Nigeria’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying football match between Nigeria and Cameroon at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, southern Nigeria, on September 1, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
Adegoke Adelabu was a member of the then Green Eagles team that was humiliated 3-0 by the then KK Eleven of Zambia in the group stage at Libya ‘82 African Cup of Nations. It was the 13th edition of the championship and many Nigerians were expecting another memorable outing for the Eagles, after winning the 12th edition two years earlier in Lagos. But it was not to be, as the team crashed out in the group stage, losing 1-2 to Algeria before falling 0-3 to a rampaging Zambian team at the Benghazi Stadium.
Though, the Eagles were able to cage the Zambians at Algiers ‘90 and Tunisia ’94 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, winning 2-0 and 2-1 respectively, Adelabu believes the Chipolopolo’s journey to Uyo on October 7 is something that should be of great concern to many football-loving Nigerians. He sees the Zambians as dangerous customers any day.
Speaking with The Guardian during the week, Adelabu, a member of the then all-conquering IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan said that though the Eagles have what it takes to stop the Chipolopolo, but counselled the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), coach Gernot Rohr and the players to give the tie the seriousness it deserves.
“After winning the 1980 African Cup of Nations in Lagos, we left for Libya ’82 with high expectations,” Adelabu said. “Though I was not part of the team that won the trophy in Lagos, but I recall that every member of the team to Libya ’82 had a feeling that at worst scenario, we will be able to reach the semifinal stage of the competition. We started brightly by beating Ethiopia 3-0, but lost 1-2 to Algeria in our second match,” he stated.
Unlike 1980 in Lagos, the field of eight teams was split into two groups of four at Libya ’82. The Green Eagles team had the likes of Stephen Keshi, Emma Osigwe, Ademola Adeshina, Best Ogedegbe, Tunde Bamidele, Muda Lawal, Henry Nwosu, Okey Isima, Felix Owolabi, Richard Owubokiri, Adelabu Adegoke and Sylvanus Okpara.
With a feeling of nostalgia, Adelabu recalled the sad incident at Benghazi Stadium on March 13, 1982 saying: “After losing the second group match to the Desert Warriors of Algeria, a team the Eagles defeated 3-0 to win the Nations Cup in Lagos two years earlier, we mapped out operation to destroy KK Eleven of Zambia in our last group game. Our coach Otto Gloria did not foresee any danger beating the Zambians. But we got more than we bargained for.”
Three goals by the Zambians, one in the first half and two in the second stanza set the Eagles crashing, and in the process, waved goodbye to the competition.
“It was like a magic. The Zambians swooped on us from all angles, dictating the games from start to finish. We were the defending champions, but the Zambians outplayed us. Some of us couldn’t sleep that night. Ever since then, I always have my fears each time the Eagles are pitched against Zambia. I know that some people might say that after all Nigeria defeated them twice at Algiers ’90 and Tunisia ’94. I want our team to go the extra mile in preparing very hard for the October 7 game in Uyo.
“The Zambians don’t have a particular style of football, which makes it even more dangerous for the Super Eagles. They come all over you like bees. And in this particular case, the Zambians know that losing in Uyo will end all their efforts in this World Cup campaign after raising the hope of their compatriots with two fantastic home and away victories over the Algerians. They won’t play like an away team in Uyo. I watched their match against Algeria and as a former player, coach and sports scientist, I can say that we have a very big match at hand,” Adelabu stated.
The former Eko United FC handler, however, advised Eagles to see the October 7 clash against the Chipolopolo as a Nations Cup final. “One of the ways I think the Eagles can fly pass the Chipolopolo is for our players to dispossess them of ball as quickly as possible. As I said earlier, the Zambians don’t have a particular playing pattern of football. They attack massively and recover with the speed of light. If Mikel Obi is very fit for the match, he should live up to his usual responsibility by distributing passes from the midfield for the attackers to score.
“Mikel and those operating in the midfield must make sure the ball is put behind the Zambians at all time. We must not allow them to dictate the pace of the game. It is a World Cup qualifier and the Zambians know that FIFA’s eyes will be in Uyo. Whatever we may have in Amaju Pinnick in CAF and FIFA, the Zambians believe they also have it in Kalusha Bwalya.
“I read some newspapers reports where the Zambian coach said that Nigeria should be ready for a more physical game in Uyo. A player like Victor Moses should be made to understand that holding on to the ball for too long might be dangerous in the game against the Chipolopolo. He must coordinate the attack in such a way that Nigeria should score a goal whenever we have a slightest opportunity. We must not be wasteful in front of goals,” Adelabu stated.