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Afcon memories - part 1


I have to make a confession. I love football. I really do. This is partially because of the memories from watching many editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.

I have very limited memories of the '78 edition in Ghana, just hazy pictures of Odegbami taking liberties with the Ghanaian defenders in that group game that ended in a draw. At one point he had the ball in the opponents’ half, dribbled his way backwards and passed the ball to Keeper Okala in the Nigerian goal.

I also remember the Ghanaian TV commentator always pronouncing the Nigerian left winger, Adokiye Amiesimaka, as "Adokoye". I have searched high and low for videos from that tournament without any luck. Anyone who can help should please contact me.

The '80 edition was brilliant. I swear I can still remember the radio jingle advertising the tournament and the feeling it used to elicit inside of me. The carnival atmosphere in Lagos for the two weeks was never matched again for me throughout my childhood.

I saw all the matches on TV, even if I missed most of the goalless draw with Ivory Coast as my mum insisted I had to do some of my homework DURING the match! I am sure she will be shocked to know I still remember that.

Until Rashidi Yekini's appearance in the national team, there was not any Nigerian footballer to touch Segun Odegbami when it came to big matches. That final against Algeria was awesome. The competition introduced us to an emerging Algerian side that was absolutely brilliant.

I have always felt it criminal that Nigeria has won only two titles but it is even more criminal that Algeria had to wait till they hosted in '90 to win it. The Desert Warriors of the early and middle '80s should have won at least one Afcon. It is absolutely astonishing that wonderfully talented footballers like Lakhdar Belloumi, Assad Sallah, Bensaoula, Koici Moustapha, Merzekane and keeper Cerbah have no African title.

After Nigeria had beaten them in that final in Lagos they made sure Nigeria paid for it for many years after. To be fair, they have been a bit unlucky in that in '82 they came up against a powerful Ghanaian side, powered by George Alhassan's goals and the promptings of Isaac Paha in midfield, in the semifinal, losing 2-3 to the eventual winners.

The '84 competition was memorable for the emergence of Cameroon as an immovable force for years in African football. It also showed how organisation and motivation can take an unfancied team far. I was a teenager and so in my mind I had cracked the understanding of the game. Yep. Exactly.

I have great memories of Yousouf Fofana's brilliantly improvised free-kick in the hosts’ 3-0 opening game victory over hapless Togo. I can still see in my mind's eye the gleeful celebration of the young man who had just joined Monaco and was the pin up for the competition. The joy of the Ivorians did not last very long though as they were in really tough group. They were brutally brushed aside by Cameroon in the final group game in a pretty one-sided affair that had me in awe that night.

After a remarkably wretched attempt at defending the trophy two years earlier, Nigeria under Onigbinde had regrouped with emphasis on youth team graduates, allying with the experience of Muda Lawal, Sunday Eboigbe, Keeper Peter Rufai and former winner Henry Nwosu.

Many Nigerians did not hold out hope in the opening game against holders Ghana but, despite Opoku Nti cancelling out Henry Nwosu's opening goal with a textbook header, Chibuzor Ehilegbu curled in a brilliant winner. It was bliss to beat our old foes again.

Surprisingly, the team improved under the powerful leadership of Stephen Keshi and got to the final. The surprise was in defeating Egypt in a pulsating semifinal that swung many ways. The Egyptians took advantage of strangely inept goal-keeping from normally confident Rufai to plunder two quick goals in the first 30 minutes.

In the last minute of the first half, a brilliant run by Ehilegbu was halted unfairly in the box. Keshi stepped up, smashed the ball into the post but was on hand to tuck in the rebound. Game on.

In the second half, Egypt somehow failed to press home their clearly superior technique and tactical advantage. With five minutes left, Keshi lofted a ball deep into the Egyptian half. Keeper el-Blattal hesitated. Bala Ali, on as a sub, headed the ball over the stranded keeper. The Green Eagles were level. Back from the dead.

My teenage heart was in danger of giving up. Extra time produced no further goals Nigeria went through on penalties.

In all honesty, the final was a mismatch. Onigbinde tried to throw the Cameroonians a curve ball with the introduction of left winger James Etokebe for his first start of the competition. He was in for the injured Ehilegbu.

Humphrey Edobor moved inside as a midfielder and Henry Nwosu as a central striker. Muda Lawal gave Nigeria an early lead after Bell had spilled Etokebe's cross shot, but that was as good as it got for Nigeria.

With the referee’s complicity, Cameroon proceeded to absolutely batter the Nigerians physically, mentally and with goals. Theophilus Abega, Arantes M'bida and Roger Miller had too much power, technique and experience for Nigeria and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in the end. They were the best team in the competition by far.

I will continue next week with more of my Afcon memories. Please share some of your memories here with me too.

You can always join me on Twitter: @CalvinEmeka


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