By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Superstitious Nigerians believe ever so vociferously that the crashing out of the Super Eagles from the AFCON tournament in Cameroun was all due to the video call made to the team by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It has been splashed all over the social media that millions of Nigerian ball fans were thronging to the betting points to bet against the Super Eagles knowing with amazing certainty that the call by Buhari to the team was bad luck that would ultimately lead to utter failure.
Superstition has never ever been my cup of tea, so I drank not a jot from the raging matter as I sat down to watch the Nigeria-versus-Tunisia knockout match on television.
A boon companion was quick to remind me that the bad luck call has led to the Super Eagles donning their ruinous dark-green jersey for the match.
I quickly reminded my friend that the Super Eagles wore the same jersey when the team defeated the much-fancied Egyptian team complete with bubble-in-the-attack Mohammed Salah.
The Tunisians appeared as sure losers on paper especially as many members of the team had reportedly succumbed to COVID-19 attack including the coach.
Tunisia had also lost two out of the three matches the team played in the group stage while Nigeria won all three matches in flying colours.
Many Nigerians predicted a trouncing of the hapless Tunisians – that’s until the now controversial Buhari call came.
I believe it was Edmund Burke who said that ‘superstition is the religion of feeble minds’ while Goethe declared that ‘superstition is the poetry of life.’
Man must perforce live with superstition, whether as religion or poetry, and the matchup of the national teams of Nigeria and Tunisia that share the moniker of ‘Eagles’ presented a can’t-miss duel.
The early going of the Nigeria-Tunisia match saw the Super Eagles almost overwhelming the Carthage Eagles with relentless attacks.
The North African teams always had the pattern of being defensively compact and relying on surprising counter-attacks in dealing with the almost always more skillful teams out of West Africa.
It’s a time-tested weapon, and it was easy to see that the Tunisians had set up the pattern of clipping the dangerous wing-play of Nigeria’s dangerous wingers Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze.
Coach Augustine Eguavoen apparently did not get enough hang of the Tunisian ploy by employing wing interchanges and opening up the opposition defence from the midfield.
Proponents of the bad luck matter would readily cite the instance of Kelechi Iheanacho receiving a yellow card very early in the encounter.
An upset was somewhat on the turf when both sides ended the first half on a scoreless note with Nigeria having no shot on goal.
It took only a couple of minutes after the restart for Tunisia to strike the death blow with a viciously swerving and bouncing shot from all of 25 years that caught Nigerian goalie Maduka Okoye napping.
The panic mode instantly overwhelmed the Nigerian bench, and Alex Iwobi who was brought in for Iheanacho got a straight red card after a VAR review and dodgy refereeing.
The Tunisians then resorted to their trademark time-wasting tactics to see out the match that Nigeria did little to salvage.
Whether one believes in superstition or not, it has to be admitted that Nigerians are more divided today than even in the time of the civil war.
The leadership of the country has done next-to-nothing to heal the wounds of hate except to latch onto football to earn a measure of adulation.
There is no doubt whatsoever that football is the greatest unity-inducing factor in Nigeria, and any victory by the Super Eagles always serves to forget the differences and the divides.
It’s always said that one should not mix politics with sports, but nothing has been more political than sports all over the world.
Let’s not forget that Honduras and El Salvador fought a war because of football in 1969 while involved in a qualification match for the 1970 World Cup. It’s all captured in the book The Soccer War by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.
The legendary football manager of Liverpool FC in England, Bill Shankly, remarkably said: ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that.’
The relevant lesson here is that Nigerian authorities ought to devote consummate attention to sports and football instead of resorting to a knee-jerk presidential call that may end up being damned as a curse or bad luck.
I don’t believe in superstition, but superstition can never ever be banished from the beautiful game of football all over the world. The superstitions are all part of the fun and I here plead with agitated Nigerian ball fans to draw back the missiles aimed at my guy Augustine ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen, Alex Iwobi, Maduka Okoye, President Buhari etc.
Please do take it as fun when you read posts such as this from ‘madman’ Azuka Jebose on Facebook: ‘BUHARI’S CURSED PHONE CALL – Shey you see that Buhari na bad news for Nigerians. See how him phone call to awa Football team take dabaru us? Who send him to call? We were winning all games in the Africa Cup of Nations before him call us for this match against Tunisia. You people that campaigned and voted for him, how market na? Ndinmor!!!’
This calls for laughter, not anger.
*Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, poet, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos