with none of Nigeria’s teams, including the U-20 and U-17 teams – playing in any African or FIFA competition this year, Nigeria and Nigerians have suffered enough football humiliation. Enough is enough!
I believe that with the players Nigeria now have and with the serious-minded coach that we also have, we shall beat Algeria and Cameroon to the ticket – AS LONG AS THE NFF DO THEIR PART and ensure the coach and players have what is required to deliver.
But if we don’t? In fact, let me not think about that… Failure is not an option for Nigeria.
Amaju Pinnick knows what will happen to him, should we fail.
He will go and seek political asylum in Mogadishu, Somalia. There will be no place in Nigeria that will be big enough to hide him…
*Culled from FootballisAfrica as written by Osasu Obayiuwana