By MADUABUCHI KALU
Former international midfielder and Assistant Coach of the Super Eagles, Sylvanus Okpala, has expressed disappointment over the comments credited to some of his former team-mates in the national team to the effect that the 2-2 draw Eagles played against the Lone Stars of Liberia penultimate Saturday in the first leg of the final leg of the Nations Cup qualifier in Monrovia, was nothing to write home about.
The former Green Eagles and Enugu Rangers’ midfielder known as ‘Quick Silver’ because of his swiftness on the pitch during his playing days, was disappointed that those he thought would tell Nigerians the truth, were those that go about misinforming the public by insinuating that the Eagles ought to have mauled the Lone Stars in Liberia.
He recalled that in 1979, after leaving secondary school at the age of 19 and having captained the Flying Eagles, he was called to the senior national team to join the like of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amasiemaka, the late Mudashiru Lawal, the incumbent DG of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Dr Patrick Ekeji, Henry Nwosu, Emmanuel Okala and others, for a Nations’ Cup qualifier against Liberia, and the then Green Eagles drew 2-2 with the Lone Stars. He noted that those that played the match were big names in African football, but they could not beat Liberia in that encounter.
He, however, noted that Nigeria went ahead to qualify and won the Nations Cup in 1980 on home soil. He was of the opinion that those who were criticising the recent encounter in Liberia were not telling Nigerians the truth in the history of football between the two West African countries. “I would like to set the records straight by saying that those who are criticising the 2-2 draw that the Eagles played with the Lone Stars of Liberia seem to have short memories about Nigeria’s football history with Liberia.
I am more disappointed that some of my colleagues like Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amasiemaka and others who ought to have told Nigerians the truth, are the ones misinforming the populace. I wouldn’t want to join issues with anybody, but to put the records straight,” Okpala began.
“Liberia has never been a pushover in African football. People should go to the record books and check the history of football encounters between Nigeria and Liberia to find out if it had ever been easy for us playing Liberia. “In 1979, immediately I left secondary school, I was called to the national team, having captained the Flying Eagles, for a Nations Cup qualifier against Liberia. I joined the like of Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amasiemaka, the late Mudashiru Lawal, Dr Patrick Ekeji, Emmanuel Okala and a host of others and in that encounter.
At the end, we played 2-2 draw with them despite parading the then big names in African football. Just like we have it now, then we were also building a Nations Cup team. Even after the match, all of us agreed that Liberia would have beaten us 5-2 if not for the grace of God because it was obvious that they had a better team. “However, we qualified at the end and went ahead to win the 1980 Nations Cup, which Nigeria hosted in Lagos.
So, like it was in the past, despite the recent draw, I am optimistic that Nigeria will still qualify for the Nations Cup next year. We are building a new team and since we started, we have never lost any competitive match, which is a plus to the team. “Segun Odegbami was the captain of the Green Eagles in 1981 when we played Liberia again and came out with a goalless draw. In 2001, despite parading world-class players like Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Celestine Babayaro, Sunday Oliseh, Julius Aghahowa and others, Liberia defeated us and nearly prevented Nigeria from going to the World Cup in Japan/Korea 2002 if not for the defeat they suffered in the hands of Ghana, who played the spoiler.
The Black Stars were sure they would not go to the World Cup and so, wanted to prevent other nations on their way from going also. “People argued that Liberia had George Weah, but a tree they say, does not make a forest. If Liberia had no good players, there was no way Weah would have played well. Right from time, Liberia has been producing big names in African football. The impression I want to correct is that Liberia is ordinary team and has never been.
The truth is that right from time, Liberia had always had a good team. “I am not fighting anybody, I only trying to put the records straight, since Nigeria has been playing Liberia, Nigeria has never defeated Liberia at home. It is only this present crop of technical crew that broke that jinx when we used totally home-based players to beat them 2-0 in Monrovia about four or five months ago. Therefore, I see no reason those that suppose to tell Nigerians the truth about the football rivalry between the two countries should be insinuating that Eagles ought to have mauled the Lone Stars in Monrovia.
“In that encounter, we created more opportunities than they did. We would have beaten them with more goals if we had used the opportunities that we had. We had about four one-on-one opportunities with the goalkeeper but we failed to utilise the opportunities,” he said. He explained that he should not be misinterpreted by trying to put the records straight, saying that the technical crew was not happy that Liberia got equaliser at the dying minutes of the encounter, but just want to put the records straight, which is that Liberia is not a pushover team in Africa but can be in the world as it has never qualified for the World Cup.
He assured Nigerians that Eagles would qualify for the CAF Orange Nations Cup tagged South Africa 2013 despite the draw, just like the then Green Eagles did in 1979, when Liberia defeated them but later qualified and went ahead to win the 1980 Nations Cup.