By Onochie Anibeze
Austin Eguavoen was the stand-in captain during most of the matches of Tunisia ’94. That was the last time Nigeria won the Nations Cup, the only other time being in 1980 when Nigeria hosted and won. Christian Chukwu was captain and also an assistant to Westerhof when they won in Tunisia.
“It’s always a special feeling to be in a big cup final,” Eguavoen said Saturday when we sought his views on the team Stephen Keshi will parade today in the Nations Cup final against Burkina Faso in South Africa.
He has tasted sweet victory and knows how it feels. Eguavoen was magnanimous enough to hand over the captain band to Keshi to lift the cup after Nigeria beat Zambia 2-1 in that final with two goals coming from Emmanuel Amuneke who is currently analyzing the Nations Cup for Al Jazeera Cable Television.
Eguavoen had to lead the Eagles in Tunisia because Keshi was not 100 per cent fit following an injury. As coach he also led the Eagles to a bronze medal at the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt. The same scene is playing out in South Africa where Vincent Enyeama has been wearing the captain band as team captain, Joseph Yobo, is not also 100 percent fit and now comes from the bench.
He may come in today in the last minutes if the Eagles are in the lead. Enyeama and the rest of the players would honour Yobo with the chance to lift the cup. Like it was for Keshi in 1994, it may be so for Yobo this year. He plays his last Nations Cup match today. What a magnificent way to end a journey if Eagles win. It is the last Nations Cup for the most capped Nigerian player. He will be capped 94 times.
“You’ll feel on top of the world when the referee’s whistle goes and you are champions,” Eguavoen continued.
“It’s such a special feeling. You dance, you sing and you remember all the loved ones who have supported you and you feel great that you did not let them down.”
And how does it feel to play in the final? “Players can’t wait for the game to start. They are full of expectations. Sometimes, for some people there’s some kind of tension, some kind of apprehension but the moment the game starts you get on it and if your first touch on the ball is good you just continue from there. For some, they are very confident all day and they can’t wait for the game to start. You are thinking about the game, the people of your country, all the fans, your coach and his support staff etc. Cup final is different. It is special.”
Eguavoen started by congratulating the team for getting this far. “I must first say congratulations. We have a team that grew during the competition. They picked up as the competition went on, apparently undermining their potential and only realizing that they can win the trophy after beating Ivory Coast. They played well in that match and that was the tonic. You could see that they further lifted their game against Mali. I expect them to lift their game further in the final. That’s the only way to win the Cup. And for them to do that, they must have 100 per cent concentration and play to win because you never know when to get to the final again. I wish them good luck.”