It was celebration galore across the length and breadth of Nigeria Wednesday as football-crazy fans poured into the streets to celebrate the Super Eagles’ destruction of the Eagles of Mali to zoom into the final of this year’s edition of the African Cup of Nations, the continent biggest football showpiece.
In the past years, there has been little or nothing to celebrate in Nigeria, what with the massive unemployment, deep corruption, widespread insecurity and broken infrastructure. So once the Super Eagles gave them something to cheer after a comprehensive demolition of Mali, citizens were just too pleased to seize the moment and bask in the euphoria of their team’s victory.
From Asaba to Kano, Lagos to Calabar , Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, fans danced, sang, rejoiced and thumped their chests in appreciation of their Nigerianness.
It is a rare feeling in Nigeria, one of the world’s resource-rich countries but which, ironically leave majority of its citizens wallowing in poverty, with more than 70 per cent living on less than a dollar a day. Most of the country’s oil wealth has been stolen by its deeply corrupt elite.
But on Wednesday, citizens temporarily forgot their frustrations. In Asaba, fans, who watched the match at the Uduaghan viewing centre at the Inter Baw Roundabout, took to the streets as soon as the referee blew the final whistle, chanting solidarity songs.
They were overwhelmed with joy as the Super Eagles’ trounced Mali 4-1 to book a place in their first ever final since 2000 when they lost to Cameroon at home.
Some of the fans, who spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), described the match as “the final before the final’’.
A fan, Mohammed Sadiq told NAN that Saturday’s final would be a walk over for the Super Eagles, adding that Burkina Faso match, be no match for Nigeria.
“I really did not have confidence in the Super Eagles in their early matches, and I must say that it was after the match with Cote d’Ivoire that my confidence was restored somehow.
“But this evening, the Super Eagles showed great skill and strength in the way they played; the Malians were really not a challenge to them,’’ sadiq said.
Emmanuel Mordi, Chairman of the Delta State University chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), said he was confident that with Wednesday’s victory, the Super Eagles would clinch the cup.
“In fact, we are coming with the cup, there is no doubt about that.”
In Bauchi, it’s unlimited hugging and dancing
Football fans in Bauchi celebrated the 4-1 victory over Mali in style, dancing and chanting victory songs, even at half time.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in some Viewing Centres in the Bauchi metropolis, the fans were so elated that they hugged each other, regardless of ethnic or religious background.
“I can not remember the last time three goals were scored in the first 45 minutes of play at the semi-final stage of the African Cup of Nations. I am not sure it ever happened,” Ibrahim Bali, one of the fans, said.
Another fan, Musa Dodo, praised the technical skills displayed by the Super Eagles, adding that the defence was not as porous as it had always been, just as the attack was quick and sharp.
Meanwhile, most viewing centres in Bauchi, reduced their charges by 30 per cent for the match, to enable as many people as possible to watch.
Ahmed Sani, Manager of Nanee Viewing Centre, the largest viewing centre in the Bauchi metropolis, told NAN than their charges were reduced as a mark of patriotism.
“The fee here is N70, but I charged N50 today. Operators of other centres did the same thing. If we cannot go to South Africa to cheer the Eagles, we should at least give others the opportunity to watch the team,” he said.
Ahmed Raboji, Manager of another centre, told NAN that prominent personalities preferred watching the match in the viewing centres because of the fun involved.
“Some of them have DSTV and all sorts of facilities in their homes but they booked for seats in the viewing centres because they wanted to be part of the fun associated with watching in the midst of fans,” he said.
NAN also observed that armed policemen were posted to the Viewing Centres to provide security for the viewers.
Jubilant Gov. Isa Yuguda heads to South Africa for final
After the match Wednesday, Gov. Isa Yuguda of Bauchi has directed the re-scheduling of his engagements to enable him to watch Sunday’s 2013 AFCON final match in South Africa.
Speaking shortly after the encounter, the governor said he was very optimistic that the coveted continental trophy was “on its way back to Nigeria, after a long while”.
