These days, it is all about Man U, Arsenal & Chelsea. No is interested in our local league any longer, it’s no longer good enough! Nigerians always feel that foreign things are better than home-grown, forgetting that foreign things were not always that great, they had to be developed and nurtured by committed citizens. How will our league develop if we don’t encourage the stakeholders?
IICC were real champions. It was a battle of giants. Only God decided which way victory went at the end. IICC lost to Rangers by penalty kicks in the semi-final match of the African Cup Winners Cup competition held at Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna.
IICC surrendered their one year championship title to local archrivals, Rangers International of Enugu with a 4-2 defeat at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium. The first leg of the game played in Lagos had ended scoreless on October 15.
On November 12, Nigeria has lost to Tunisia by self or ‘own’ goal and everybody was still mourning the great loss. A week later, precisely November 19, same 1977, it was another song. It was a day to be remembered. In fact, it could be regarded as ‘the greatest day’ of football in Nigeria. The first leg, played in Lagos on October 29, ended goalless.
November 19th became the best possible day by default, regardless of the fact that IICC had showed up for the initially scheduled second leg late in October, purportedly “walking over” Rangers which necessitated the aforementioned Shehu Yar’ Adua meeting and call to order.
In any case Rangers certainly used the extra 14 days to their advantage and arrived batteries fully recharged with both barrels loaded. Nothing was to be left to chance. They had even flown in Charles “Wagner” Adimora from the USA to make up for the absence of Emeka Onyedika and Stanley Okoronkwo, who were injured. As they filed out onto the pitch, they looked stunning in their brand new all-white Adidas kits, partially hidden underneath their equally brand new red tracksuit tops.
IICC, on the other hand, arrived wearing their traditional all-blue kit, though you could see the dark stains of perspiration on their jerseys, making their tops a shade darker right as they walked out, Odegbami assured me that the Kaduna heat (calculated around 75.52 degrees Fahrenheit) played virtually no role in the outcome of the game.
By the look of things, IICC were the better side for the 90 minutes of regulation time. Sharper and more cohesive in attack, they successfully meandered through the Rangers’ defence.
Bolder and sharper in raids, Rangers fluffed two edge-of-box chances, but mostly, it was against long lobs that Stars goalkeeper, Best Ogedegbe had to contend.
Pointedly, the misfortune started from the first minute when natural left-winger, Kunle Awesu missed a goal chance with a feeble half-volley from the six metres.
Incredibly, a similar unfortunate incident happened five minutes to full time when Phillip Boamah‘s drive from close-in hit the bar and rebounded into play.
Apparently, none of the diehard Rangers supporters thought fate could be so merciful to the Enugu club. They were in panic every minute of the explosive match.
However, national goal keeper, Emmanuel Okala, confirmed his class with marvellous saves, even at close-in when spectators had yelled “G—0——A—L’. He stood like a Rock and was very articulate.
From the early minutes, the former champions had posed a serious threat to the Enugu club with fast burst from the left wing where Kunle Awesu and Nathaniel Adewole operated very well.
After Kunle Awesu had lost a chance for a good opening goal, Nathaniel Adewole played into the hands of goalkeeper Okala in the five metres range.
Then in the sixth minute, Rangers defence was under sporadic shots for two minutes with fire-spitting from different directions before Charles Adimorah, who was flown home from the United States for the match, cleared off from the danger zone.
Rangers came fairly, mid-way to the game. Alloysius Atuegbu was threatening sharp thrust from the middle, connecting Sam Onyela, who was replaced in the second half for losing form.They made frantic attempts within those few minutes they had control.
Playing from right to left, IICC refused to be intimidated by Rangers’ “shock and awe”, and showed that they were true defending champions by taking the game to the team from Enugu. Over and over, the ball was hurriedly cleared by the Rangers defenders as Odegbami initially wove his magic wand, sowing nothing but confusion. Twice the ball sizzled just off target, much to the trepidation of both Okala and Chukwu.
Nnamdi Anyafor, spurred on by Chukwu’s persistent orders and instructions, decided to have the game of his life. Singlehanded he would do what the rest of Africa had been unable to do till that point — cancel out Odegbami. Those two suddenly became inseparable and rumour even had it that when Segun stepped out of the IICC locker room after half time he found a grinning Anyafor there waiting for him.
There is no doubt that IICC dominated the second game, especially the midfield and ball possession but you just could not break through the Rangers’ defense. Okala was the man of the match.
However, honourable mention had to go to Nnamdi Anyafo, who was relatively unknown but somehow was able to keep nipping at Odegbami’s heels, getting in the way and preventing him from scoring. With Christian Chukwu yelling at Nnamdi and telling him what to do throughout the match, the man gave Odegbami no breather! One had to laugh today when envisioned Nnamdi chasing Segun around with Chukwu’s booming voice in the background spurring him on with phrases like “Ekwele”, “Follow am “ and even an “Ehe!” when he foiled another foray. Back then it would have been far from funny. Gradually, Rangers played themselves back into the match.
