For the first time, the people were excited to see football fans and tourists from different parts of Africa and beyond converge in their city. The excitement was everywhere.
On the eve of the encounter, the late Coach Shuaibu Amodu told The Guardian with a high level of optimism that no matter what happened, the Eagles would fly high above The Pharaohs of Egypt. He was banking on the experience and exposure of his players, most of who played for top European clubs at that time.
From Vincent Enyeama to Joseph Yobo, Onyekachi Apam, Elderson Chiejine, Chidi Idiah, Danny Shittu, Taye Taiwo, Seye Olofinjana, Kanu Uche, Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Chinedu Obasi, Victor Obinna, Mikel Obi, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Peter Odemwingie. Indeed, the team was fully loaded with top stars and was tipped as one of the teams to win the tournament.
Besides his top players, Coach Amodu and members of his technical crew were also banking on history to favour Nigeria since Egypt had not defeated the three-time AFCON champions at the senior level for a long time.
As early as 10 a.m., the Estadio Nacional de Ombaka Stadium in Benguela was already filled to capacity with fans, particularly market women and school children waiting for the kickoff of the highly anticipated Group C challenge.
Members of the Presidential Task Force led by the then Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, were also on the ground alongside the then NFA chairman, Sani Lulu, Secretary-General, late Taiwo Ogunjobi and former Sports Minister, Mallam Sani Ndanusa.
The Eagles struck first to make it look as if it was going to be business as usual.
A beautiful goal by Chinedu Obasi in the 12th minute sent the entire crowd into wide jubilation.
Rather than keep the momentum, the Nigerian went to sleep, allowing the ‘wounded’ Egyptians to settle down.
With their quick passes and long-range ball distributions from one end of the pitch to the other, the crowd soon shifted support to the Pharaohs. It soon paid off for Egypt afterwards.
In the 34th minute, the Super Eagles’ defence led by Yobo collapsed, allowing Emad Moteab to draw level for Egypt. The first half encounter later ended 1-1.
On resumption of the second half, the fans were expecting the Eagles to change their pattern of play, but they continued with their kick and follow the play, and things got worse.
Despite the drums and motivational songs coming from members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club led then by Rafiu Ladipo, the Eagles failed to put their acts together.
Nigeria soon conceded a second goal in the 54th minute when Ahmed Hassan struck for the Egyptians, while Mohamed Gedo confirmed victory with his effort three minutes from full-time to end the tie 3-1. The Super Eagles eventually lost the battle of Benguela to The Pharaohs, but not the war.
The Eagles had to dig deep to book qualification into the next stage of the AFCON, but this came at a huge cost.
At the Angola 2010, the Eagles became the most travelled team of the tournament, traversing from Benguela to Lumbago, a city surrounded by rocks, and later to Luanda, before finally returning to Benguela for the third-place match against Algeria.
The Amodu-led Eagles had lost 1-0 to Ghana’s Black Stars in the semifinals in Luanda.
Now that there is no Obafemi Martins, Chinedu Obasi, Mikel Obi, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Nwankwo Kanu in the Nigerian Eagles, the interim coach of the team, Augustine Eguavoen is confident his lads have what it takes to cage the North African team, which parades one of the most deadly strikers in the world.
Three days ago, Mohammed Salah was shortlisted by FIFA, as one of the three candidates for the 2021 World Best Player Award.
Some sports analysts believe tomorrow’s match is an opportunity for the Liverpool of England’s priced star to justify his current rating.
The match is also significant for both countries ahead of the next FIFA ranking before the Qatar 2022 World Cup playoff in March. The winner of tomorrow’s game may likely get the nod to play its play-off second leg match at home. The Eagles are currently fifth in Africa, but Egypt is plotting to dethrone Nigeria.
The Eagles must be ready for the big fight in tomorrow’s epic encounter at Garoau.