BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
How time flies! It is 40 years today since Nigeria first won the Africa Cup of Nations.
At the time, the football populace was not bugged down with English and other countries’ football, which could only be monitored then by weekly delayed transmission on television or through journals like Shoot! Magazine.
The stars known them were the heroes spreading excitements in the domestic league and making great impacts in continental competitions.
For the first time on 22 March 1980, the whole country was united under the glue of one accord provided by national sport – football.
It was truly the moment everyone had dreamt for. In a country shaken to its foundation by a 30-month civil war, recurring military rule, socio-economic problems as well as many diverse ethnic, religious and interest groups, winning the Africa Cup of Nations proved not just an event, but a glue that held the country together.
Sadly, not all the 22 members of the then Green Eagles are alive today to celebrate the 40 years of the winning of the premier continental competition.
Six of them, among them five starting XI players have gone beyond human touch.
These include goalkeeper Best Ogedegbe, Tunde Bamidele, Okey Isima, Aloysius Atuegbu and Muda Lawal. Eyo Martins, a player on the bench has also passed on.
Even the coach of the team, Professor Otto Gloria of Brazil has also gone to the world beyond.
The other great players of the squad living are craving for attention as most have long been forgotten.
They are: Skipper Christian Chukwu (69), Segun Odegbami (67), Felix Owolabi (64), David Adiele (65), Godwin Odiye (63), Adokiye Amiesimaka (63) and Emmanuel Okala (68).
Also in the epoch-making squad are: John Orlando (59), Sylvanus Okpala (58), Ifeanyi Onyeadika, Shefiu Mohammed (63), Henry Nwosu (56) and Kadiri Ikhana (68).
Others are Moses Effiong (59), Charles Bassey and Frank Onwuachi. Those are the heroes of the 12th Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, most of whom are living in obscurity now.
On the final match day, there was apprehension on the possibility of Nigeria overcoming Algeria. The fears were rooted on goal-scoring efforts of the Green Eagles who had not scored more than a goal in the preceding three matches.
The defence of the Algerians was believed to be water-tight and ably marshaled from the left rear by short Moustapha Kouici.
In one of his accounts, Segun Odegbami wrote on how he had to go for a bottle of cold beer at their Trade Fair complex to douse tension.
He reported that coach Otto Gloria too was having sleepless night as the Brazilian was seen in his chalet drawn possible opening moves by the Green Eagles.
Whatever starting moves he may have plotted apparently worked.
Within the opening two minutes of the final game, Nigeria was already a goal up. Adokie Amiesimaka took a fairly long throw, which was headed backwards to an unmarked and well-positioned Segun Odegbami in the penalty box.
The tall elegant striker just controlled the ball and lopped it over the defenders for a cheeky opening goal under two minutes of the game. Never before had a goal been scored so fast in the preceding 11 final matches.
It took another 39 years before a goal was scored within the opening two minutes of an Africa Cup of Nations final match. That was at the last year’s final involving Algeria and Senegal.
Baghdad Bounedjah stunned the Senegal Lions of Teranga with a shot, which took a wicked deflection off Salif Sane and looped over the bewildered goalkeeper Alfred Gomis and into the net.
In the 1980 final match, the fast opening goal boosted the confidence of the Green Eagles as Segun Odegbami made the Algerian defence ace, Kouici looked ordinary as he outpaced and easily dribbled past the hitherto rock of defence.
Odegbami increased the tally midway into the first half before Muda Lawal wrapped up the game to give Nigeria a 3-0 win. It was the widest margin win since Ghana’s 3-0 defeat of Sudan in 1963.
DID YOU KNOW?
That when Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time on 22 March 1980, it was an eternal tribute to certain Joseph Mead, the founding secretary of the country’s football governing body, NFA (now NFF). If Mead were alive, he would have been 73 on the day Nigeria beat Algeria to win the trophy for the first time.