The Nigeria Football Federation, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, as well as many football fans around the globe have been sending congratulatory messages to a well-respected former Nigeria goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala, who attained the age of 70 on Monday, May 17, 2021.
In a statement released Monday, the NFF General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, praised the towering goaltender for his meritorious service to his fatherland by delivering his best anytime he turned out for both the senior men’s team (then known as Green Eagles) and Rangers International FC of Enugu.
“We all remember the heroic feats and unforgettable deeds of the great Emmanuel Okala. He served Nigeria to the best of his ability and we commend him for his patriotism, discipline, dedication and sense of duty. We wish him a happy Platinum anniversary celebration and many pray that he lives many, many more years in good health and in joy,” Mr Sanusi said in Abuja.
Okala, an imposing figure between the sticks at 6ft 5inches, emerged during an era in which Nigeria produced a long line of exceptional goalkeepers, including Inua Rigogo, Peter Fregene, Amusa Adisa, and Eyo Essien.
He earned his first cap in a friendly against Tanzania in Lagos that Nigeria won 3-2, and was in the team that won All-Africa Games football gold in Lagos in 1973, took bronze medals at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1978 and finished as runners-up at the All-Africa Games in Algiers four months later.
Okala was also in the Green Eagles’ squad that won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1980. He was named Africa’s best goalkeeper by the Africa Sports Journalists Union in 1975 and was in the Rangers FC squad that won the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup in 1977.
The Sports Minister on his Twitter handle wrote: Emmauel Okala @ 70! Congratulations! Happy birthday. One of the very best to ever man the goal posts for Nigeria. You are worth celebrating at 70 years over and over again. Your contribution to the growth of our football is as tall as your height. May you live longer!”
Emmauel Okala @ 70! Congratulations! Happy birthday. One of the very best to ever man the goal posts for Nigeria. You are worth celebrating at 70 years over and over again. Your contributions to the growth of our football is as tall as your height. May you live longer !
— Sunday Dare (@SundayDareSD) May 17, 2021
Prayers for Okala
A former teammate and longtime associate of Okala, Segun Odegbami, also congratulated the legend even as he asked for prayers on his behalf. He said: “Today marks the arrival of this gentle giant to the gates of the ‘Elders Club.’
“I ask all Nigerians to join me in congratulating and celebrating a gentleman, a humanitarian, a man of integrity and credibility, a true friend and my brother, as he turns 70 today.
“May this day mark the start of the best years of his life on earth, to be lived long, happily, healthily and in prosperity.”
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