“The match reminds me of the good old days of football in Nigeria. Those days are being re-enacted. It will be very difficult stopping the trophy from coming to Nigeria,” he said.
The governor, who watched the match in his office, explained that the re-scheduling of his engagements would enable him to travel to South Africa for the tournament’s final match on Sunday.
He commended the resilience of the players and the coaching crew, led by Stephen Keshi, urging them not to relent until the cup returned to the country.
For Abuja fans, Keshi is truly the “Big Boss”
As they celebrate, football fans in Abuja on Wednesday declared that Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles’ Head Coach was truly the “Big Boss’’ of Nigerian football.
The fans spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) after the Super Eagles’ defeated their Malian counterparts 4-1, to book a final ticket at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
The players were also given various nicknames by the fans, who were impressed by the team’s performance.
While some called Vincent Enyeama, the Eagles’ goalkeeper, a “magnate” others described Ahmed Musa as “Okada”.
They said the tournament was becoming more interesting following the Super Eagles’ steady progress in the continental championship.
Henry David, a football enthusiast, who watched the game at Quality Link Park and Gardens at Wuse Zone 7, Abuja, said Keshi had earned a place in the hearts of many Nigerians.
David said the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should forget the talk about a foreign coach, as Keshi had emerged as the messiah of Nigerian football.
He urged the NFA not to relent in motivating the team, as any attempt to shortchange them of their match bonuses could ruin the nation’s chances of winning the AFCON 2013 trophy.
Mark Deke, another fan, said Keshi was a wonderful coach that needed to be encouraged.
Deke said the Nigerians he knew would castigate a coach if he fails to perform, but it has been a different situation since Keshi took over.
He said the call from President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday was a great motivation for the players.
Another fan, Daniel Obalabo, said Keshi was just lucky at the ongoing Nations Cup, stressing that he was not a good coach but had only tried to blend the home-based and foreign players together.
Obalabo blamed the failure of past national team coaches on the NFA, saying that the association always frustrated coaches that would not dance to it tune.
“I feel Keshi is just lucky. He is not a good tactician; we have had some good coaches in the past that could not qualify the team because the NFA frustrated them when they refused to play along,’’ he said.
Salihu Mohammed, a football enthusiast said Nigeria now had a team that could go places.
“I know we will lift the trophy. I believed in this team when tey were leaving for South Africa because the problem the previous team used to have was political and not professional,’’ he said.
According to Emmanuel Okoye, a businessman, “the scoreline of the match was unbelievable; it’s like a dream to me.
“I thought it was going to be a very difficult game. It actually started that way, but the boys proved themselves at last.
“It was indeed a massacre; it was highly entertaining and we are very delighted,” Okoye said.
Francis Ayatse, a journalist, said expectations had been very high and nobody gave Nigeria a chance.
“I think the whole world now knows why we call our Eagles’ Super; we were not disappointed at all and we are very proud to be Nigerians,’’ he added.
Offa Babatunde, a student, in his reaction, said: “I am happy Nigeria won this match. It has now been proved that Mali is not a team that can play Nigeria.’’
“In fact, I initially predicted four zero. I am disappointed we couldn’t keep a clean sheet,’’ Babatunde noted.
Another football fan, Abdulrazaq Sanni, said: “ I never expected it was going to be like this.
“But we really thank God that at last we have scaled through to the final. I never believed the Super Eagles could fly as high when they were leaving Nigeria for the Nations Cup.
“It is just happening like a miracle now. My advice to them is to hold their heads up and do what people like us didn’t believe they could do, which is lifting the trophy,’’ Sanni said.
A few minutes after the end of the match, the minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala posted a tweet congratulating the Super Eagles.
She said: “Congratulations to our wonderful Super Eagles! You have soared and shown how great we can be as a nation. We love you.
“God bless you as you continue towards the trophy. Maintain your focus and humility,’’ she tweeted.
Pat Utomi, a former presidential aspirant and Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice President for Africa at the World Bank, also congratulated the team on tweeter.
Utomi said the victory was a birthday gift for him, while Ezekwesili said the message of the victory to leaders is “it takes effort and hard work to win.”