The Cameroonians Cometh Again! By Akinyemi Fagbolagun
Nigeria would be standing on the same pedestal with Egypt as the second most successful country in the history of the African Cup of Nations up to date but for Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions have been a big spoiler for Nigeria – from the days of the Green to the Super Eagles.
But for Cameroon, Nigeria would have won the prestigious African Cup of Nations trophy six times. 1984 would have been exceptionally successful for Nigeria both at the national and club levels.
That year, the Super Eagles and IICC Shooting Stars got to the grand finales of the African Cup of Nations and the Champions Cup but it ended in heartaches and massive disappointments for the whole nation.
That year at the mainbowl of the National stadium, Lagos – yes, the same stadium that is now an embarrassment to the country, IICC Shootings Stars of Ibadan filed out against Zamalek of Egypt in the final of the African Champions Cup, now the Champions League.
The Oluyole Warriors were on the cusp of inkling another chapter in the chronicle of Nigerian football as the first club to clinch the coveted trophy, having set the pace by winning the African Winners Cup back in 1975.
But it was never to be. The build up to that game was frenetic. I still remember the “balu balu n tafin” song crafted by the vociferous supporters of Shooting Stars boasting that the dreaded Zamalek would meet their waterloo and be roasted in the hot sun of Lagos. However, in the heat of the pulsating encounter, defender Ogbein Fawole sent his own goalkeeper, Raymond King on errand when he cracked a fantastic own goal into his own net and turned the stadium into a grave yard.
Same year in Bouake Ivory Coast, the youthful Green Eagles under the tutelage of coach Festus Adegboye Onigbinde featuring youngsters like Tarila Okorowanta, Bala Ali, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, Ademola Adesina, late Rashidi Yekinni et al confronted the vastly experienced Indomitable Lions of Cameroon parading Thomas Nkono, Theophile Abega, Roger Milla and others in the final.
Midfield meastro Mudashiru Lawal (of blessed memory) drew the first blood by grabbing the curtain raiser for Nigeria but it ended in anguish as the Camerooninans bounced back, rallied to a 3-1 victory and of course lifted the trophy at the expense of Nigeria.
Unarguably, up to date, the 1988 African Cup of Nations tournament in Morocco, MAROC 88 still remained for me one of the most competitive in the history of the tournament. Not by the volume of goals scored but the quality of performance on the pitches.
The star-studded Super Eagles with Stephen Keshi, Samuel Okwaraji (may their souls continue to rest in the Lord’s bossom) Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Yisa Shofoluwe, Ndubuisi Okosieme, Folorunsho Okenla, Henry Nwosu, Peter Rufai and others took the tournament by storm cruising to the grand finale.
The semi final against Algeria was an epic battle but the Manfred Hoener coached Eagles weathered the storm by knocking the Lakhadar Belloumi-inspired North Africans out via a marathon penalty shoot out that saw all the eleven players on both sides taking their kicks.
Then, came the Cameroonians again! The first meeting between the two teams in the group stage ended in a pulsating 1-1 draw, with that Samuel Okwaraji’s thunder strike still very fresh in memory. So, the final presented another opportunity for the two countries to settle their superiority contest and for Nigeria a chance to take their pound of flesh from the Cameroonians who truncated their dreams four years earlier.
And what a game it was! The Eagles were on their way to victory when the skilful and sliperry Henry Nwosu shook the net to score the opener for Nigeria. The stadium erupted in wild jubiliation but alas, the centre Referee cut the celebration short by inexplicably disallowing the beautiful goal. And to compound the woes for Nigeria, the detestable Arbiter from Mauritania awarded a questionable penalty to the Cameroonians in the 55th minute. Emmanuel Kunde made no mistake from the spot and that was how they ‘stole’ the trophy from Nigeria.
If the 1984 defeat by Cameroon in Ivory coast was painful, the unjust defeat in Morocco was crushing. Defeat! no, because the Super Eagles won that game but Referee Idrissa Sarr (Mauritania) gave the trophy to the Cameroonians.
