Diary of a mad journo- Pink boots, braided hair and tight shorts

By Nduka Orjinmo

The last time the Liberation Stadium witnessed such a crowd in recent times was at the December discount market organized by the Rivers state government.

The crowd that greeted me at the gate was an unusual sight and evoked tales told me by my dad of Nigeria football in the 80’s and early 90’s.

My dad was a core Sharks man who never had the privilege of enjoying Champions’ League football with his team, and there I was, seeing my second Champions’ League game in less than three weeks.

Dolphins got off the block like a house on fire and went ahead in under three minutes through Ifeanyi Egwim.

I was still trying to make out the Dolphins side in their new kits, when the goal came. I sensed a drubbing for the Cameroonians and quickly settled down to feast on my sandwiches.

The Coton Sport team also settled down, and it did not take long for me to smell the trouble in stock for Dolphins.

The Coton team looked so technically sound, switching from a fluid 3-5-2 formation when they had the ball, to a 5-3-2 formation without the ball.

Their French coach was up all ninety minutes; barking instructions to his side, and you could see the instantaneous effect on the pitch.

The first sign of trouble for Dolphins came in the 15th minute, when a mix up in the central defence allowed a Coton striker, Jacques Haman a one on one chance against Sunday Rotimi, and only he knows how he managed to miss that.

The body language of the Dolphins side showed a team that was not ready to play. The players had boycotted training 48hours earlier, and it was very obvious that they were not in the mental frame for the game.

Coach Eguma started with Adamu Mohammed upfront with Ifeanyi Egwim in a supporting role.

The back four remained unchanged but for the inclusion of Victor Babayaro at left back who alongside Owusu Addae left the comfort of the bench to sweat it under the Port Harcourt sun.

Seidu Abu, Chidi Osuchukwu and Abduljaleel Ajagun formed the midfield quartet alongside Owusu in what was a very confusing structure by the Dolphins team.

Aside the back four, it was pretty difficult getting a hang of the Dolphins formation. At times it looked like a 4-3-3, other times it looked like a 4-4-2.

The exclusion of IsiakaOlawale from the starting eleven was a surprise to me. I feel Dolphins are at their best when he plays, as alongside Seidu Abu he offers that stability, strength and marking ability that an Ajagun does not offer.

Needless to say Dolphins are at their best when they play a 4-3-3 formation, the abilities of Chidi Osuchukwu are better utilized when he is relieved of the marking duties a 4-4-2formation puts on him.

The Dolphins team lacked character, and the presence of the Nigerian supporters club, stuck out like a sore thumb, made me feel at times as if I was watching another Super Eagles performance. The team failed to pick up men, Kennedy Chinwo was badly positioned and it was only a matter of time before the Coton team found a way in.

And it did come in the 20th minute of the match, when the only movement in the Dolphins side was the dangling dreadlocks of Victor Babayaro.

His legs however failed to move, as static as the rest of his team, and he allowed his man too much space to float a ball in.

Okay, I said to myself, that is quite a harmless ball, it should be dealt with. As I followed the flight of the ball, it was physiologically impossible to bring my sandwich to my mouth, so there; it stood, hanging mid-air for several seconds.

But my arm wasn’t the only thing rooted to the spot. Goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi was transfixed to a spot, also following the flight of the ball.

He stood there in no man’s land and as the ball made contact with Haman Jaques’ head, Rotimi still made no attempt to move.

The goal had come out of the blues and caught everyone by surprise. It was only when I moved my arm, resigning myself to the equalizer and hence a move towards another bite at my sandwich, that Rotimi actually recovered from his trance to retrieve the ball.

Dolphins made two substitutions at the break; off went goalkeeper Rotimi and Adamu Mohammed.

The duo had by a mile been the best players on the day. Best of the worst I mean. But you have to question the rationale behind the substitution of the goalkeeper.

If he wasn’t injured and was still in a frame of mind to continue the match, then why deny yourself the choice of an out-field change, just because you want to punish your goalkeeper for an offence.

The Coton team started the second half as they finished the first. They quickly resumed control, passed the ball well and always threatened from the break.

A few refereeing decisions went the way of Dolphins, as the assistant made a few offside calls that were doubtable, when Coton had the ball in key positions.

Alas, the mother of all refereeing decisions happened in the 63rd minute. Dolphins, who had mid-week cried blue murder in Aba against Enyimba in the Premier League, were beneficiaries of a penalty that befits only a home side in the NPL. Penalty won, up stood Ifeanyi Egwim.

Having got the first goal and with more time on the clock, you would understand Ifeanyi stepping up to take the penalty.

Perhaps he fancied a hat trick. He stood a la Ronaldo, feet spread like the tender limbs of a drunk, pink boots glistening like Rose petals in November sun.

Seeing him from behind due to my position at the stadium and his hands akimbo, I felt he looked more like a Bayelsa Queens player, dreadlocks and all.

And he missed the penalty. His kick no worse than that by Kanu Nwankwo at the 2002 nations cup against Cameroun.

In the run-up to the kick, someone whispered to me that Ifeanyi would miss it, as he did not look natural, how right he was. His kick encapsulated everything Dolphins was on the day: lifeless, clueless, daft and vengeful. Yes, vengeful. I feel the Dolphins players were out to lose the match in protest of bonuses owed them by their sponsors. At least, if they exit the competition at this stage, there would be no fun trips across the continent for the politicians and their cronies. People whose interest in such away games lie not in tension on the field but what tension they can relieve off the field.

Anyway, the miss was to be his final kick as coach Eguma wasted no time in hauling him off for Olewezi Johnson. Enough of the pink boot and braided hair, no official of the club deemed him fit for an encouraging hug, not even Emah Godwin, marking his 15th appearance on the bench.

Coton sport continued to dominate possession, and were finding spaces in the midfield and in the Dolphins half, as the Nigerian champions threw men forward for another goal.

Kennedy Chinwo was repeatedly caught out of position by the Coton number nine, Hamman, who showed good ball sense and off the ball movement and caused the Dolphins defence all sorts of trouble.

But in the end, it was a player who had endured an anonymous presence all day on the pitch, Owusu Addae that popped up with the winner on 88th minute.

Rid of his tight shorts that would hitherto have constituted a restraint with the old jersey, he was able to stretch to give Dolphins the lead going to Garoua.

Goal scored, off he sprinted not to the Nigerian supporters club or the Dolphins band, but to the 300 or so Cameroonian supporters singing melodic makossa.

The man had good taste in music, I gave it to him. Wish his football could be as near.

You can follow Nduka on twitter, @Orjinmonduka
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