Friday, March 7, 2014

Loud in Atlanta as Nigeria played Mexico in a Pre-world cup friendly

Loud In Atlanta!

From Nigeria, Europe and from all over the United States of America,
they came. Football administrators of note, members of the National
Assembly, diplomats in high offices, former Nigerian international
players, football agents and managers, coaches, authors and fans.

The occasion was the international friendly match between Nigeria,
ranked 47th in the world, and Mexico, ranked 19th in the world, at the
impressive Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons (American
football team). Before their clash on Wednesday, March 5, all three
meetings between Nigeria and Mexico at full international level had
ended in draws after regulation time, the Mexicans winning a third
place match at the Intercontinental Tournament for the King Fahd Cup
(now FIFA Confederations Cup) in Saudi Arabia in 1995 on penalties.

On arrival at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Atlanta on
Tuesday morning, football-passionate immigration officials told some
members of NFF Management that the Mexicans had arrived, noisy as is
their habit, aboard a chartered Mexican airliner, the previous night.

The history of clashes between both teams, the passion and undying
spirit of their supporters, and the fact that both teams were using
this to prepare for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014, had set the stage
for what would be a great game of football. After the match in Riyadh
in January 1995, two other clashes had ended in 2-2 draws: a friendly
in Mexico in October 2007 and another one in Houston, Texas, USA on
the last day of May, 2013.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi and his assistants Daniel Amokachi and Ike
Shorounmu were in the squad that lost on penalties to the Mexicans in
Saudi Arabia, and on the eve of the game, Keshi told media
representatives who had come to watch the team train at the Georgia
Dome: "We are here to play the way we know how to play - to win. We
are starting our final preparations for the World Cup and the players
realise this is as serious a business as it can ever get."

Stand-in skipper Vincent Enyeama, a 12-year veteran, said: "For us,
every game counts. We will play to our strength and ability and we
believe we can win."

On match day, the entire town of Atlanta, and indeed all roads leading
to the Georgia Dome, were painted green. Whose green? Is it the
Nigerian green or the Mexican green? If the NFF had not unveiled a new
jersey for the National Teams in Abuja the previous week, there would
have been very little to differentiate the two. It did not matter. The
large Mexican community and the sizeable Nigerian community in the
city mingled. At pubs, cafes, restaurants and in hotels, each group
boasted it would win.

Consul-Generals of Nigeria to USA (Ambassador Geoffrey Tenelaibe,
Atlanta and Ambassador Habib Habu, OON, New York), NFF President Aminu
Maigari, Chairman of the House of Reps' Committee on Sports Godfrey
Gaiya, NFF Executive Committee members Chris Green and Ayodeji Tinubu,
Professor Adebayo Williams, NFF General Secretary Musa Amadu, Director
of Technical Emmanuel Ikpeme, Director of Marketing Adama Idris,
Director of Finance Jarafu Mamza, Assistant Director of Communications
Ademola Olajire, ex-international and PA to NFF President, Nasiru
Jibril and former Super Eagles' coach Samson Siasia were among those
in the Nigeria suite on match day.

Others, like ex-internationals Ikechukwu Ofoje (youngest player ever
to captain Enugu Rangers FC, who now works as Head Coach of University
of South Carolina), Paul Okoku, Christian Nwokocha and Totti Okoro
Totti, were also around the VIP area. The sizeable Nigerian crowd
mingled with the larger Mexican group, but there was no doubt whose
voice was louder.

Even before kick-off, the City of Atlanta was already looking forward
to the future. Organisers announced that following a record sale of
over 68,000 tickets (the record attendance for a soccer match in
Atlanta), the City was looking to invite Nigeria and Mexico to open
the New Dome (already under construction) in 2017!

On the field, the football did not disappoint. Both teams matched each
other strength-for-strength, skill-for-skill, street
wisdom-for-street-wisdom, tackle-for-tackle, guile-for-guile,
menace-for-menace, stamina-for-stamina and shove-for-shove. Vincent
Enyeama (first half) and Austin Ejide (second half) made remarkable
saves, as did Guillermo Ochoa for Mexico.

Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo in central defence did not
disappoint, and same can be said for Efe Ambrose and Elderson
Echiejile on the wings, though Efe now has a real rival in Leon
Balogun, who made quick decisions and imposed himself before going off
injured. Effervescent Ogenyi Onazi was his usual huge engine, debutant
Uchebo looked promising, John Mikel Obi was firm and led well in the
middle, and Emmanuel Emenike, Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses showed
flashes of menace.

Azubuike Egwuekwe did well after coming on for injured Balogun, Imoh
Ezekiel was enthusiastic and showed energy and Obinna Nsofor and Ramon
Azeez weren't bad either.

At the end, it was another draw (0-0), but no one left disappointed as
a huge roar of appreciation followed the players to the dressing

Next up for the Super Eagles is a clash with Scotland's Tartan Army at
the familiar Craven Cottage in London on 28 May - another huge party
to look forward to.

Feature was written by Ademola Olajire

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