50 minutes to Japan, girls on strike and the P-Square fever

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U-20 Women National team

U-20 Women National team

What a bizarre headline for a sports column. I owe you an explanation. As you are reading this, the victorious U-20 Women National team are less than six hours away from touch down at the Abuja Airport, on board Ethiopian Airlines from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After a 4-0 drubbing of their Congolese counterparts in Abeokuta two weeks ago, one would have expected the second leg match to be a formality, but Coach Edwin Okon would not hear of it. He will rather we forget the first leg and start afresh.

The team left Abuja last Wednesday, sporting a business disposition and the  Abuja-Accra-Addis-Brazzaville-Kinshasha route did not help matters.

For those who have been to Kinshasha before, the Boulevard De Mulumba which links the airport to the city has always been an eyesore, cruel introduction to the country, even as you struggle to pass through a crowded market. Thursday May 17 was not different worsened by the massive road construction going on in the spirit of President Joseph Kabila’s gospel of rehabilitation and modernisation

Thursday May 17 is also a public holiday held to celebrate six years  of the liberation of  DR Congo from the stranglehold of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 by Laurent Desire Kabila, late father of the current President. There is joy and politicking everywhere yet history for now is of no interest to  the Falconets. All the girls needed was  to get to their hotel rooms take a shower and sleep. We pray the hotel will be worth their while.

Beverley Hotel is a block of luxury apartments. I was there last year on CAF duty as General Coordinator, Sunshine Stars used the place during their Confedreation Cup Sojourn, so I assured the team that it was “okay”.

The tired girls get their rooms, training is skipped, dinner is served and the team retires.

Friday May 18 is eventful. The host oblige an early morning training in the main stadium which was repeated by match time, 3.30pm. The pre match meeting is held, and Nigeria suddenly discovers that two of the referees are from Congo Brazzaville!. Protest?  We decide not to. Not even Kinshasha referees can stop us from this journey to Japan.

Then,  catastrophy.  News filters out, that the Congolese girls have gone on strike. They skipped Thursday evening and Friday morning training to protest the non payment of their allowances. They say they will not play the match. Newly appointed Sports Minister Banza-Mukalahi Sumdu is devastated. He rushes to the girls’ hotel to plead with them.

He says he is just ten days in office that the girls should please give him the benefit of the doubt, they should go ahead and play and leave the rest to him. The girls pray for at least two hundred dollars each and say they will get back to him Saturday morning ( (Match day )

I break the news to the Nigerian delegation. We decide to keep it away from the girls. We do not want anything that will make them drop their guards. I wish our girls knew the efforts put in by the Nigeria Football Federation to guarantee their welfare.

Meanwhile we are also in the dark. Will they or will they not play? Newspapers are not published on Saturdays here so there is news darkness…..

Saturday afternoon, the Nigerians get to the stadium, no sign of the Congolese Leopards. Ten minutes later, there are wild shouts of joy as the host team makes a grand entrance to the delight of the few Congolese that had made it to the stadium.

The Ethiopian referee  signals the commencement of the match and the Congolese react like a house on fire, taking the battle to their Nigerian counterparts in a very aggressive and determined manner all of four minutes. Then it happened. Against the run of play, the Nigerians counter attack. Okobi Ngozi Sonia takes what appears to be a weak shot……GOAL!!!!!!!! Now the Congolese need to score six to oust Nigeria. “Pas Possible” say the French. Japan, here we come!

It has taken just fifty minutes to guarantee a FIFA world Cup qualification. After all are we are not losing finalists of the last edition? We go on to score two more goals through Desire Oparanozie and Ordega Fransisca. Icings on a cake well baked in Abeokuta and cut at the Stade de Martyrs in Kinshasha.

Take a bow coach Edwin Okon on behalf of your coaching crew that includes Nigeria’s female football legend Florence Omagbemi.

Take a bow petite captain Ofoegbu Gloria, followed by Whyte Ibubeleye in goal, Njoku Ugo, Nku Cecilia, Chukwunonye Josephine, Osawaru Jennifer, Adule Charity, Ordega Francisca, Oparanozie Desire, Okobi Sonia, Sunday Ukpong, Nwankwo Chioma, Edoho Blessing, Okafor Ugochi, Adeyemo Ajoke, Orji Ebere, Sunday Lopez and Oshola Lamina. Glory girls all.

We walk tall, confidence and proud gait, cheered all the way as the team drives out triumphant from the stadium, with the green white green occupying pride of place. Yes it feels good being a Nigerian. As you punctuate qualification party and retire to take your shower, the joy is amplified as the air waves go crazy heralding the June 3 date that will see P-Square performing at the Sharks Club in Kinshasha.

Raw Bank is celebrating 10 years of its operations in the Congo and have decided to reward customers with a high class celebration that will see P-Square entertaining the guests. Tickets will not be sold. Account holders to benefit all two thousand plus, especially those who  have the equivalent of not less than fifty thousand naira in their accounts……girls crazy for P-Square rush to make or up their deposits…..

Co -sponsor Airtel is also doing a promo that will bring a further one thousand fans. The heavy media hype ( Even four minutes was bought during the half time of the European Champion’s league final ) sends a frenzy through out the country. I ask our driver whether he knows that P-Square are Nigerians “ Bien Sure” Sure. He says. Nigerian artist and musicians are world class he swears.

What a sweet feeling, of being a Nigerian…..in far away Congo Kinshasha. If it is a dream, please don’t wake me.

In : Sports

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