Revealed: The secret behind Nigeria’s first AFCON victory

Kadiri Ikhana

Kadiri Ikhana, 1980 Green Eagles’ defender now a decorated coach, goes down memory lane to highlight the people and atmosphere that made the first Nations Cup triumph possible for Nigeria on home soil. He spoke with The NATION

It’s is 40 years after the heroic victory of Green Eagle class of 1980, how do you react sir to that memorable day and feat?

It’s obviously 40 years like 40 days. Honestly, I think one must thank God for being part of the winning team for the first time in Nigeria. And also one should be proud that one belongs to that historical moment. It is a moment that one cannot described so much, as young men after winning that trophy the reaction was one of happiness, feeling good and time to open the wines and join our friends to celebrate. We came back to the camp and for the rest of the evening enjoy the big moment. Personally, I did not sleep till 2 AM in the morning.

What was the atmosphere in camp leading to the final match against Algeria?

The atmosphere was tensed; we believed that the trophy is ours before we kicked the ball. A day before the final match, no one believed that the trophy will leave Nigeria. We were so sure about that and that belief we took to the pitch. We were optimistic that nothing would go wrong. In addition to that I think the fans as well as every Nigerians just believed that Nigeria will win the trophy for the first time judging from the kind of players that we have in the camp. Great players, determined players, strong players, quick players, fast thinking players. We were all on our toes and the atmosphere in camp was calm and also the belief was also there.

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Where did the team draw inspiration for the emphatic victory?

The inspiration came from the fans. We were camped in the Lagos National stadium and as at 7AM, the stadium was already filled up with people who wanted to get entrance into the stadium main bowl. Multitude of people, thousands upon thousands of people and this was enough to inspire us to winning. Honestly, it was a great day. Before 10AM, the stadium was already filled up. Is that not enough inspiration to go ahead and lift the trophy? I say it is.

How did you prepare and what does the victory means to you. Did it change your life?

We were well prepared for the tournament. We had been preparing for 15 months before the championships. You are aware that we went to Brazil, we played friendly matches all over the world and that preparation alone is enough. We were ready. It obviously prepared us for the championship. The preparation gave us the strength to face the challenges ahead.

Tell us about your colleagues who inspired and made you laugh?

We inspired ourselves. There was this healthy rivalry in the camp and the way everybody was doing their best to get a shirt was enough inspiration. We have all kind of players in the team. Those who make you laugh and those who inspire and late Muda Lawal is in the league of those who make you laugh. He’s was a jolly good fellow and he enjoyed playing the game. He was a nice guy. In training, he used to crack jokes a lot. If he dribbles you he would say ‘mo ti ge e lo to seyin mi’ (I’ve dribble you join the train).

40 years on, do you think the government has done enough to celebrate your team?

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Forty years has passed since that victory and I think the government has tried in some ways. After winning the trophy, we were given national award, which is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Getting a country’s national award is something that one should be proud about. Two, we were given houses, cars and monetary reward. Then, so many things were given to us. But, I think what is left out is that the ex-internationals should be looked after. Especially after we have retired and getting old; when one cannot move himself like before. I think the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) especially should be able to come in and help the ex-international. That is what I think.

Ex-internationals deserve a welfare structure because having played and remained in the game as a coach it is difficult for you to go into other things when you are old. You don’t know any other thing apart from football. when you cannot coach again, and you have played for the country and contributed your quota to bringing up the new generation of footballers. I believe that the NFF must have in place a welfare system that will take care of its old players who have made the country proud. Is that too much to ask?

When I saw the advertorial by the Sport Ministry on March 22nd celebrating the members of the 1980 Nations Cup winning squad, I was happy and I thought something is going to happen from the government side. Unfortunately, I heard from the Sport Ministry that those who are still living will be honoured during the National Sport Festival in Edo state. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic which has taken the attention of all that preparation may have been thrown aside. But at the same time I think the suggestion was a nice one and I hope it will come to pass one day.

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Some of your colleagues have died; do you think they died fulfilled?

I think my late colleagues died fulfilled. For someone to represent their country and for the country to recognize you, I think they are fulfilled. I think so.

Among your colleagues, who was your closest pal(s)?

Everybody is my pal. I don’t have one single person that I can say we move together and share things together. No. the camp as at that period is one man show. You have to fight for yourself and work for yourself.

What are your suggestions moving Nigerian football forward?

I use to say something and I will put it this way. Have you seen a coach in the table tennis sector that has not played the game? What about boxing, tennis, basketball, judo, you find that everybody has participated in the sport before becoming a coach. But, in football it is not like that. Now, you see somebody that has not played football coaching football at the top flight. I think we should have a majority of coaches in the top flight who have played the game before. That is what I think.

Then, it is important that we come together. There is infighting in ever arms of the game. In the administration area, there is infighting. Even the supporters are not one. There are different groups of supporters. We are not doing things right. There are so many things we need to put right. Football is not like it used to be in our days. It is now big business. We should do it like the business it is. Can you imagine that our league do not have sponsor? So many things are wrong in our football and our administrators should come together to put things right.


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