By Paul Bassey
On assumption of duties as Akwa United Chairman, I remember telling my team that our success in the league will depend on how many points we can garner at home.
That if I had my way we will not draw any match at home while we pick some points on the road.
We all agreed.
Things were moving fine until Warri Wolves came calling. Tried as we did, we could only pull a draw.
At the blast of referee Inoyo’s whistle, the silence that reigned at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium was so thick it could be cut with a knife. A draw at home was considered “ a disaster”
Then all hell was let loose as spectators and stakeholders tried to explain “ why we lost” at home. From the performance of the players to the coaches and the referee, “ the chairman “ was the recipient of tens of pieces of advice on ways to make sure that we never draw at home again.
Twenty minutes later, when the results of other matches started filtering in and five draws were recorded across the league, our draw received some degree of acceptability.
Friday, March 25 I could not catch a direct flight to Kaduna so I took a flight to Abuja and drove down for the all important clash against Egypt.
Let me not talk about security arrangements for the match and God’s grace in the disaster that was averted. The positive that I took away from Kaduna is that Nigerians are still crazy about the game of football and the support for their national team.
We did not have to buy tickets for the fans. For 200 or 500 naira, that stadium would still have been filled to the brim, but most importantly there are about three Nigerians in this country who are FIFA/CAF security Officers. Henceforth, their involvement in National team games should be considered non negotiable. Football security is different from policing or soldiering!
As early as 2 pm for a 5 pm match, the stadium was already filled beyond what we refer to in CAF and FIFA as Stadium Safe Capacity.
My oh my what a crowd….what enthusiasm as they trekked towards the stadium, looking forward to the match that was to make or mar the country’s chances in the next Cup of Nations in Gabon.
Then the match proper.
The team list did not make an initial meaning to me. It was Sia Sia’s call. He was the one that had interacted and trained with the boys and was expected to know who to start and who to substitute, if not, on paper I would have queried the benching of Iwobi and Moses.
The story of the Kaduna heat was relegated to the back ground as the match kicked off with the Eagles probing and searching for the all important goals that was to guarantee victory.
There was no faulting this team, not wholesale. This is a team that perhaps came too late in the day. I have not seen such a promising side in a long while. Despite the fact that it was a brand new team as it were, I was sure that the goal was going to come, sooner than later.
When it did, it was a reward for a team that had played better on the afternoon. Victor Moses could have iced the cake, but for a do or die Egyptian defender.
I was one of those that believed the job had been done. Was looking forward to tomorrow and the possibility of a draw in Alexander, at worst, when disaster struck!
Television replays have not helped me in establishing whether the goal was offside or not. What has been confirmed is that the goal was accepted and our task has become very Herculean.
Efe Ambrose? Yes he was not really in the game, yet for us to have held on that far and to let go was as painful as anything can be.
Draws are supposed to be complimentary. This draw was a disaster.
Since then, I have read about the possibility of us going to Alexander not only to pay them back in their own coins but doing one better.
I said to a friend it was the “ Nasarawa experience” the CAF preliminary round match when no one gave them a chance but they returned victorious from Senegal.
This team gives me hope. It inspires me. It will be painful if this team does not make it to Gabon. Accuse this team of lack of concentration, of not taking its chances…….but you cannot accuse it of not trying.
Coach Sia Sia and his colleagues have done well. It is not over until it is over.
Well done guys and good luck tomorrow.
Have to stop. Time to leave for the stadium. Am in Bauchi for a match against Wikki Tourist and this time, though we are going for a win, unlike the Super Eagles , a draw will be celebrated.
See you next week.