By Paul  Bassey
I could not have missed that final match for anything.

I go back three years and the process of putting the coaches together by the Technical Committee. The effort of convincing  Nduka Ugbade to be part of the team. The difficulty in assembling the boys together in a country where mothers swear that their children are 14 years old, just to smuggle them into the team!

Then came the threat of the MRI Scan and the first ever test on African stage. Off we went, to Niger, Niamey for that very first match, September 8, 2012 and hammered the host 4-1 and came back to Calabar and walloped them 6-0.

I came back excited and went gaga, told all those who cared to listen that we had the future of Nigerian football in our hands. I said the combination of the coaching crew was as complimentary as it was near perfect. Who are those boys in this country that will whisper when an Nduka Ugbade or an Amuneke was talking?

Have they not been told that Manu Garba was a World Cup winner? So started a journey that ended in the African Championship in Morocco, after a four year absence from continental stage.  Tipped to win, we faltered at the last hurdle through penalties, going into the FIFA event as Vice Champions of Africa.

The team Statistician and Media Chief, Morankiyo Abodurin will confirm that this team played a total of 49 matches, won 44, drew 4 and lost only one in regulation time. Awesome…awesome. Their goals scoring prowess had never been in doubt, scoring 221 goals and conceding only 35!

I left for the UAE with the painful loss in the African Championship fresh in my mind. I left scared that in football, the best teams, don’t always win. How can football allow a team we beat 6-1 to share the same field with us?

Is there no head to head concoction that should automatically hand over the cup to us and allow the match to be a mere formality? The Mexicans, defending champions were waxing strong. After the Eaglets scare they had grown from strength to strength, eliminating power houses Brazil and Argentina in their wake.

As I sat there in Abu Dhabi, a lot of thoughts flowed throughout my mind. But I was reassured by the thousands of green white green on display. They say the Nigerian colours are dim. Last Friday, they shone like a million stars. NFF General Secretary Musa Amadu was awed. “ ….This could have been any stadium in Nigeria. Just look at the turn out “

I said to him that even in Nigeria, some venues may not attract the type of crowd we were seeing here. When it was time to sing the National Anthem, their voices rang out to high heavens as goose pimples of patriotism broke out all over my flesh.

Then the moment of truth as the match kicked off and the Mexicans went straight into business with evidence that their coach Raul Guttierez must have studied that ominous tape of the match again and again. In what Emmanuel Oyabunmi, protocol Head of the NFF described as Initial Gra Gra ( IGG ) the Mexican probed and probed. Alampasu started a counter in the 8th……then we struck. Drew first blood in the ninth.

The rest is now history. The cup is now in Nigeria.

I pray that when the boys are received today by Mr President the NFF will be remembered and appreciated for three years of hard work, friendly matches, campings, everything. I say this because I was in Aso Rock last time out when the Super Eagles were honoured and the Board members of the NFF did not even have seats allocated to them in what was supposed to be their show.

I was asked at the airport. “ ….This is not the first time. Why are you excited about this time” I said we should not go back. Nigerians know why the last times were not the best of times. This time is different. This time, there is a future.

Congratulations Nigeria.

See you next week, when we shall meet to talk about our World Cup qualification, by the grace of the Almighty God.

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