In 2006 the 150 million Nigerian football fans at home and millions throughout the world looked on with disappointment as the major football powers showcased their strength at the World Cup in Germany. Prior to missing out on that fiesta, Nigeria had qualified and made a name for themselves at the three previous versions of one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. A string of mediocre results early on in their campaign for South Africa had left the Nigerians behind group leader, Tunisia, going into the sixth and final round of qualifying matches last Saturday. Nigeria was trailing Tunisia by two points and the only way the West Africans could qualify for the World Cup was for them to win in Nairobi and hope for Tunisia to either draw or lose in Maputo. A win for Tunisia would have spelt their progress to South Africa, regardless of how the Nigeria-Kenya match went. Thus, with the guarantee of qualification not entirely in their hands, the Nigerian team had to focus on their match against Kenya and pray the other stars lined up. That’s exactly what happened.
To get a better sense of the atmosphere in Nigeria before and during the match, I tuned into Silverbird, a Nigerian TV station available on DSTV, and naturally, the mood was that of silent anticipation. The match in Nairobi kicked off at 14:00GMT and Nigeria looked more purposeful, constantly raiding the Kenya defense and coming close to scoring on several occasions. In the 30th minute, the hosts gave the visitors a fast shock when Kenya’s most recognized star, Oliech, scored the first goal for Kenya, and the score remained the same till the first half ended.
Nigeria started the second half strongly and within minutes leveled the score through Wolfsburg striker, Obafemi Martins. One minute later, Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni capitalized on an absent-minded Kenyan defense to push the Super Eagles into the lead. Meanwhile, no goal had been scored in the match between Tunisia and Mozambique taking place in Maputo. If the two scores remained the same, the Super Eagles would earn qualification to South Africa, but the drama was not over. In the 80th minute Kenya equalized, bringing back to the teeming Eagles’ fans the dreaded possibility of staying at home for another World Cup.
Things looked bright again for Nigeria when news reached the stadium that Mozambique had scored against Tunisia. This development was just what the Eagles wanted to hear, and they responded with great appetite for success. With the destiny of qualifying for South Africa now in their own hands, the Nigerians started to assert their superiority of the East Africans. This culminated in Obafemi Martins grabbing his second goal of the match close to the end of the match, bringing the score to 3-2 in favor of Nigeria. The scores in both games stayed that way, handing the Super Eagles a ticket back to the glamorous soccer showpiece, and throwing the hundreds of millions of Nigerian supporters into ecstasy.