BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
It is another match day today for Tunisia and Nigeria as they meet in their second ever friendly match in Austria. Some of the 16 previous encounters gathered themes for eternal storage.
Of particular note is that a Nigerian player was first expelled in an international duel when Nigeria played Tunisia. Sports Village Square also recalls that the first disqualification of Nigeria in a competition was occasioned in Tunisia.
That was in their early encounters when the fixtures pitched them together for 1962 Africa Cup of Nations – Nigeria’s first entry.
After Nigeria’s elimination of Ghana, the then Green Eagles moved to the second round and had to play Tunisia to get to the finals.
Nigeria won the first leg match, 2-1 in Lagos. In the return leg in Tunis on 10 December1961, Nigeria’s Green Eagles were already 2-1 up, after goals from Chukwumah Egwuonu and Patrick Noquapor.
The team then staged a walkout in the 65th minute following a controversial goal by Tunisia.
The Nigerian team and officials then protested an alleged bad officiating by Egyptian referee, Mohammed Hassan Helim, who before halftime, had sent out full back, Alfred Achebe.
Thus, Sports Village Square can point out that Alfred Achebe enters the record books as the first Nigerian player to be expelled in an international match.
A little after the hour, the Nigerian defence alleged that Ridha Roubi handled the ball in Nigeria’s penalty box. But the referee ruled a drop ball that was scored by Chetali for Tunisia bringing score-line to 2-2, but an aggregate 4-3 in Nigeria’s favour.
At the prompting of Nigerian officials, the players staged a walkout, even though the Hungarian coach of the team, George Varda disagreed. As a result of the walkout, the match was awarded 2-0 to Tunisia.
The NFA naively sent a protest letter to the Confederation of African Football hoping to be awarded the match.
When the Nigerian protest came up for hearing as item number seven at the CAF executive meeting in Ethiopia on 13 January1962, the general secretary announced that in view of the importance of the subject, it was referred to the extraordinary general assembly that was held three days later.
CAF in particular took note of the tone of the Nigerian protest, which contained “some terms which hurt the African confederation”.
Such terms included words like segregation, which CAF noted, that international football federation did not allow.
“It is unfair that the protest contains such terms as ‘the tournament included Arabs and others, or East Africa and West Africa’ as this is against the general interest and the African Confederation”.
When the issue was finally discussed, the Nigerian protest was torn into shreds.
According to the minutes of the meeting obtained by Sports Village Square from FIFA sources, the delegate from Ethiopia remarked that it was strictly not allowed for Nigeria to make remarks that bordered on segregation “because we all joined in friendship and fraternity and such words (used by Nigeria) is an admission of segregation…
“On the match itself, the Tunisians claimed that when the first leg won 2-1 by Nigeria was played, the NFA made use of two Nigerian linesmen (assistant referees) for the encounter.
“We acted similarly, designating two Tunisians as linesmen in the second game, they (Nigerians) protested”.
But the Ghanaian delegate came to Nigeria’s defence, saying that when an error was committed once, as in the Lagos match, “it does not mean, for reason of similarity, that it should be committed once again.
“A neutral referee, i.e. who does not belong to a country participating in the tournament should have been elected for the second match”.
Dr. Chedly Zouitan, a Tunisian member of CAF executive committee who died the following year aged 62, pointed out that the walk out by the Nigerian team was due to an administrative action and “never during my 45 years experience have I seen the head of a mission enter the playground and order the players to quit.
“It is also unfortunate that nobody of the mission, whether players or administrative, (sic) objected to this procedure with the exception of the Hungarian trainer but nobody listened to him.
“They have always objected to the decisions of the referee of any nationality, whether in the first or the second game.” The General Assembly decided the issue against Nigeria and ruled that the walkout was against the game’s rules.