AFCON 2019 Daily Diary – Day 20

Last night was very special.

Unlike when the team defeated Cameroon, the celebrations did not end at midnight.

I recall such a night during my days in the national team.

It is traditional to celebrate to break the monotony of camp life when you have truly earned a victory.

Yesterday, the script of the match against South Africa was well written, well planned, well-rehearsed, and well executed. Nigeria’s best team played that match.

Set aside the pressure that most people felt as the match dragged into the second half and it appeared the Eagles took their feet off the accelerator pedal, and the Bafana Bafana appeared to be getting on top of the game. The South Africans were lucky to have been gifted a goal they did not deserve, otherwise the match could have dragged on like that for the next one week and they would not have had a clear shot at Nigeria’s goal. That was the script.

The reality is that on the night, the Super Eagles were better, played better, and their victory was well earned and well deserved. So, the players earned their right to a full evening of celebration.

In accordance to tradition and because that’s the correct thing to do, Gernot Rohr gave the players the longest free evening since they went into mental and physical ‘prison’ three weeks ago.

For the past three weeks, even their breathe was being monitored and must be in accordance with the directive of the coach. The only thing a player could do on his own is to use the bath room (the toilet).

Camp, for the duration of such a championship, was total seclusion from the hustle and bustle of regular living, a life of confinement in a limited environment, regimented to the minutest detail by the coach, akin to the RSM, ‘Regimental Sergeant-Major’ in a military camp institution.

This is worse than life in a military camp (a story for another day).

At a point during the championship, however, when you have arrived at a certain place where a break is needed, a team gets it when it genuinely earns it.

That was the story of the Eagles last night.

Gernot Rohr’s directed that the players were free to go and celebrate and report at breakfast this morning. There was a roar in camp.

So, the players celebrated in the lobby of the Le Meridien Heliopolis Hotel for some time with a few friends, family, other hotel guests, the media and few fans that besieged the place after the match, only for them to disappear again, with aching limbs and completely exhausted bodies, into the bowels of their room, to the comfort of a hot bath and their waiting beds, for a long night’s sleep that will not be disrupted by the regular knocking on the door early this morning for another round of training.

Can you believe it, that was all the celebration?

This morning after breakfast the journey to July 21 resumes again, with possibly, Algeria, in sight as the next hurdle.

The ‘Fly on the Wall’ was at the stadium yesterday and settled amongst the happy, singing and dancing supporter’s club of Nigeria joined by Egyptians fans that had changed allegiance from the Pharaohs to the Super Eagles in the true spirit of the beautiful game.

It is after breakfast this morning that the team shall know what Gernot’s next script will be. The team will surely congregate and watch the match between Cote D’Ivoire and Algeria this evening. The winner of that match will face the Super Eagles next Sunday on the Field of Dreams.

Congratulations to the great Super Eagles and their coach, Gernot Rohr.

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Segun Odegbami