The Nigerian male hockey team on Friday in Abuja defeated their Ghanaian counterparts 4-2 in the Masters Tournament for veterans at the ongoing 2018 Africa Cup for Club Champions, ACCC.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Masters, which is in its fourth edition, is a tournament meant for ex-internationals.
It aims to enhance the long-standing relationship between Nigeria and Ghana and foster the bond of unity between the veterans who had represented their countries in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
In Friday’s game played at the astro-turf pitch of the Abuja National Stadium, the hosts took control of the game right from the start, making dangerous incursions into the opponents’ half.
The pressure paid off as they opened scoring as early as in the 5th minute through Razaq Ndana from a brilliant field goal.
The goal seemed to spark life into the Ghanaian team as they looked for an equaliser, even though they found it hard to penetrate the hosts’ resolute defence.
The visitors had to wait until the third quarter before they found a breakthrough, through a fantastic solo run by James Modson down the left side of the Nigerian defence.
Modson outwitted three defenders in the process before flicking the ball past the goalkeeper to level scores at 1-1 in the 35th minute.
The hosts quickly replied one minute later with a brilliant field goal by Ahmed Mabudi, which was arguably the best goal of the match.
With the scores at 2-1, the fourth quarter stage was set for the final and decisive showdown between both countries, and the Ghanaians drew the first blood.
Seyram Dzefi drew level in the 50th minute after his stick connected with a powerful shot by Ben Asante from 30 yards out for a 2-2 scoreline.
But the hosts were having none of it as they again quickly replied one minute later with a perfectly-executed penalty corner by Razaq Ndana.
He drag-flicked the ball into the top left corner of the goalkeeper’s post.
Baba Ndana then added a fourth in the 59th minute to seal victory for Nigeria.
Abdul Ningi, the President of Nigeria Hockey Federation (NHF), in a post-match reaction said it was a sweet victory for Nigeria, having won the title for the very first time.
“For a very long time, there has been this rivalry between Ghana and Nigeria.
“The Ghanaians have beaten us thrice since the inception of the Masters in 2016.
“So, this was like a payback time for us,” he said.
Ningi however noted that the Ghanaians were a formidable side and boast of a very strong team, stressing that the game was basically to enhance the relationship between both countries.
“One thing going for them is that the players all reside in Accra city, which makes them a more formidable side as they have easily blended together as a team playing together regularly.
“Our case is different as we are scattered all over the country which makes it difficult for us to train together as a team.
“In fact, we only just came together to train for a day or two before the game.
“Part of what we are trying to do is to actually enhance our relationship with Ghana.
“The rivalry is clearly evident, but then there is also the friendship after all is said and done,” he said.
Ben Asante, the President of Ghana Hockey Association, on his part said the game was all about fun and camaraderie.
“We have come this far just to play with our friends in Nigeria.
“It’s all about team-building. It’s fun for we the veterans to come out here and just push yourselves to the limit.
“You are looking at 45 to 50-year-olds running around in shorts and socks.
“I think the younger ones can learn a thing or two from us.
“The whole idea is to keep hockey going. If the Masters don’t get involved in hockey, the game may die a gradual death.
“So far, we have played twice in Accra and twice in Nigeria. It is all about fun and we look forward to doing it again,” he said.
NAN also reports that the Female Masters Tournament which was introduced for the first time in the championship saw Ghana beat Nigeria by a lone goal.
The climax of the Masters was a dinner and awards night for well-deserving veterans of the game.
The 2018 ACCC which began on Saturday will end this Saturday with the finals and classification matches in the male and female categories.