Friday morning, on the eve of the grand finale of the CAF Champions league final between Esperance de Tunis and Al Ahly of Egypt, I was at breakfast with Lim Kee Chong of Mauritius and Rachid Medjiba of Algeria.
Lim was the designated Match Commissioner for the final while Rachid was the CAF Security Officer. Of course our discussion centred around football. Lim it will be recalled was a top African referee. Whenever he was at the centre teams felt comfortable that he was going to deliver. Now a FIFA and CAF referee instructor and member CAF referees Committee, the soft spoken Lim was the first to ask about "....the decline of Nigerian football...."
How come we did not qualify for the last Nations Cup. Are we going to do well this time around? Where was the class of 94?
He does not understand why a team that is doing so well at youth level has not been able to reap from such talent.
The Eagles of 1994 according to the tested referee was arguably the best African team yet. It was a pleasure refereeing their matches. He asked after Rashidi Yekini and was sorry to hear he was no more.
What about Okocha? That he is a member of the Technical Committee of the NFF made him happy. "....Fine we have to tap from their experiences. He was a magical player, very talented and positive" he said.
And Amuneke, Finidi George, Amokachi? " That one you will see in South Africa. He is Keshi's assistant" I offered. Lim appreciates the growth of African football that has seen the spectacular showing of teams like Botswana, Cape Verde, Central African Republic and so on, but still believes that the good old days of Nigeria, Cameroun, Ghana, Cote Divoire, Algeria, Morrocco and Egypt will for him remain the best years of African football.
Rachid Medjiba on his part, another top referee of old, remembers a match he handled in Maiduguri, a match that could have been very difficult given the harsh elements, but one that was made easy thanks to the managerial and human relations display exhibited by the late Patrick Okpomo, who was then the Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association.
Thank God we lost...
Last week, all but one of the teams taking part in next year's Africa Cup of Nations benefitted from the FIFA free window to take part in matches expected to help tune up their teams.
Nigeria came out tops in the US by beating Venezuela 3-1. Though I was not opportuned to watch the match, according to reports by the indefatigable media officer Ben Alaiya, Coach Stephen Keshi was very pleased, not only with the result, but with the showing of the players he had to blood for the first time, including Shola Ameobi and US based Dike
Similarly, Cote D'Ivoire put up a frightening display when they outclassed Austria 3-0. The star studded Ivorian team could afford to do that even with top striker Salmon Kalou on the bench. ( He only came in in the 85th minute )
In Northern Africa, that was not the case as both Tunisia and Morocco lost at home.
Playing in front of a packed stadium Morocco were stunned by an inspired Togo, while very few fans turned up in Sousse as Switzerland pipped Tunisia.
As usual the press descended on the coaches of the two countries seeking explanations, angrily.
Coach Sami Trabelsi of Tunisia took the microphone and by the time he finished, everyone was happy.
He said it would have been very good to record a victory ".......Today and everyone goes home happy. On the contrary I am happy that we did not leave here today with a false impression. This defeat will make us realize that we are not there yet, that we have a lot to do to be able to do well in South Africa.
" I did not have to field our best players, I introduced some fresh legs who satisfied me. You noticed that our defense line was far from perfect and the mid field did not retreat fast enough to help cover up, and we needed the Swiss to help us confirm that. I and my team have learnt a lot from this match and believe me it will help us a lot as we prepare for South Africa"
I have also learnt a lot from this.
Wanted, publicity for sports festival
We can certainly do with some publicity, a lot of publicity as we run in to the National Sports Festival.
This is Nigeria's Olympics and so far we do not seem to have had enough information on venues, states and their strengths, players and athletes to watch, committees reports and activities, everything.
One also prays that this time around there will be less emphasis on the medals table, Minister, Directors and the Sports Commissioners..... The media can do us a lot of good by highlighting the athletes and the potentials they bring to the future of our sports with the next Olympics in mind.
Ekoo oni baje!
CAF Champions League medal
As General Coordinator of the CAF Champions League final match, I have in my possession a gold medal. All glory goes to God Almighty for guaranteeing a hitch free final. It was not by my might.
I thank members of Citadel of Glory for their ceaseless prayers for journey mercies and goodwill as I traversed the African Continent in the service of football.
I dedicate the medal to members of my wonderful family especially my adorable wife and supportive children who have had to live through countless queries of " Daddy are you travelling again?"
The end has justified the means.