Black Point. Red Devils. A reputation as one of Africa’s most difficult environments for visiting teams. Four points to their own seven.
Before flying out of Nigeria for Congo on Thursday last week, the Super Eagles knew they were not going for a tea party in Pointe Noire. Pointe Noire (the French for Black Point) is so –named because it was point of no return for captured persons during the era of the obnoxious slave trade.
The Nigeria delegation of about 100 persons, including NFF President Amaju Pinnick; Senator Adamu Gumba (Chairman of Senate Sports Committee); Senator Mudashiru Oyetunde Hussein (vice chairman, Senate Sports Committee); Mr. Mainasara Illo (vice chairman/CEO, Nigeria 2009 LOC); Dr. Rafiu Oladipo (President –General, Nigeria Football Supporters Club); NFF Executive Committee members Felix Anyansi-Agwu, Sunday Dele Ajayi and Babagana Kalli; NFF Management members led by Barr. Musa Amadu including Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme, Andekin Christopher and Ademola Olajire; Coach Stephen Keshi and his technical/backroom staff; 25 players; some NFF Staff; a number of media representatives; some officials of the National Assembly and 20 members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, was received at the Augustino Neto International Airport at about 2am on Friday by over 100 cheering Nigerian residents of that country.
But there was only a strapping junior official from the Congolese Football Federation at the airport.
A two –man advance party led by NFF’s Head of International Competitions, Bola Oyeyode arrived in Pointe Noire 37 hours earlier and had made adequate arrangements, including switching the Super Eagles’ accommodation from the two-star Hotel de Fez (reserved by Congo Federation) to the five –star Atlantic Palace Hotel.
The Hotel de Fez, which eventually housed the officials, had no elevator and the meal was austere. Chairman of NFF Technical Committee, Felix Anyansi-Agwu raised hell about so many matters, wondering why Nigeria always pampers visiting teams who have no respect for our teams. “You mean this is what the Congolese reserved for our senior National team, champions of Africa.”?
The match co-ordination meeting presaged what would happen the following day. Congo FA officials proved difficult on every matter. No tickets for Nigeria delegation; no press accreditation and there was nothing they could do about our complaints!
The Congolese FA’s promise to send an official with match tickets and only three press tags (even when we had told them we came with twelve) was never kept. Eventually, Pinnick, Anyansi, Amadu and a few other persons left for the hotel of the Match Commissioner (Alim Konate from Cameroon) to complain. He was not there. So, the Nigeria delegation had to resort to buying from the tickets that had been purchased earlier by the leadership of the Nigeria community in Congo.
President of the Nigerian community, Mr. Egbuna Ezenwabasili, who had been living in Congo for 23 years, did a yeoman’s job providing vital information and helping out the Nigeria delegation in certain areas.
Four hours before the match, NFF President Amaju Pinnick, Anyansi-Agwu and Ikpeme met with Coach Keshi and availed him of the tactics of the Congolese, and to let him know that the boys must be focused on the task at hand as the hosts were proving more hostile by the minute.
At the stadium, members of the Nigeria delegation including those with VIP tickets were shepherded to the popular stand. At 0-2, hell broke out as missiles rained on the pitch, leading to the game being held up for 90 minutes.
But praise must go to the Congolese security operatives for their excellent job. They protected the vehicles belonging to the Nigeria delegation all the way to back to the hotel and scared off their citizens who were ready to unleash mayhem.
In the end, Pointe Noire turned out to be Nigeria’s Bright Point in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series. “We thank God that we are leaving here smiling. It was not an easy task,” Pinnick said at the airport on the way back.