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Tribute to Okey Isima

As Nigerians still bask in the euphoria of a third Afcon win, there is sad news of the death of a former Afcon winner, Okey Isima.

His death makes him the fifth member of the starting 11 that beat Algeria on March 22 1980, in Lagos, to claim Nigeria's first win. The former left-back joins keeper Best Ogedegbe, centre-back Tunde Bamidele, midfielder Alloy Atuegbu and the final goal scorer on that glorious sunny afternoon Muda Lawal in the Nigerian heavenly squad.

Okey Isima, who used to reside in the US, died at a private hospital in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Isima represented Nigeria at the '80 and '82 Afcon tournaments and also at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He was a regular of Enugu Rangers and was in the team that won a domestic double in 1981, playing alongside Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Okwuchukwu Obiora and young Ben Okorogu.

In October of 1981, during Nigeria's ultimately futile campaign to qualify for the 1982 World Cup, Algeria came to Lagos and totally destroyed Nigeria 2-0. For the second leg all manners of things were advanced for Nigeria to overturn the first leg deficit.

The most incredible was from a then famous but self-styled para-psychologist Prof Gabriel Okunzua, who claimed that "Nigeria would win if Isima was made captain for that second-leg in Algeria". The then NFA leadership ignored the professor and Muda Lawal was captain for the match in which Nigeria lost 2-1. Okey Isima did score Nigeria's only goal to equalise before a Felix Owolabi mistake let in Madjer for the winner.

As a left-back he was never shy in going froward to join his winger and was rewarded with the winner in the Afcon '80 final group game against Egypt. That goal ensured Nigeria topped the group and stayed in Lagos while Egypt finished runners-up and went to Ibadan to play Algeria.

It is incredible that so many of that team have already died and all under the age of 70. May his soul rest in peace.

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