By Paul Bassey
Call it poetic justice, call it what you will, it had to be Osaze.
The fair skinned boy of a Nigerian father and Russian mother had so much to prove and on Saturday, fate gave him a helping hand. He defended, attacked,sprayed passes and struck at will, roving all over the place to the delight of his country men and women.
News had come that the out of favour player was not having it easy at the camp and some conclusions were that he may not even start the match. When he lined out, he knew he had to prove himself and he did just that.
At 32, with 67 caps to his credit, he knows this may be his last World Cup and his 12th goal for national team Saturday, may just be his most important on a night his country needed to win at all cost
The story of Osaze is the story of Michael Babatunde. “ ……how could Coach Keshi field him in a match like this? With unheralded appearances at U -17 and U-20 levels, despite his 7 caps at senior level, the Ukraine based Babatunde is yet to taste action at competitive level, yet he excelled. So much confidence on the shoulders of the 21 year old. He held the ball tenaciously, probed deeply, and when he released those bullets, they were telling, causing Bosnian keeper Bergovich to draw on his wealth of experience for a save.
Emmanuel Emenike, the pre tournament goal scoring hope of a nation. Heavily built, strong, determined and never say die. Ask the Bosnian skipper Emir Spahic who was at the receiving end of Emenike’s rampage ….thrice he went down exhausted, thrice he stood up, giving the Europeans so much headache with his speed and drive, one of which led to the tailor made pass that Osaze pounced on for the redeeming goal.
Ageing skipper Joseph Yobo, forced to start matches. The leader we needed on the field, spurred, revitalized. Leading by dogged example.
A non descript defence line, one that had been battered and decimated, necessitating the fielding of second choices, yet on Saturday, it was not about experience, it was determination, the will to succeed, grit and tenacity, helped by midfielders and attackers who defended in numbers as Bosnia lined out a fearful killer squad made up of Besic, Dzeko, Pjanic, Susic and Ibisevic.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama? The Trojan, last man of defence, lion hearted, saviour, dependable as ever.
Glory boys, they came out smoking, lions on the prowl. They wore their colours on their hearts and fought like wounded bulls. Endangered species, determined not to be forced to extinction…..
Coach Stephen Keshi, time to smile again. History maker, first Nigerian coach to win a world cup match, the one to break a sixteen year old jinx and counting. Battered, pummeled, speared for what Nigerians considered a woeful showing against Iran, boxed to a corner, he jabbed, fought back and emerged on the shoulders of victory chanting Nigerians, carried aloft with pride, man of the moment.
Nigerians, dented ego, pride restored. Joy in the land as referee Peter Oleary of New Zealand blew the final whistle. God bless him and his compatriots real good.
Come to think of it, Did Madam Emah Ebong in Uyo stay up late till 1 am just to watch the match? The excited call of Wellington Johnson from the United States. The power, uniting power of football. The calls, “ I told you so messages” Yes, success they say has many Nigerians. But I will not deny Susan Eshiett who even when Iran had made us look so ordinary insisted that we were going to make it to the semi final
I acknowledge Reverend Ben Eragbai of Divine Appointment Ministry International who said to me “….don’t worry sir, we will beat Bosnia and qualify. Even Argentina will find us difficult to beat…..”
Peterside Idah, John Fashanu, belief, positivity, the can do spirit of Nigerians.
Argentina provided the fuel. After struggling to beat Iran, there were moments of second thoughts. So Iran was not that “suya” that we thought they were. Then of course the arithmetic of it. Now that Argentina had beaten Iran, all that we needed to have one leg in the second round was victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina and the boys went for it.
In a World Cup where African countries have generated mixed feelings as to their tactical indiscipline on and off the field, broke many a hearts by uncomplimentary results, Saturday was a breath of fresh air.
First, Black Stars of Ghana with a five star performance against the great German machine team, one that was worth maximum points, yet.
Then came the Super Eagles of Nigeria against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Breath taking match, full of action, moving from one end of the field to the other. While the Europeans struggled not to go down without a fight, the Africans held on for dear life.
It was déjà vue, South Africa all over again, a team that started by wobbling and fumbling, drawing wide spread criticsm by its hapless showing against Iran. A team that saw itself on the edge, the brink of elimination, a team that responded positively displaying on world stage what has been commonly referred to as Nigerian spirit.
Five world cup appearances, nothing to show for it. Now we can walk with our heads held high. Those Brazilians who Linus Mba told me love Nigerians can continue to hold the faith “Nijeria….Nijeria…..” yes support us they must, in a group that includes their arch rivals Argentina.
In churches yesterday, God was given the glory. Religious leaders paused their sermons to celebrate, forgiving sleepy eyes and punctuating exhortations to enable the saints go back home and relive the joy of a nation.
However, while we can afford to continue celebrating, the team must realize that though a battle has been won, the war is still on. An emphatic victory by Iran over an eliminated Bosnia can only require a positive result from us against Argentina. With what we saw on Saturday, who says Argentina will not be conquered?
Let the prayers not cease.
See you next week.