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Okagbare of hope, Mikel as metaphor in plane Sunshine

By Paul Bassey
I start this way. On Saturday night I sat through a punishing ninety minutes as Sunshine Stars of Nigeria grabbed a valuable point away in Sousse, Tunisia against Etoile Du Sahel in the ongoing Orange CAF Champions league round robin stage.

In a release I made available to my colleagues last Wednesday I went down memory lane, how Sunshine boast superlative away form. I traced their run in the CAF Confederation Cup last year, and how they won away in Algeria and Cameroun and drew in Congo DR and Tunisia.

I also said that their second half performance against Esperance, gave Nigerians hope that all was not lost.

Saturday night in Tunisia, Sunshine survived a first half scare where they put all feet wrong ( Kudos to goalkeeper Ocheje ) to post a superlative second half performance that saw them coming close to victory but for woeful marksmanship in front of goal.

Now, the arithmetic. Lying third on the table, Sunshine Stars host ASO Chlef of Algeria in their next match on August 5. Victory will push them to four points just as Esperance is expected to get the better of Etoile in the Tunisian derby.

In the reverse fixture immediately after that, Sunshine will be guest to ASO Chlef as the Tunisians again tear each other apart.

If this happens, then Esperance will be run away winners with nine points leaving Sunshine to battle for the second position with Etoile, and given that Etoile were still coming to Ijebu Ode, advantage the Nigerians.

What a Sunshine of hope rekindled.

Talking about hope the other spelling of the word is ……Blessing Okagbare.

I am convinced that the founder of the modern Olympics Frenchman Baron Pierre De Coubertin is not resting easy, given what the Olympics have become.

As far as the French sports purist was concerned, the Olympics doctrine preached “joy in participation” unity amongst the youths of the world……amateurism.

Today the American Basketball team is in London. Not fair. Today athletes that do nothing but sport, professionals all, the Nadals, Djokovics and Federers of Tennis are their country’s flag bearers. Not fair.

Today, science is challenged as coaches seek to destroy the lives of their young athletes through the spiking of their systems with performance enhancing drugs all in a bid to achieve ephemeral glory.

So, what chance Nigeria? My answer, always, has nothing to do with patriotism. That given our perennial inconsistency in preparations, our only hope was going to be “Ajunwa like”, personal effort, a bolt out of the blue, one that happens when there will be no Nigerian around to hand you a flag for a victory lap.

That belief waxed strong last week. My wife came up to my room to tell me that a Nigerian had just won a 100 metres race at a grand prix. I looked at the TV and the live screening of the Aviva London Grand Prix in Crystal Palace was on, but I was quick to remind her that I get sad when I see Nigerians competing for the US, Great Britain ( here the number is frightening ) Canada, Netherlands, Norway…..( Okparaebo Ezinne is the Norwegian record holder in 100 metres with 11.13 seconds )

She insisted that she saw the Nigeria flag flashed against the lady and the first name was Blessing.

That must be Okagbare! I concluded. Yes it was Okagbare.

In her first heat she returned 10.99 seconds behind Shelley Ann Price of Jamaica who posted 10.93 seconds

The second heat was dominated by American girls, and did anybody give Blessing any chance? Of course it is now history that she won the race in a time of 11.01 seconds beating two Americans, including reigning world champion Carmelila Jeter to second and third place respectively while Ann Fraser Price came in a distant eight with 11.82 seconds.

Could this be a fluke?

Last Friday, Blessing returned to the tracks this time in Hercilis Monaco for the Diamond League and she dusted all opposition including Tiana Madisson and Jenebah Tarmoh of the USA to place first in a time of 10.96 seconds.

In athletics parlance, they call it “peaking” at the right time, going into the Olympics. What an apostle of hope.

I end this week by mov-ing a bit back in time to the declaration by J.J.Okocha that the Super Eagles need Mikel Obi as we campaign to return to the Nations Cup. That declaration did ruffle a few feathers as the media fed fat on it.

Trust Eagles handler Stephen Keshi to react. That Mikel and the others were still part of his plans. Not many believed him.

For me, Mikel Obi is just a metaphor to drive home the point that there are players out there, quality players who deserve a look in as Nigeria gets set to not only play and defeat Liberia but post a credible outing in the Nations Cup in South Africa in January. ( Less than six months away)

I will never be tired of telling my Central African story. As FIFA Match Commissioner for the Brazil world Cup qualifying match between Central Africa Republic and Botswana, I came across a Central African team whose average age was 20.

I met a team of young boys who were playing in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Israel, Norway….lesser leagues of the world but who brought their youth and enthusiasm to bear on the match running rings round their Botswana counterparts who they beat 2-0

Was I surprised that that same team ousted the mighty Pharaohs from the Nations Cup? I have had to bring in this story given the numerous enquiries I get regarding even the true age of our players in the domestic league.

The argument is that you can only hope, you can only develop, you can only build on youth, home or abroad.


Sincere wishes of God’s grace and favour, abundant health and mercies as Godwin Enakhena ( July 23) and Bimbo Adeola (July 25) add one more year to their illustrious sports reporting lives.


See you next week.


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