BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Nigeria on Saturday became the 13th team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after those of hosts, Russia and four other European countries, four Asian teams, two from CONCACAF and Brazil in CONMEBOL.
And so, the figure 13 which often is considered an unlucky number has again played a significant role in Nigeria’s World Cup fortunes.
Sports Village Square recalls that the Super Eagles’ path to the Russia 2018 World Cup began on a 13th day, November 13, 2015 in Lobamba, Swaziland with a goalless draw with the hosts.
The Super Eagles, in beating Zambia 1-0 on Saturday attained a total of 13 points which is insurmountable in Group B of the African qualifying group.
What is more, the qualifying goal scored by Alexander Iwobi was the 13th Nigeria netted in the entire 2018 World Cup qualifiers which Nigeria began with a goalless outing with Swaziland on 13th November 2015.
Nigeria won the reciprocal match 2-0 in Port Harcourt to qualify for the draw for the third round in Africa in which eleven more goals have been scored to bring the total to 13.
What then is the myth surrounding figure 13 that it is always attached with unlucky association? Thirteen is so disliked that many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue.
Many high-rise buildings avoid having a 13th floor, some hospitals avoid labelling rooms with the number 13 and many airports will not have a gate 13.
In support of the myth around figure 13, reference is often made to the Bible where Judas Iscariot, the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper, was the person who betrayed Jesus Christ.
Apolo 13 was the only unsuccessful moon mission has also been cited to support the myth around number 13. The myth is also stronger when it has to do with date, especially if it is a Friday.
It was on Friday the 13th of February in 1976 that Nigeria’s Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammad was killed by mutineers.
Also, Friday, October 13, 1972, was a bad day in the history of aviation. That’s the day that Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 infamously crashed in the Andes, killing 29 people. On the exact same day, 174 people were killed when a Soviet Aeroflot crashed in a lake about a kilometre from the runway.
In November 13, 2015, a Friday, is infamously remembered for the series of coordinated Paris terrorist attacks including that of the famous Stade de France where a scheduled friendly international match was to hold. Close to 150 people were killed.
But for Nigerian football, 13 has been a lucky number. Sports Village Square recalls that Chisom Chikatara, Nigeria’s hero at the 2016 African Nations Championship wore jersey number 13 when Niger Republic was demolished by four goals to one.
- Chisom Chikatara in shirt number 13 salvaged a point for Nigeria in a 2016 CHAN encounter with Tunisia. Earlier, his three goals played crucial factor in 4-1 defeat of Niger Republic in the opening match.
In the process, the number 13 shirted Chikatara became the tournament’s second player to score a hat trick. In also drawing 1-1 with Tunisia in the tournament, the man with the ‘unlucky number’ was Nigeria’s saviour.
Chikatara is not the only Nigerian having 13 as magic number. Sunday Oliseh does, just as Tijani Babangida.
Oliseh is the 13th Nigerian to be appointed the coach of the national team. As a player, he led the Super Eagles to become the first qualifier, outside the hosts, for France ’98 World Cup. One significant fact of the qualification was the role of figure 13.
Like in the current Russia 2018 series, Nigeria qualified for France ’98 amassing 13 points even with a match at hand in the qualifying series.
The Super Eagles got launched into qualification mood through a 13th minute goal from an unlikely scorer, Sunday Oliseh. It was his first ever goal for Nigeria after over 20 caps since his debut in the 6-0 defeat of Ethiopia in 1993.
His next goal for Nigeria, perhaps Nigeria’s most spectacular World Cup goal, was scored 13 minutes to the end of the Nigeria’s opening game with Spain. The Super Eagles beat Spain 3-2.
With 13 minutes to go, Sunday Oliseh scores with a blistering shot to give Nigeria a 3-2 win over Spain at France ’98 World Cup.
Significantly, Nigeria’s total World Cup goal-haul stood at 13 at the close of the France ’98. That 13th goal was scored by Tijani Babangida, wearing shirt number 13. It came 13 minutes to the end of the 4-1 loss to Denmark. Significantly too, the total number of goals Nigeria conceded at the World Cup stood at 13 at the close of France ‘98.
- Shirt number 13, Tijani Babangida shapes up to score Nigeria’s 13th World Cup goal 13 minutes to end the match with Denmark at the 1998 World Cup.
The magic of shirt number 13 is not peculiar to Chikatara and Babangida in the national team. Former Lagos ACB forward, Godwin Iwelumo was famous for the shirt number 13.
He scored in his debut for Nigeria in a 1978 All Africa Games qualifiers against Benin Republic on February 14, 1977. Subsequently, Iwelumo was famous for always scoring Nigeria’s goal number two. Who says 13 is an unlucky number?