ACCRA, GHANA -- The first time I paid attention to the Nations Cup was in 1978 and watching all the tournaments while in Port Harcourt when my fellow school mate at Nima Roman Catholic Primary School, Accra, Ahmed Polo, born Fanmi Ahmed, came out smoking as the "Dribbling Magician" helped the Black Stars lift the trophy for a record three time beating Uganda 2-0 at Accra Sports Stadium. In 1982, and I remember that episode very well when Ghana qualified for the tournament in Libya but could not make it on the grounds of economic hardship when Ghana's economy went down the drain. However, then Libyan strongman, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi said to hell with it and sponsored the bill giving Ghana an opportunity to stretch its record for a fourth Nations Cup victory.
By then, my fellow school mate, Polo, had relocated to Yemen to play professional football which took him to newer heights and all that commercial success. Polo started with a local clubside, "The Seekers," with Ruga Park as its home court, alongside "LB" Labaram, Anas "Thunder" Seidu, Eliasu, Jacskswine, Oko Ahmed (Polo's older brother who later played for Mighty Jets of Jos alongside Yakubu Mambo), Manma Naawu and Manma Sani. It was the dream team within the Accra metropolis even though the likes of Charles Ado Odametey, Joe Adjei, Addoquaye Larye of Accra Hearts of Oak and John Naawu of Accra Great Olympics (Oli Dade, as they were known) were the heroes of the time when Ghana reigned supreme in football. Ghana was the Brazil of African football with the best team ever assembled--Osei Kofi, Osumanu Orlando, Odametey, Adjei, Mamah Ankrah, Emmanuel Oblitey, Baba Yara, Wilberforce Awadwao Mfum, Edward Aggrey Fynn and Dodo Ankrah.
"Nigeria" had a fine squad too back in the day when its chief rival had that all star cast. On September 10, 1960, at Lagos, in a World Cup qualifying match, "Nigeria" had its all star cast and finest players of the era. Cletus Onyeama, Godwin Achebe, Fabian Duru, John Onyeador, Dan Anyiam, Boniface Okoro, Godwin Enamako, Clement Andre, Asuquo Ekpe and Dejo fayemi. That match was a 2-2 draw and none qualified for the World Cup to be held in Chile in 1962. Brazil's Pele squad lifted the trophy again with Vava and the magnificent Garrincha winning the Golden Boot. Pele was injured in the finals and had to leave the game.
In 1969, "Nigeria" and Ghana met again. This time around with different squads. Nigeria and Ghana had new line-ups. "Nigeria" won 2-1 at Ibadan and a 1-1 draw at Accra giving "Nigeria" the edge. In 1973, "Nigeria" assembled a new squad when the oil boom was at its peak and every fanatic was talking football. Emmanuel Okala, Tony Igwe, Morton Owolo, Sani Mohammed, Victor Odua, Dominic Ezeani, Gideon Njoku, Yakubu Mambo, Haruna Ilerika, Kenneth Olayombo and Josiah Dombraiye represented Nigeria. Lante France, Daniel Opong, Samuel Ayi Acquah, Joseph Ghartey, John Eshun, Samuel Amartefio, Robert Foley, Eric Amansua, Kwasi Owusu, Peter Lamptey and Malik Jabir represented Ghana. Ghana won on an aggregate of 2-0.
And then there was the Ghana-"Nigeria" Sports Festival which took place at the National Stadium, Surulere, in 1974. A 15-year-old "dribbling magician" had arrived the shores of Lagos to display his talents. He was "Mini Way," "Dribbling Magician" and all in all, the magnificent Ahmed Polo I hanged out with, including my childhood buddies, at Ruga Park. Polo was something else and he had shown the "Nigerian" squad of Emmanuel Okala, Christian Chukwu, Kunle Awesu, Sam Ojebode, Yakubu Mambo, Haruna Ilerika, Dominic Ezeani, Segun Odegbami and the rest that there was a new kid in town and his name is Polo. Ghana won 2-1.
The next time "Nigeria" and Ghana met again was in 2001 at the Accra Sports Stadium. It was an entirely different squad of a different era when football had exploded into a commercial success with most of the players, if not all, playing in Europe and elsewhere. There was Sammy Adjei, Jacob Mettley, Yaw Amankwa Mireku, Charles Asampong, Adjah Tetteh, Charles Akwei, Christian Gyan, Joseph Ansah, Edward Agyemang, Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, and Ishmael Addo on the Ghana side. There was Ike Shorumu, Godwin Okpakpa, Ifeanyi Udeze, Taribo West, Sunday Oliseh, Emeka Ifejiagwah, Finidi George, Tijani Babangida, Austin "Jay Jay" Okocha, Garba Lawal, Julius Agbahowa, Victor Agali and Nwankwo Kanu. "Nigeria won 3-0 at Port Harcourt and clinched a spot for the World Cup. In 2002, "Nigeria" of course beat Ghana and did it again in 2006 in the Quarter Finals of the Nations Cup. But that's then.
The next few hours Accra, Ghana, should be exploding with all sorts of fanfare and football fever between the archrivals in the continents most prestigious tournament. The line-up for Ghana doesn't look rosy but home court advantage counts a whole lot, especially with history in the making. With "Nigeria" playing bonus raised from $9,000 to $15,000 on each win, the spoiled and arrogant Naija players might give it their best shot never minding the fact that the tiny bonus is nothing to what these unpatriotic players earn playing in Europe. The bonus doesn't mean anything. What counts is commitment to the game, patriotism and passion for the great sport.
The line: Ghana wins by 2 points on the basis they have wit and a better attacking force.
Let's talk after the game!
------ Ambrose Ehirim