BY JACOB AJOM
When Sunday Mba’s 40th minute strike against Burkina Faso sailed in as Nigeria’s only goal in the final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, little did the players realise the importance of that goal. It did not only win the match for Nigeria but was also enough to end the country’s 19 year wait for the African soccer diadem.
The victory has turned out to be a defining chapter in the lives of all those associated with it – the players, coaches, the NFF and Nigeria as a country.
An appreciative country rose to salute the victorious team when they arrived from South Africa. “It was great,” Sylvanus Okpala, Super Eagles assistant coach said. “The reception has been overwhelming. It has been bigger than those of 1980 and 1994 when Nigeria won the title.”
Okpala said “we all are overwhelmed by the degree of appreciation shown by Nigerians, starting with the President. Even the boys (players) did not realise the magnitude of what they had achieved until we touched down at the NnamdiAzikiweInternationalAirport, Abuja. School children, adults lining up the streets to welcome us. It has been great.”
Okpala who was part of the 1980 Nations Cup winning team said, “this year’s victory was significant in many ways. It was won by an entirely Nigerian technical crew that believed a lot in its team. We won it after a 19 year wait.
“As for me, it is special because I have also won the cup as a player and a coach. I am overwhelmed.”
Okpala said the degree of appreciation would only inspire the team and officials to achieve more. “We have to deliver the World Cup ticket, and go ahead to do well in the World Cup proper. We will work towards that.”