Now, it is already seventeen years since the jointly hosted Nigeria – Ghana 2000 African Cup of Nations took the continent by storm.
That picture of Super Eagles captain, Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh weeping like a baby in the gaze of millions of fans accross the globe is still etched in our memory. Who would forget that.
Nigeria met Cameroon again in the final at the mainbowl of the National stadium, Surulere, Lagos. It was a penalty bazaar when the game ended 2-2 after regulation and extra time.
With the benefit of hindsight now, maybe the newly introduced and experimental VAR (Video Assistant Referee) would have settled the controversies that trailed the penalty kick taken by the Prince of Monaco, former king of African Football, Victor Nosa Ikpeba but unfortunately, VAR came late and that’s why the Lions of Cameroon carted away the 2000 AFCON trophy and left millions of Nigerians with broken hearts on that unforgettable Lovers day – February 14, 2000.
The Cameroonians have denied Nigerians the joy of celebrating winning the AFCON trophy three times. If we add the 1990 defeat by Algeria, Nigeria would have won the trophy seven good times. Now, you know why I said Nigeria should be on the same pedestal with Egypt.
However, my best Eagles match against Cameroon would be the Italia 1990 World Cup qualifier played at the mainbowl of the Liberty stadium, Ibadan. The Eagles won 2-0 with Stephen Keshi and Samson Siasia on the score sheet. That was one of the best matches Etim Esin played for the team- he was the thorn in the flesh of the hard tackling Cameroonians.
Need we be reminded that the same Indomitable Lions of Cameroon delayed Nigeria’s debut at the FIFA World Cup for four years by snatching the Italia 1990 ticket in the last game of the qualifying series.
Nigeria needed a draw to book the ticket to their first World Cup in the last qualifying against Cameroon at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, Yaounde. They were on top of their game until a momentary loss of concentration in the second half allowed Francois Omam Biyik to score the goal that handed the Lions the gate pass to the world biggest soccer fiesta in the land of the Azzuris. It was failure at the brink of success for the Eagles.
The then Super Eagles goalkeeper, Alloysius Agu who got injured and was replaced by David Ngodingha in that match will be on the bench when the Eagles file out against the Cameroonians in Uyo and Yaounde. I’m sure Pastor Agu’s wealth of experience will be useful to the team.
Ironically, the Lions are coming to this game on the back of their brilliant and victorious campaign at the 2017 AFCON while the Eagles are still reeling from their disastrous 2019 AFCON qualifier defeat by the Bafana Bafana of South Africa. Now, the task before the Gernor Rohr – tutored Eagles is to find a way of overcoming Cameroon.
For the Super Eagles to overcome the Lions all hands must be on deck. The nay sayers who are about town predicting doom should give the team a chance. Gernot Rohr must shun sentiments and pick the best legs for the games in Uyo and Yaounde.
While doing this, he must avoid the panic botton, encourage and motivate his players to go for the Lions jugular and prove that the Lions are no match for the Eagles anytime in any battle ‘above the ground’.
It will be suicidal to succumb to counsel in some quarters for complete overhaul of the team that already proved their mettle against the Chipolopolo of Zambia in Ndola and the Desert Foxes of Algeria in Uyo.
With little tweaking here and there, learning from the mistakes against South Africa, I have no iota of doubt that the Super Eagles have enough weapons in the arsenal to neutralise and dominate the Lions from Cameroon. A good team cannot suddenly and overnight become a bad team.
We need not argue that the Eagles that defeated the Zambians away and the Algerians in Uyo can at least overcome the Lions at home and go for the best result in Yaounde.
I beleive in John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Eddy Onazi et al. With our support they can get the job done. We owe them that, nothing more.
Our nation’s green white flag must adorn the horizon in Wladimir Putin’s country in 2018. This is the task that must be accomplished. Go guys go! Go Eagles go !! The Lions must be the prey this time.