Memories of the ‘Green Eagles’ campaign at the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations held in Ivory Coast
Did you know: The 1984 Africa Cup of Nations was played by Eight teams, unlike of the 16 we have today?
Did you know: There were only two groups made of four teams each unlike the Four groups we have today?
Did you know: Nigeria were in Group B, comprised of Algeria, Ghana and Malawi, and were based in Ivory Coast’s second largest city Bouake?
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In fact Bouakeans, as the residents are called, still fondly remember the team in Green and White, whom many supported during the tournament.
“I was 21 when the 1984 AFCON was played here in Bouake. Most of the city’s population supported the Green Eagles. Why, because of their charismatic captain and star player Stephen Keshi, may his soul rest in peace,” Seri Jean Pierre, a Pharmacist told ACLSports.com.
“Keshi was very handsome and smiled a lot, even when his team was not playing fine. He wore short jerry curls and a thin gold necklace. He was the heartthrob of many women here during the tournament.”
Nigeria opened their campaign against a dreaded opponent, Ghana, on March 5 and walked away taller, with a 2-1 win through goals from Henry Nwosu and Chibuzor Ehilegbu, while Opoku N’ti scored the Black Stars consolation.
“That game was one of the most interesting of the entire competition, thanks to a sizeable Nigerian community here then, most of them traders. The Green Eagles had a better support than Ghana, whose supporters were few,” said Francis Akinyele, a 68-year-old Nigerian car tire dealer, who moved to the city in 1980.
“We used to attend their (Nigeria) training sessions. We visited their hotel and even chatted with some of them like Ali Bala and Muda Lawal.
“After the sweet victory against Ghana, supporters were expecting an easy game against Malawi. Some even made bets of 4-0, 5-1 and 6-2 in favour of Nigeria. But we had the shock of our lives when Malawi took the lead and were leading the Green Eagles 2-0 after the half hour mark.
“My wife started crying saying it was over, but deep down in me I knew Nigeria would react, but the final score I couldn’t guess,” he said.
Former Bendel Insurance winger Clement Temile hit two quick goals in the 39th and 41st minutes to snatch a point for Nigeria ahead of the final group game against top favourites Algeria, who had already bagged six points from wins over Malawi (3-0) and Ghana 2-0).
“The game against Algeria was a cracker. I remember I went to the stadium as early as 11 am to wait for a match that was coming up in the afternoon,” Jubril Kani, another Bouake-based Nigerian, said.
“Nigeria needed a win and so they pressed hard but the Algerians were very tough and fast, especially from the wings. They took long pullouts but Peter Rufai stood up against them in the post. I think the Green Eagles could have won but all the same it ended goalless and we finished second in the group with four points and qualified to the semi-finals.”
That would be the end of the sojourn of the Nigerian team in Bouake as the rest of the competition continued in Abidjan.
“People were crying the day the Green Eagles were leaving the town. We accompanied their bus. It was very emotional, but we wished them success and the trophy,” Kani said.
On March 14 Nigeria knocked out Egypt on penalties following a 2-2 scoreline in the semi-finals.
Stephen Keshi scored his first and his only goal of the tournament by the 43rd minute from the spot before Ali Bala equalised 15 minutes from full-time to cancel out the Pharaohs’ two-goal lead through Imad Suleiman (25th)and Tahar Abouzaid (38th), setting the stage for the shootout won by Nigeria 8-7 to progress to the final.
On March 18 at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan, Cameroon and Nigeria took centre stage for the grand finale before 27,000 fans.
“Nigerians in Bouake joined those in Abidjan, not to mention some who travelled down from other smaller cities as well as the official supporters that came from Lagos,” Wale Peters, an Abidjan-based Nigerian photographer told ACLSports.com.
“Cameroonian fans were teasing us ahead of the game, saying they will claim their first Afcon title over Nigeria. We were confident, telling them we were their seniors because we won it four years ago in 1980 and would do it again.”
However, the Green Eagles couldn’t do it once more. It was a dark evening for the team, supporters and the entire nation. After a dream start to the clash following Muda Lawal’s opener by the 10th minute, Rene N’Djeya (32nd), Theophile Abega (79th) and Ernest Ebongue (84th) hit once each to shatter dreams.
“I don’t know if you saw that on TV. Nigerians here wept and wept. Some were held and led out of the stadium. Some refused to eat food until the next day,” Peters said.
“I shut down my photo studio for 12 days out of pain and in order not to face mockeries. When I returned, I saw graffiti on my wall that read: ‘Una no say una go fit win us. Oya make una go cry for Eko’. I had to repaint my wall.”
Rest in Peace – Oga Stephen Keshi. Your memory and work will live on !!!