The second half came, playing more guardedly, knowing that probably the first team to score would win.
Stars opened the second half with equally sad misses. Kunle Awesu kicked the turf when Skipper Christian Chukwu had been beaten and goalkeeper Okala displaced.
This was followed by the most painful of all the chances lost. Segun Odegbami, who had been held tight in the middle, drifted to his usual right wing to intercept an opponent’s pass, moved with lightning speed, cutting across Christian Chukwu and Nnamdi Anyafor. He then flicked into the middle for Phillip Boamah who was unmarked to slot home.
But the nervous centre-forward, who had been doing quite a nice job was dressing the ball when Okala moved out in a flash for a challenge.
Rangers, however, made fantastic late rally to edge out the former champions. Marvellous Christian Madu, readily, the best man in Rangers forward and Alloysius Atuegbu gave Ojebode and his men much to cope with.
Madu, with cunny moves from different directions and Aloysius with the ready pose to boot home, made a beautiful pair.
Odegbami changed positions repeatedly. He moved from outside right to centre forward and then to outside left and back to outside right. However, each time he did so, Coach Achebe and Chukwu would make Anyafor match him move for move.
Also, all six foot six of Okala sprawled beaten on the ground after being beaten by the Mathematical wonder himself and watching a trickling ball meandering towards his goal line. Not since being poisoned in Egypt after drinking laced tea that blinded him momentarily, had he looked so helpless.
When the final whistle came the game was still scoreless. Both teams, had without a doubt, given it their all and, as they laid spent on the pitch eating oranges and wolfing down Lucozade and Glucose concoctions, their fans sat almost dejectedly in stunned silence. The rival drums had long since been silenced.
What happened next is a little confusing. Moses Otolorin remembered that in the IICC huddle they were preparing for extra time with Coach Hawkes when the Ethiopian referee suddenly pointed to the 11-metre spot on the Rangers side of the field announcing the dreaded penalty kicks. However, Odegbami remembered that the pecking order of penalty takers was already being established.
The Ethiopian referee had ended the match on time and the penalty kick was opened by Segun For the first time, Odegbami, free of Nnamdi, placed a howler just past Okala’s gloves, making it 1-0 for IICC, and for the first time in more than 180 minutes of play, one team finally went ahead. Odegbami scored the first penalty for IICC by beating Okala with a sizzler.
Christian Madu, the Rangers’ free kick expert, knocked his ball past a rooted “Best”, making it 1-1. Then the first wheel came off the IICC bandwagon as Okala got a paw on Asante’s kick, sending it over the bar. Score still 1-1. He equalised for Rangers. Ngadi, bent on making up for his myriad of misses slotted home his shot in his own effort to put Rangers up by scoring 2-1 to Rangers ahead.
Then the second wheel came off for IICC as well, as Ogedegbe soundly banged his kick into the woodwork. Score still 2-1 to Rangers. It was a shout of joy for Rangers when Ogedegbe failed to score. Ogedegbe had been at his best making nine smart saves with six in the second half, before losing his penalty kick which harmlessly hit the foot of the post to Emmanuel Okala’s right.
Ikechukwu stepped up and converted the most important shot of his life as he scored 3-1 to Rangers, but Sam Asante’s shot for IICC bounced off the cross-bar and missed his chance. However, Otubusin, sought to breathe some life back into IICC, hammers his shot past Okala, scored 3-2 to Rangers and thereby, sustained waning IICC’s hope when he beat Okala hands down.
Then it was Chukwu’s turn. Almost as if in a daze, he walked to the penalty spot, hit the ball with a “thud” and the net shivered as it bent in strained effort to capture it. Ogedegbe raced in from the right and caught Chukwu in mid air, running with him as if he was a mere feather while Christian Chukwu slotted home.
The Scores? Rangers 4, IICC 2, and game over.
So, came to pass the Greatest Club Game ever played in Nigeria. It ended in victory for Enugu Rangers, leaving many wondering what would have happened if the two teams, rather than facing each other, had played parallel to each other in different competitions. Many believed if that had happened, Nigeria would have won both the African Cup of Champion Clubs and the African Cup Winners’ Cup and created African History
Even when it lost, it was reported that the Oyo State Government still promised and gave each members of the team, a car each. The gift, as reported was a mark of appreciation of their efforts adding that they really performed well but they were only unlucky to have lost.
IICC played a very good game as it happened that day, but when it comes to the issue of penalty kicks, anything can happen.
See photos below: