Saturday 19th October 2013
KFC watch day five. I finally grew a pair and told the tournament staff member that I wouldn’t be ordering any more KFC for him. Five days in, I can safely say I have more important things to do than be the middle man between a man and his spicy fried chicken. With spicy fries. And Miranda to drink. It did take me a live demonstration using me, him and a local volunteer to show him that life would simply be easier for both of us if he just cut me out and ordered his food straight from the restaurant with his own phone.
We had our breakfast as usual and the players seem relaxed but extremely focussed. A Nigerian restaurant owner based at Al Nasr stadium in Dubai managed to get in touch with me last night and asked for a bus to transport approximately 100 fans from Dubai to the game, which should help make for a good atmosphere. If anyone saw the first game between Brazil and Slovakia, you would have seen an International tournament being played in front of a handful of fans, which undoubtedly did not go down with either FIFA or the Local Organising Committee. Since then, all organisers have been keen to spread the news that they are willing to provide free buses to transport groups of fans of any teams to their games, which is exactly what these 100 Nigerian fans will be getting. It’s a bit of a shame it’s come to this, even if it is a generous gesture. I can’t believe the amount of people I spoke to prior to this tournament who were not aware it was happening. Reading the newspapers on a daily basis, I reckon ‘GITEX’, the technology exhibition got more press time than this event in the days building up to it! I got in a lift with a local man yesterday who asked me why the hotel was so busy. I told him that the under 17 World Cup was on, to which he asked what sport! True story. Apparently the branded buses, flyers and posters all over the hotels didn’t give him an inkling.
I think this guy was on his own level to be fair.
Back to KFC gate, I thought I had it bad. I was speaking to another TLO last night who informed me of his struggles that put things in perspective. His team, which will of course remain nameless, seem to be having a lot of kit trouble. Whereas the Nigerians seem to have too much kit, this team seem to have the opposite problem. In fact, they have so few kit that they’ve had to mix and match kits and brands! Apparently they are ‘in between’ kit manufacturers so some of their kit is by one manufacturer, and the rest is by another manufacturer! Even their goalkeepers have different branded gloves. Last I heard, they had to sew patches onto their shorts to cover the manufacturer and they were on their way to find t-shirt printers who could print their players’ names on the back and tailors to amend the shirts they bought! I don’t even know how they managed to find the same kit by different brands. I’m sure this will undoubtedly cause a few headaches for someone.
What a great match today! Nigeria won 6-1 against the current champions and potential winners Mexico! The stadium was full and the African and Mexican fans made one heck of a lot of noise! In fact, the singing started as soon as we got on the bus. True to type, the players started to break out in singing and dancing as soon as the bus got moving. This was really funny to see because up until then, they had been the epitome of cool and focussed. Apparently match day brings that out in them. We got off the bus to hear the Mexicans blasting out their own brand of pre match entertainment, this time with a modern ghettoblaster. I was so enthralled in the Mexican music that I ended up following them to their changing room. I only realised when their security politely asked me where I was going!
Of course there were a lot of pre-match protocols including the referee coming in to check kits and the match sheet being submitted as well as the team doctor having to submit a list of all medicines he’d given the boys in the last 72hours.
It was a fantastic game to watch live! The Nigerians started off nervously but had raced into a 2-1 lead by half time. It was great to be in the dressing room at half time. The four Nigerian coaches all had their say. What struck me as so fantastic was how it was so organised. Each coach seemed to say what they wanted to say within a short amount of time to give the others their chance to talk. It was like they had internal stopclocks. The head coach, Manu Garba is an unbelievable man. The calmest, quietest football person I’ve ever seen. He never raises his voice and always has a smile on his face. He is a real nice guy and his methods obviously work since he was with the team when they last won the tournament in 2007. The team seemed more calm and assured in the second half. The number 10, Kelechi Ihenacho managed to score four brilliant goals without doing much else. That guy certainly knows how to finish with that left foot of his. The Nigerians have some quality players in that team, from their captain Musa Muhammed, their right back Chidiebere Nwakali, Akinjide Idowu holding the midfield and their two strikers, Iheanacho and my boy Success Isaac. The boy from Chelsea Habib Makanjuola was only good enough to make the bench.
I absolutely loved it today. It made me realise how much I truly do love football! I even got to do some media work by explaining the irony of a ‘Nacho’ tearing the Mexicans apart and indulging in my not-so-great past time (if you ask my wife) by offering some witty headlines to our media officer. Unlike said wife, he lapped it up and couldn’t write my suggestions down quickly enough. How about ‘Nacho helps himself as Mexico crumble’ or ‘It’s a Nacho feast as the Golden Eaglets soar’ or ‘Nacho’s crisp finishing brings Success to the Nigerians’?
The Nigerian fans were brilliant! They didn’t stop singing all game and once the score got comfortable, they would shout ‘Over the bar’ whenever Mexico got possession and ‘Get in the goal’ whenever Nigeria had their chance on the ball. So much fun!
We stayed behind to watch the sunbathing Swedes against Iraq and left at half time with Sweden 1-0 up. From what I saw, the Nigerians will easily walk this group, although in the African Cup earlier this year, they won their first game 6-1 against Ghana of all teams but then lost their second game 1-0 so who knows.
After tonight, I can safely say that I no longer see Nigerians as rivals than as brothers. I found myself cheering every goal and having a real sense of pride after the result. In fact, I think I’m going to find a different title for this diary blog from now on. Those boys were just superb. I even came back and had some Nigerian food. They do love their spicy food, these guys, that’s for sure! I drank so much water during dinner that John will no doubt be my best friend tonight.
We got back on the bus to the hotel to some more singing, although this time it was more subdued and more in prayer of thanks to God. Then it was over to tranquil Mr Garba to remind the players that there were still six wins to be achieved.
“The celebration ends here.” And it did.
We’re off to a dinner invite by a Sheikh tomorrow evening. He has invited every team member from all four countries to dinner so it should be a great event.