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win

It is not over until you win

Life is like a football match. We win some, we lose some. The beautiful thing about football is that it gives players an amazing opportunity to correct their mistakes. It is a 90 minutes game, where there is provision for extra time.

I have seen teams that started so badly but ended up winning even in extra time. It is a game where a few seconds can determine the outcome of a game. It is rare to see football players giving up on a game. They keep chasing and fighting until the referee blows the final whistle.

I watched a local football match at a school playing ground. As I sat down, I asked one of the boys what the score was. With a smile, he replied; “They are leading us 3-0”

And to be honest, he never looked like someone who was discouraged with the score. I asked him why he didn’t sound discouraged?  “Discouraged?” the boy asked with a puzzled look.

Why should I be discouraged when the referee has not blown the final whistle. I have confidence in the team and our manager; we shall win this game. it was one of the most inspiring words I heard from such a young boy. He should be around 14 or 15 years.

Truly, the match ended 5-4 in favor of the boy’s team. He waved at me gently, with a beautiful smile as he left; I was amazed, mouth wide open; Such confidence; Such awesome positivity. It was a turning point in my view about life.

As I got back home that night, his question kept coming back to me – “Why should I be discouraged when the referee has not blown the final whistle”

Life is like a football game. Why be discouraged, when there is still life. Why should I be discouraged when the final whistle has not sounded?

The truth is that many people blow the final whistle themselves. The desire to win isn’t there. They are defeated, even before the referee blows the whistle for the game to commence.

But as long as there is life, nothing is impossible and it is never too late for you.

Half time is not full time. There are still 45 minutes left, and games have been won in 10 seconds, left of extra time. On the 13th of May 2012, Manchester City made history when they won the Premier League title for the first time in their history.

It was a game where everyone expected them to win against Queens Park Rangers. Pablo Zabaleta gave City an early lead in the first half, and everyone was already in celebration mood at the Etihad. Unfortunately, Djibril Cisse of QPR capitalized on an error by defender Joleon Lescot to equalize for QPR.

Things turned from bad to worse when Jamie Mackie headed QPR into a 2-1 lead with time running out. With the game going into extra time, Manchester United had already defeated Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and was poised to be crowned champions.

It was a nervous time for fans who were watching in shock as the title was slipping away from the grasp of Manchester City. Five minutes of extra time and City had a corner kick quickly taken by David Silva. Edin Dzeko rose highest to head in the equalizer.

Two minutes before the extra time was up, Mario Balotelli stumbled in the QPR penalty area, but still managed to make a pass to Sergio Aguero. The City talisman did the incredible and scored the winner.

It was a lesson I had come to learn. Life gives us opportunities even when all hope seems lost. As individuals,  we must never give up until we win. Don’t blow the final whistle yourself.

The impact of voodoo in modern-day football

The impact of voodoo in modern-day football

Voodoo which can also be described as juju in Africa has been known to exist for ages within the African continent. It can also be described as Black magic and is very popular in the Caribbean. Voodoo is closely linked with evil spirits and other associated demonic agents. Voodoo has gained so much popularity that it is secretly practiced in the middle east, Asia, Europe, and America.

Its history can be traced to the 16th century, with so many variations to its practice in several countries, which has created a lot of variation in its mood of operation. The emphasis, however, has always been the ability to use Black magic to manipulate the outcome of events and create fear in the heart of those who cross paths with its devotees.

Football has always been a game that is globally watched with passion. The urge to win at all costs has always been a motivating factor among players of clubs, especially in countries where football is followed religiously.

Passionate supporters have been seen with animals like goat, pigeons, cock, eagle, black cats, and owl. These are not usually carried to the stadium ground for fun but are used as contact points for wielding magic spell on the opponent. Some teams have been known to patronize Marabout or Black magic priests before games. Some of these marabouts have even followed their team to major tournaments.

There have been reports of killing of goats and the blood is then spilled around the dressing room of opposing teams. This is a way of creating fear, panic, and a spell on the opposition. Whether they work or not is a subject for debate. Giovanni Trapattoni, for example, has been known to have sprinkled ‘holy water’ on the field when he was in charge of the Azzurri’s (Italian National team).

Players have been known to go for specific ritual and spiritual cleansing as a way of fortifying themselves before crucial games. Some have been known to even tie charms around their waist and wear armbands sprinkled black magic. Modern culture has gradually phased out some of these practices, but they still exist in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Togo have been known to display traces of voodoo or Black magic during League matches or even international tournaments. As far back as 1975 for example, Cameroonian goalkeeper with local club side Aigles of Nkongsamba entered the football pitch with a live Eagle during a local league game with local rivals Canon Yaunde. It was a scary moment for the opposition players who protested to the center referee before the Eagle was subsequently removed from the pitch.

Fast forward to 1991, and in a game between Diamond of Yaounde and Caiman Doula, a huge hawk flew into the pitch and perched on the goalpost of Caiman FC. All attempts to drive the hawk away proved abortive. People believed it was the handiwork of Black magic.

