I remember very much the nickname, 'Taifa Stars'. At the 1980 African Cup of Nations finals, that our dear country hosted, the opening match, on March 8, 1980, was against the 'Taifa Stars' of Tanzania at the National Stadium, Lagos.
That year's African Cup of Nations was always billed to be a festival. After winning bronze medals at the 1976 and 1978 African Cup of Nations held in Ethiopia and Ghana respectively, the Green Eagles were favourites on home soil, moreso after spending a couple of months training in Brazil before the finals.
And the Green Eagles showed that element of champions in the opening match, scoring in the very first minute through Mudashiru Lawal (of blessed memory) and then adding two more through Ifeanyi Onyedika and Segun Odegbami. The 'Taifa Stars' pulled one back but it was only a consolation as the match ended 3-1 to the uproarious delight of Lagos fans.
That was Tanzania's first-ever appearance (and only one till date) at the African Cup of Nations, but they left some impression, particularly through two strong characters who could not be ignored: Goalkeeper Jonas Pondamali and Skipper Leodegar Tenga.
Today, Leodegar Tenga is the President of the Tanzania Football Federation, and a Member of the Executive Committee of Confederation of African Football.
The above account reflects the kind of game that should be expected tomorrow when the Flying Eagles take on their Tanzanian counterparts in a 2013 African Youth Championship qualifying match in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Although Nigeria is a much stronger nation at both senior and junior levels, Tanzanian teams play with a lot of passion and commitment and as I have often reiterated, there are no longer 'small teams' in international football.
Moreover, we are in Dar es Salaam with a team that needs to build its confidence and quickly realize the huge expectations of Nigerians. Only a few days ago, the Flying Eagles lost by a lone goal to the U-20 Team of Rwanda in a friendly match in Kigali.
I am told that the team impressed, but I am sincerely not impressed. In football, the scoreline at the referee's final whistle is what matters. I am not interested in any team 'impressing' and losing.
I also remember that the Flying Eagles, champions of Africa, fared woefully at the Cape Town International Challenge in South Africa at the end of May, losing to Ghana, Argentina and South Africa. The same team failed to beat Nigeria Premier League side, ABS FC in a friendly in Ilorin some weeks ago.
Certainly, I am upbeat that the team will give its all in tomorrow's match in Dar es Salaam. Stung by criticisms of Nigerians and their own poor record, the new team will strive to 'die' there rather than lose. And I believe we would see an interesting match and turn-around in the fortunes of this new set brought together by John Obuh.
John Obuh has done fairly well in taking the U-17 boys to silver at the FIFA U-17 World Cup that Nigeria hosted in 2009, leading the U-20 boys to the African title in South Africa last year and also taking them to 7th place in the world at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia. But I always tell him that a Coach is as good as his last result.
The Ngorongoro Stars (U-20 Team of Tanzania) that our Flying Eagles play tomorrow are no push-overs. I remember how they sent packing the U-20 Team of Sudan in the previous round. Many were those who believed that the Sudanese team would be too strong for the Tanzanians.
It is also important to note that our star-studded U-23 'Dream Team' also got a shocker against their Tanzanian counterparts in Dar es Salaam last year. On the same day that the Super Eagles forced Ethiopia to a 2-2 draw in a Cup of Nations qualifying match in Addis Ababa, the 'Dream Team' was said to have 'played well' but lost 0-1 to Ngorongoro Stars.
For me, let the Flying Eagles not play well tomorrow but win. I am not impressed by teams that 'play well' but lose matches. We have to start winning.
As the Coach and Barrister Chris Green (Chairman of NFF Technical Sub-Committee who is leader of delegation) said during the week, the loss to Rwanda would serve as the sting for the Flying Eagles to over-reach themselves in Dar es Salaam. I believe they will do so, and
I believe they will defend the colours of the nation well, in order to make the second leg coming up in two weeks a formality.
It is still painful that neither our men's nor women's team is in the London 2012 Olympics, but it was interesting watching the opening matches of the women's tournament on Wednesday.
Cameroon, which got to London on the back of a penalty shoot-out defeat of our Super Falcons, promised so much in the first five minutes of their match against Brazil, only to collapse to technical and tactical naivety, losing 0-5.
South Africa's Banyana Banyana, all so hopeful after drawing with the Super Falcons in two international friendlies in Rustenburg and Lagos, fell apart against Sweden, conceeding three goals in the first 20 minutes and losing 1-4 at the end.
For me, what the African flag-bearers need to do is believe in themselves and play their own game, not necessarily falling into the tactical trap of their more illustrious opponents. They also should overcome stage fright. Football is all about eleven persons against eleven persons.
Delight for Team GB as they got their campaign off the ground well with defeat of New Zealand, while defending champions United States
(defeated Brazil 4-3 in extra time to win gold in Beijing, I remember) demonstated unquestioned capacity by coming from two goals down to hammer France 4-2.
For Maigari Joji...
My heart goes out to the family of Alhaji Maigari Joji, a Member of the NFF Electoral Committee, who died on Tuesday. An astute administrator and keen lover of the game from Bauchi State, Joji, a man of timber and calibre was elected Member of the NFF Electoral
Committee at the Extra-Ordinary General Assembly of NFF in Abuja in December 2009.
A team player, he is remembered sweetly by all members of the Electoral Committee and all of them have good words to say about him. Easy-going and deliberate, and very thorough, energetic and calculating, Joji will be fondly remembered by all those who knew him.
I pray that Almighty Allah will give his family the fortitude to bear the loss and also grant him rest.
Girls Head To Korea...
By August 1, the U-20 Women National Team, also known as Falconets will fly out of this country to South Korea for a two-week training camp before flying into Japan for this year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
We are all interested in the Falconets because it is clear that after finishing as runners-up at the last competition in Germany in 2010, the only way to go is up and that is lifting the trophy in Tokyo on September 8.
I was disappointed at the team's 3-2 defeat by the Black Princesses of Ghana in a friendly in Accra on Tuesday, but was more concerned about injuries to two key players following what the Head Coach called 'rough play' of the Ghanaians. The NFF will work very hard to get the players back in good health and in good time before the finals start
on August 19.