Ajegena Akolo Richard
Yesterday October 8th became 71 years since the Nigerian national football team made its international debut, beating Sierra Leone 2-0 in Freetown on 8 October 1949.
Ever since, especially for 66 years till 2015, the 8 October had offered a sort of magic for the Nigerian national football team.
Only once in eight instances did the 8 October ‘magic’ fail to favour the Nigerian national team. If we recall, it was in 2015 when the team in Ahmed Musa’s debut as Nigeria captain, lost 2-0 to DR Congo in a friendly match at Vise, Belgium.
Otherwise, it had been Nigeria all the way on a 8 October date. The facts speak clear. It was on that date that the national team played its first full international in 1949.
It was on that date in 1993 that the Super Eagles first qualified for the FIFA World Cup after being held to a 1-1 draw by Algeria in Algiers.
It was also the first time that a Nigerian team had avoided a defeat against Algeria at the 5th July Stadium in Algiers and thus became the first Anglophone African team at the World Cup.
Even FIFA inadvertently paid tribute to 8 October when it provisionally lifted a Nigerian ban on 8 October 2010.
There is more! It was on 8 October 1977 that the then Green Eagles inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Egypt in Lagos in a World Cup qualifier.
Up till 15 October 2013 when Egypt lost 6-1 to Ghana, the defeat by Nigeria was the heaviest cup-tie loss recorded by Egypt, Africa’s most successful Nations Cup champions.
Before the 1977 4-0 defeat of Egypt, Nigeria had in 1963 played a friendly match with Liberia in Monrovia. The ‘8 October Magic’ was active, even in an away match.
Nigeria drew 2-2 in their very first encounter with Liberia. Another memorable 8 October match for Nigeria was the 5-1 defeat of Zimbabwe in Abuja in 2005.
Even though the 1-0 defeat of Rwanda by Angola on that same day neutralise Nigeria’s win in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, it was all the same a win by Nigeria and an Africa Cup of Nations’ ticket was obtained as a consolation.
Avoiding a defeat on a 8 October date at least saw the Super Eagles coming out of their last competitive match at the now MKO Abiola National Stadium with a 2-2 draw with Guinea in 2011.
How did the 8 October become a Nigerian football milestone? If we recall, in 1949, the Nigerian national team played their first full international match in Freetown against Sierra Leone.
It was during the return journey of the famed UK Tourists, Nigeria’s first national football team selection which played nine matches against amateur clubs during the goodwill visit to the United Kingdom.
For the records, those matches in the UK are not regarded as official matches as they were not played against national teams.
Also, even though there had been inter colonial matches between Lagos selected sides and their Accra counterparts from the then Gold Coast (now Ghana), those matches were not full internationals as attested to in the NFA Handbook 1959 by Reginald Banham Allen, then the Secretary of the then Nigeria Football Association who pointed out that it was the 8 October 1949 match that is Nigeria’s first international match.
Nigeria won the match 2-0, the first goal being an own goal by Sierra Leone skipper, Ashman who deflected into his net, a cross by Nigeria’s left winger, Titus Okere.
Thus, Nigeria’s first international goal was obtained by an opponent hitting the wrong target! It happened just before half time.
In the second half, Sierra Leone had a penalty award, the first ever to be conceded by Nigeria in an international match.
It was taken by Wallace Johnson. Isaac Akioye, who later rose to become a Director of Sports in the National Sports Commission (NSC) saved the kick to become the first Nigerian goalkeeper to save a penalty kick!
When Tesilimi Balogun later scored the second goal to give Nigeria a 2-0 win, he became the first ever Nigerian scorer at an international goal.
What a delightful and pace setting that 8 October 1949 date later became. It will also be recalled that the 8 October became a ‘magical’ date in Nigeria’s football history:
1949 – Freetown (Friendly): Sierra Leone 0-2 Nigeria
1963 – Monrovia (Friendly): Liberia 2-2 Nigeria
1977 – Lagos (World Cup qualifier): Nigeria 4-0 Egypt
1993 – Algiers (World Cup qualifier): Algeria 1-1 Nigeria* qualified for World Cup
2005 – Abuja (World Cup/Afcon qualifier): Nigeria 5-1 Zimbabwe * qualified for Afcon
2010 – FIFA, in apparent respect for 8 October, provisionally lifted a ban imposed on Nigeria.
2010 – Abuja (Afcon qualifier): Nigeria 2-2 Guinea.