Lagos — Nigerians were shocked that the Super Eagles were beaten 2 - 1 in a World Cup qualifier by the Lone Star of Liberia last Sunday. They were not alone. Across the globe, Eagles' supporters who are patiently waiting for a third consecutive qualification of the team to the competition, lamented the defeat which has put Nigeria's campaign on a tight rope Emeka Enechi who saw it all, recaptures the encounter
On arrival at the Roberts International Airport last Friday, Nigerians resident in Monrovia who were on hand to receive the team, pleaded that Eagles must do everything possible to beat the Lone Star. They predicated their pleas on the fact that the George Weah inspired team had prepared well to devour the Eagles and therefore wished that Eagles could puncture their game plan by beating them before their vociferous supporters.
They were convinced that it was a mission possible especially as they sighted Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Sunday Oliseh, Jonathan Akpoborie et al boarding the Liberian Football Association (LFA) bus which conveyed the team to its Mamba Hotel Camp, Monrovia dancing and drumming away for an anticipated resounding victory.
However, like we witnessed during the EURO 2000 when big countries that paraded gifted players with tremendious skills were routed and eliminated from the competition, the supporters were proven wrong in their calculations that their team which had a haphazard preparation for the match could overrun the Liberians. However, both the home supporters and their Nigerian counterparts, waited patiently for match day as the war of words raged between them. Before the match, majority of Liberians gave the match to the Eagles. Their judgement was specifically based on the past performance of Eagles players.
At about 3: 35pm Nigerian time on match day, the Lone Star arrived the Samuel Konyan Doe Stadium to a tumultuous welcome. Ten minutes later, the team was led out to the pitch to warm up by Weah.
Eagles arrived the Stadium at 3 : 47pm. The team was closely trailed by the Nigerian Ambassador to Liberia His Excellency Ogbonna who was driven into the stadium main bowl at 3 :50pm. The Oliseh led team had their warm up at 4 : 25pm. The Liberian President Charles Taylor also arrived the stadium to receive a standing ovation which was deafening.
Moments later when both teams had marched out for pre - match ceremonies, a heated argument ensued between the Nigerian bench and the reserve referee. Technical adviser Jo Bonfrere, Stephen Keshi and Bola Oloyede protested the seating arrangement for the Eagles to the chagrin of the referee who insisted that they should remain where they were. The disagreement was however resolved in favour of Bonfrere.
Match ceremonies over, the Lone Star took the kick off at 5: 05pm Nigerian time. Their first move resulted in a goal kick for the Eagles. Inspired by their president Taylor, the players did not put anybody in doubt as to their resolve to beat the Eagles. Having observed the playing pattern and mobile nature of the Liberian players, Oliseh, Okocha, Kanu and others attempted to checkmate their persistent forays to no avail.
In a move that saw our attackers confused, our midfielders gasping for air and the defenders picking quarrel among themselves, a pass from Varmah Kpoto found a well positioned Weah at the verge of the Nigerian half. In his characteristic nature, Weah wasted no time in driving past Ogbonna Kanu before sending a beautifully laid pass to Christopher Wreh who tucked the ball beyond Ndubisi Egbo for the Lone Star's first goal in the fourth minute. The entire stadium erupted in celebration to further disorganise the Eagles thus putting them under intense pressure.
Bonfrere and Keshi tried in vain to inspire the players to mark the Lone Star players man to man but like is written in the bible, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Tried as it did, the Nigerian team failed to checkmate their opponents who kept pilling the pressure on it. The situation left officials on the Nigerian bench completely devastated while they remained on their feet throughout. Attempts to break through the Star's defence by driblling sensation Pius Ikedia and Kanu were perfectly checked by Greece based duo of George Gebro and Varmah Kpoto. In fact, it appeared Gebro had a special study on Ikedia which resulted in his perfect handling of the diminutive Nigerian winger.
The ceaseless pressure continued forcing the Eagles to adopt a defensive pattern while leaving only Akwuegbu upfront. Weah lost another golden opportunity to increase the scores after beating the Nigerian defence in the 15th minute. He fired above the cross bar.
The beautiful combination of the Star's players almost resulted in their second goal in the 25th minute when Alex Brown latched on a well laid pass from team captain Joe Nagbe to hit the cross bar.
As if responding to Keshi's clarion call, Eagles players momentarily took control of the game as marshalled from the midfield by Okocha. Again, in an apparent move to check the rampaging Liberians, Okocha resorted to spraying long passes. Keshi's persistent shouts however, paid off in the 37th minute when Kanu Nwankwo in his characteristic form sold a dummy to Jallah Johnson and George Gebro before sending a powerful drive to the right hand corner of Louis Crayton's net for Eagles equaliser.
Similarly, Kanu, accompanied by his colleagues celebrated the goal in his usual dancing steps. Thereafter, there was a pin drop silence in the stadium. The drums and trumpets of the Liberians disappeared into thin air. Thus, the first 45 minutes ended in a stalemate.
Eagles took the kick off for the commencement of the second half at 6 : 08pm Okocha immediately sent a long thrust that was lost by Ikedia for Liberia's first goal kick during the half. Thereafter, the game was evenly contested till the 49th minute when Christopher Wreh pounced on the ball in the six metre box to drive home the second goal after Egbo failed to hold firmly Weah's shot.
The goal once again brought life back into the stadium. From then on, the support for the home team was overwhelming and intimidating. Subsequently, Eagles charged by the Star's second goal, rallied to redeem their image. They were further frustrated by Star's impregnable defence which maintained a brute force on Eagles attackers.
Akpoborie missed some scoreable chances. Thrice he came close to doing the damage within the Star's six metre box, but frittered away the chances.
In the 65th minute Akwuegbu's solo effort was perfectly thwarted by Crayton who had to dive full length to stop his 30 metre grounder. Bonfrere made two quick changes all in an attempt to stalemate the game. Ikedia was pulled out for Henry Onwuzuike while Henry Nwosu replaced Benedict Akwuegbu. The replacements were carried out to add more bite to the Eagles attack but Bonfrere's strategy appeared a belated one as the Star's locked their defence and threw away the keys into the beach behind Taylor's mansion along Boulevard Road. Searched as they did, Eagles failed to find the back of the Liberian net again.
Apparently moved to counter the offensive from the Eagles' bench, Liberian coach Dvava George introduced Musa Shannon for Christopher Wreh while George Miller came in for Nester Sandy.
The team was inspired specially by Weah who played a free role dictating and directing the pace of the game till the referee drew the curtain at about 6 : 55pm. Eagles did not lose because the Liberian team played better than the Eagles but because of the players non commitment. Most of them failed to report to camp on time. It was not surprising therefore that they failed to respond to the superior fire power of the host team.
Liberians savoured the victory saying that nothing would have been more memorable than beating Nigeria. The Vice Chairman of the Liberian Football Association (LFA) Zoeger Jaynes told THISDAYSports after the match that the people of the country have not come together for a long time smiling and dancing together like they did last Sunday. However, he said that it was national pride that ensured victory for them adding that they wish the Eagles to represent Africa in the world cup because they are more experienced than any other team in the group.