AFCON 2019 Daily Diary – Day 19

From his vantage position on the wall, the ‘fly’ witnessed a great deal but heard very little yesterday in the Super Eagles camp. It was a day of little action, but plenty of talk.  The only action really was the last training session that held at the Sham Sports Club ground. It was a closed-door affair. No one was allowed into the venue to watch the training session, except the media that were given the first 15 minutes of the session to do their job and, thereafter, ushered out by the man in charge of media relations – Toyin Ibitoye.  Otherwise the atmosphere in the camp and around the team was of confidence, quiet, somber but pregnant with an invisible tension.  All day, the hotel environment was empty of any signs of the Nigerian team. The team was into itself, away from the prying eyes of a public eager to know what was going on, how the team was preparing, who was visiting, and so on.

The answer is a deafening silence from the team’s section of the hotel. The day was punctuated only by the visit of the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Amaju Pinnick. He came with goodies and words of encouragement for the players.  Amaju has assumed the role of Motivator-In-Chief of the squad. His visits have become a tonic of inspiring words and spirit lifting promises.  Yesterday, he reminded the team and its coach of their patriotic responsibility, about the importance of the challenge before them, and the expectation of all Nigerians to use their success to unite a country in political, ethnic and economic turmoil.  He then handed over the $75,000 bonus pledge of the Chairman of AITEO to the team for the victory over Cameroon. He subtly assured them there could be more where that came from if they go out tonight and defeat South Africa.  Amaju then spent the next hour alone with Gernot Rohr for a tete a tete. Even the fly on the wall could not penetrate the silent conversation.  The belief is that their conversation could not be far from today’s match and its implications should the team win or lose. Amaju Pinnick may be under pressure to determine Mr. Rohr’s fate, win or lose today’s match and even the African championship.
Yesterday, also, the team had their last training session at the Sham Sports Club ground.  Everybody trained. All the players are now fit and available for today’s match. No one knows what is playing in Gernot Rohr’s mind, and who he will play to start such a tension filled match.  Last night the camp was silent, with all the players retiring early to their rooms, each quietly contemplative and ‘playing’ today’s match in their mind (as is wont of players on an important match day). Concentration is 100%.   This early morning, only the tick tock of the antique wall clock in the empty lobby of the Le Meridien Heliopolis Hotel interrupts the silence in the camp of the Super Eagles.  

The ‘fly’ waits patiently.

Meanwhile, the coaches of the two teams, Stuart Baxter of the Bafana Bafana, and Gernot Rohr of the Super Eagles, have been engaged in their own mind game. Neither coach wants their team to be tagged ‘favorite’ to win, preferring to wear the toga of  ‘underdog’ in this crucial match that will resolve the current supremacy battle between Africa’s two economic giants. It will be fought this evening on the neutral ground of the magnificent 75,000 capacity lush, ‘field of dreams’ called the Cairo International Stadium.

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