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Football | Afcon

Sunday Mba © Backpagepics

The rise of 'Ogbuenyi' Mba



The phenomenal turnaround that Nigerian International, Sunday Mba, has experienced in the last 12 months is the stuff of which fairy tales are made.

Mba wasn’t one of the fans favourites on the eve of the competition, but the midfielder evolved into a national hero on Sunday, February 3, 2013, when his brilliant goal sent star-studded Cote d’Ivoire out of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Born on a Sunday, Mba chose a bright Sunday in Rustenburg, South Africa, to write his name in Afcon folklore.

Sunday’s historic goal makes him the first player from Nigeria's domestic league to score at the Afcon since Algiers ’90.

Back in 1990, former coach Clemens Westerhof left several big names from Europe including current manager, Stephen Keshi and opted for more players from the domestic league.

Rashidi Yekini, Andrew Uwe and Ademola Adesina were the only Europe based players in the team and the Nigerian based duo of Emmanuel Okocha (Enugu Rangers) and Uche Okechukwu (Iwuanyanwu Nationale) put their names in the scoresheet.

Mba’s goal was made in heaven and scored in a superb form. Indeed, there are goals and there are good goals.

But this was a great goal scored after the midfielder seized control of the ball a few metres inside the Ivorian half and ghosted past several markers before pulling the trigger at the edge of the box.

Football fans will continue to savour the goal which wrecked the ambition of the Didier Drogba inspired side. Ogbuenyi in Ibo where Mba is from means Elephant slayer and thats what fans are now calling him.

The story did not end there as the match day performance of the Nigeria Premier League star earned him the Orange Man-of-The-Match on a day several big names from different European clubs were also on duty.

Mba’s effort earned him applause from former Nigerian International, Henry Nwosu, who won the Afcon in 1980.

“Mba’s goal reminds me of Samuel Okwaraji’s goal at the Maroc ’88 Afcon. The moment he got the ball and moved past the first Ivorian, I told my friends he was heading for goal,” Nwosu said to supersport.com.

It’s no surprise that Mba’s former team, Warri Wolves are contesting his transfer to rivals, Enugu Rangers.

From Boy to Man

It’s been a long journey to the top for Mba who was a member of Nigeria’s Under17 team to the 2005 Africa Under17 Championship, in Gambia.

The team under Godwin Izilien, finished third in the group stage and failed to make it to the World Cup.

Turkey based Simon Zenke was also a member of that squad.

Unlike, Zenke, Mba has remained in Nigeria since the Under17 championship and wasn’t even considered for two years later when Nigeria’s Under20 team campaigned at the African Youth Championship (AYC) in the Republic of Congo and the World Youth Championship (WYC), in Canada.

Mba was no where near the national team when players in the league were assembled for the West Africa Football Union (Wafu) Cup twice and was also ignored when the Eagles contested for the CHAN qualifiers.

Club Career

Mba has played for Enyimba, Enugu Rangers, Dolphins and Wolves.

The NPL star is presently a subject of debate between Wolves and Rangers.

Mba was in the Rangers squad that finished fourth during the 2007 Super Four contest.

Tough road to Afcon 2013

Mba’s journey to the Afcon started in January 2012, when he was part of the Super Eagles squad composed of players in the domestic league, that earned a respectable goalless draw against an Angola side that has headed for the Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

From Abuja, the team headed for Liberia, where Mba’s brace earned Nigeria 2-0 victory over their hosts.

Interestingly, he was left out of qualifiers, but returned to the national camp and against all odds earned a place in Nigeria’s Afcon squad.

The moment Stephen Keshi announced Mba and five others (Godfrey Oboabona, Chigozie Agbim, Azubuike Egwekwe, Ejike Uzoenyi and Gabriel Reuben) in the domestic league for the Afcon, critics went to town questioning the rationale for their selection.

Mba has been consistent since his Afcon debut against Ethiopia and it appears Real Betis’ Nosa Igiebor may spend more time on the bench.

After all, nobody changes a winning team.

Wednesday’s semi-finals will certainly be another opportunity to see Mba on duty again, but that goal has since announced him to the football world.

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