The Chipolopolo of Zambia were surprised winners of the 2012 African cup of Nations. They won against a star-studded Ivory Coast side 8-7 on penalties. So many people, however, believed that the secret of their success was tied down to the use of voodoo.

There have been stories of players using black magic on their fellow teammates before major tournaments so they can be picked ahead of their teammates. An incident I would never forget in a hurry was that of one of Nigeria’s most talented goalkeepers at the FIFA U-16 World Championship held in Scotland in 1989.

Andrew AIKHUOMOGBE was so good that he was invited to the Super Eagles team three years later, for the Senegal 1992 African Nations Cup, but he had to leave the Super Eagles camp after his hands got swollen few days before the final selection was to be made. To date, the origin of that freak incident is still fresh and perhaps it was a way to ensure he never got selected for the National team.

Superstition about the use of black magic is so rampant in Africa, that before big derbies involving local club sides, players don’t shake hands for fear of been affected by voodoo or Black magic. In one of the most bizarre sporting moments of 2002, The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono was arrested by riot police for allegedly using “black magic”, before the African Cup of Nations semi-final against Mali, which Cameroon eventually won 3–0 win.

Leicester City were surprise champions of the English Premier League in 2016, but their victory was alleged o have been aided by Buddhist monks who were always around during the team home games. The monks were given free access to the players dressing rooms were they were given special amulets that have been consecrated in Buddhist bowls.

The actual impact of voodoo on football may always elicit controversy and doubt, as long as Zaire who represented Africa in the 1974 FIFA World Cup and got walloped 9-0 by Yugoslavia, 3-0 by Brazil and 2-0 by Scotland without scoring any goal. They took along a Voodoo priest to help boost their chances. 

Ahmed Musa ultimate moment at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Ahmed Musa ultimate moment at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Humble beginning

Ahmed Musa made his name with Kano Pillars in the Nigeria Professional League. There he set a new highest goal scorer record with 18 goals in the 2009/2010 football season. He was usually deployed in the wing or as the main striker in both club and country. Blessed with a blistering pace, he like every other player had dreams of playing in the FIFA World Cup.

That dream was actualized in 2011, as he was selected to represent Nigeria at the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup held in Colombia. It was a tournament that saw the player who was then in the books of VVV Venlo of the Netherlands scoring 3 goals in Nigeria’s first three group games.

His meteoric rise in football was soon noticed by CSKA of Russia who signed him for an undisclosed fee in 2012. He became an instant hit with the Russian club side after banging in spectacular goals for the Russian Champions.

World Cup Journey begins

In 2014, Ahmed Musa was selected as part of Nigeria’s squad to the 2014 FIFA World Cup that was hosted by Brazil. The team was managed by former captain, the Late Stephen Keshi. Paired in Group F alongside mighty Argentina, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and Iran. In Nigeria’s first game, they were held to a scoreless draw by Iran. They however bounced back to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 courtesy of a Peter Osaze Odemwingie goal.

Nigeria vs Argentina

Nigeria’s last group game was against the mighty Argentina. The Argentines were star-studded and led by enterprising Lionel Messi of Barcelona. The game took place at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegra and it was watched by a vociferous 43,285 football fans.

The game had hardly settled down when Argentine forward- Angel Di Maria burst forward before unleashing a left-footed shot at Vincent Enyeama in Nigeria’s goal. The ball bounced off the right frame of the goal but fell kindly to Lionel Messi who blasted the ball into the empty net. It was a rather shaky start for Nigeria’s Super Eagles.

Then comes the hour, then comes the man for the -big occasion. A minute after Nigeria conceded, Ahmed Musa was given a through pass by midfielder Michael Babatunde. He then sent in a curler to make it 1-1. Lionel Messi was undeterred as tormented Vincent Enyeama in Nigeria’s goal with an unstoppable free-kick to make it 2-1 advantage Argentina.

At the restart of the 2nd half, Musa continued from where he stopped in the first half. He surged forward to send the Argentine keeper the wrong way, and give Nigeria a well deserved equalizing goal. Football commentators were blown away by the intensity of the game and they gave the score as Ahmed Musa 2- Lionel Messi 2.

The highly entertaining encounter was eventually won by Argentina in the 50th minute of play. Marcos Rojo bounced on a loose ball floated into the Nigeria penalty area off a corner kick. It was a painful defeat, after the individual brilliance of Ahmed Musa. It takes sheer brilliance and determination to score twice against a team like Argentina. Indeed, he entered the World football record as the first Nigerian to score more than one goal in a FIFA World Cup match.

From adversity to limelight

From adversity to Limelight

There are things we go through in life that often bring out the best in us. Some may call it adversity, but I’ll simply call it Inspiration. In the game of football, injuries are bound to occur, since the game is a contact sport. 

There are levels of injuries. The usual cramps or dead leg can result from overexertion of the leg muscles. This does occur among footballers, especially if a particular player has been out of action for a very long time, or has overexerted himself. That’s why it’s common to see players develop cramps if a match extends into extra time. The leg muscles are already tired and feeling exhausted. 

It’s rare to see players who have been out of action for several weeks, come into a game from start to finish. The possibility of getting injured again or getting cramps is very high in such circumstances. 

Another common injury among footballers is a hamstring injury. This is common with players who are known for pace. Then there are the serious injuries like Achilles tendon, knee ligament, and leg fracture. 

For 18 years old Victor Chiedozie, football was what he drank each day. He was passionate about the game he had grown to love from childhood. The desire to develop his football career made him link up with a local club in the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. 

On November 25th, 2017 however, he experienced a turnaround in his life. An incident that almost ended his promising football career. In an exclusive interview with the talented footballer, he narrated how it all began.

Initially, I had cramps on my left leg due to so much training and it had not healed properly. My coach had told me to rest at home for a week after he noticed my physical condition, but in my head, I felt okay after 4 days at home. I was already missing football and I came back to train the fourth day been Saturday.

At training that fateful day, a teammate of mine gave me a crunchy tackle on the same leg where I was having cramps. There was a cracking sound and I shouted as I felt intense pain. 

The training had to be stopped and I was rushed off the field and immediately taken to a clinic. The X-ray of the affected leg showed a crack in my bone as it were. My leg was put on a cast and I was unable to do any physical activity for 6 months.

While in the clinic, friends who came to visit kept asking me if I’ll be able to play football again. My answer was in the affirmative. I had every reason to be positive. So many amazing stories of players who were laid off by their clubs, due to prolong injuries, but came back strong kept going through my mind. 

Doctors once told 34 years old Santi Cazorla that he won’t be able to play the game he loved so much after a heavy tackle in 2015 left him requiring multiple operations. At a point, his leg was almost amputated. His contract with Arsenal wasn’t renewed and he was left with no club. He still bounced back from adversity and joined La Liga side, Villarreal. His scintillating performance with the Yellow Submarine earned him a call up to the Spanish national team last year. 

Victor, true to his name bounced back from the terrible injuries that left him on crutches. Today he’s making waves with Beautiful Strikers FC in Rivers State, Nigeria. 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games so far with his new Clubside, before the forced stoppage due to COVID-19.

He has beautiful dreams, and he sees himself in Europe in the next two years. Watching him sweat it out in training, leaves no one in doubt about the amazing future that awaits the young Victor Chiedozie Ojogho. 

Indeed, adversity has toughened him and made him a better player. As they say, Some difficult roads often lead to a beautiful destination. Adversity is never a barrier, but a platform to achieving greater things in life

Flying Eagles

How the Flying Eagles of Nigeria Wobbled and Fumbled at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship

Flying Eagles

The Flying Eagles of Nigeria are the U-20 National football team of Nigeria. They had an unforgettable tournament in 1999. In that year, Nigeria won the right to host the 12th edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship. That was the year; the Flying Eagles were tagged “wobbling and fumbling”. They started their World Cup campaign on home soil on a rather embarrassing note. The team was held to a 1-1 draw against lowly rated Costa Rica. Julius Aghahowa scored the opener in the 20th minute of play. They however picked up their act against Germany, whom they defeated 2-0. The goals were scored by Ganiyu Shittu and Hashimu Garba in the 69th and 81st Minutes respectively.

Their last group match was against Paraguay. Unfortunately, they fumbled before a capacity crowd that had come to cheer them to victory. The game ended in favor of Paraguay 2-1 with Ganiyu Shittu scoring the consolation goal in the 38th Minutes of play. The Flying Eagles however managed to qualify for the round of 16 by the skin of their teeth.

In the round of 16, the Flying Eagles labored to secure a 1-1 draw against Ireland.  The equalizing goal coming from diminutive striker Pius Ikedia in the 70th Minute. The game then went into a penalty shoot-out, and millions of Nigerians had their heart in their mouth throughout the kicks. It eventually went in the way of the Flying Eagles who scrapped through 5-3. Pius Ikedia, Gbenga Okunowo, John Aranka, Eddy Dombraye, and Ganiyu Shittu all converted their spot-kicks. Thomas Heary of the Republic of Ireland missed his spot-kick to set a Quarterfinal pairing between Nigeria and Mali.

The Flying Eagles had their work cut out, as they found the Malians too hot to handle in the quarterfinal clash. The match was played at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu eastern Nigeria. The Malians were so ruthless in the quarterfinal clash, that they inflicted a 3-1 defeat on the hapless Eagles who could not fly when it mattered most. The chief tormentor of the Flying Eagles was Malian enterprising midfielder Seydou Keita. He later emerged as the Adidas Golden ball award winner.

Seydou Keita later went ahead to play for Lorient and Lens FC in France also played for Sevilla, Valencia, and Barcelona of Spain. He joined the Italian side AS Roma and later retired after staring for just one season with Qatari side El Jaish SC.

The defeat of the hapless Flying Eagles caused a lot of ripples in the sporting circle, with the eventual sack of Dutch Coach Thijs Libregts from the technical crew of the Nigeria U-20 national team. The team had a lot of potentials, but they could not fully utilize their full potential. Some notable players from that team include Joseph Yobo, Rabiu Afolabi, Julius Aghahowa, Haruna Babangida, and Late goalkeeper Sam Okoye.

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