It was unbelievable, implausible and incredible. The Green Eagles of Nigeria had been walloped 99-1 by a little known India team. If you have never heard of this historic match, you must belong to the incumbent “Indomie generation” in Nigeria.
Peter Rufai, as well as Emmanuel Okala, were the goalkeepers that day. It was an unforgettable day and a football match that ended India’s football journey as they were banned by FIFA, the world football governing body, for scoring too many goals, allegedly for using voodoo in a friendly soccer match.
One of the players said each time they needed to kick the ball, they noticed a ball of fire. This drew them back each time and the Indians attacked them much more intensely. Peter Rufai, who would have saved the day for Nigeria stated that each and every time the ball approached him, he saw a lion instead and that was why Nigeria lost ingloriously that day.
No one could really tell when the match was played, the exact year nor the exact date but the venue could be predicted: the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos. It is the only stadium in the country then that could stage a match of that magnitude.
How the Match went
A few months after the Nigerian Civil War, the Military Governor of Lagos, Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson (rtd.), decided to stage an exhibition match at the National Stadium to help Lagosians forget the bloody 30 months war that just ended.
Johnson wanted to stage the match against Ghana but he was advised against it. His advisers reminded him how Ghana trashed Nigeria 3-0 at the Independence Day match in 1960, and another loss to Ghana would defeat the purpose of the exhibition match. His advisers suggested that they chose a team that would be very easy to beat and he agreed.
Ethiopia, Zimbabwe were considered. The United States of America was also mentioned and finally, India was suggested.
Johnson and his advisers believed that India would be a walkover and the country was chosen. When India agreed to play the exhibition match against Nigeria, they were overjoyed and they (the Indians) went ahead to give them three special conditions:
- The match must be played barefooted i.e. without soccer boots.
- Each goal scored by India would count as three goals while Nigeria would have one goal and,
- If Nigeria eventually scored a goal, India would concede defeat.
They considered it fair enough as they resigned themselves to India’s inexperience in football. However, they did not anticipate the strategic dexterity, and of course the mythical voodoo, the Indians would bring to fore.
Behind the White teeth
Peeeen! Algerian referee, Mohammed Touati blew his whistle to begin the game, after the 22 players of both sides had filed into the pitch barefooted.
The spectators screamed in excitement as India kicked off the game and before the fans had taken their seats, the Indians drew the first blood. Gooooaaaaal!!! 3-0. The Indian fans went wild with jubilation. The Nigerian team did not believe what just happened. They had hardly settled when the Indians scored the first goal of the game.
Peeen! The Nigerian strikers kicked off. But as they passed the ball to one another, they were surprised when an Indian striker grabbed the ball from the midfield and shot in the air as the Nigerian goalkeeper dived to the wrong side.
Gooooaaaal!! 6-0. The Nigerians could not believe it.
Okala looked morose and confused. They had thought that the Indian team would be easy to beat. Alas, they were wrong. Nevertheless, the Indians were going wild with jubilation and ecstasy.
Peeen! The Nigerian forwards passed to each other. Haruna Ilerika passed the ball into the Nigerian half to Christian Chukwu but Chukwu lost concentration and an Indian striker dispossessed him and charge down towards the penalty box. Okala rushed out but he was not as quick as the opposition striker who tumbled in the box after a weak contact with Okala.
Peeen! Penalty!! Touati pointed to the spot. The players could not believe it and their protests fell on deaf ears. To add insult upon injury, the Algerian referee brandished a yellow card to the goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala.
The Injun Deluge
Peeen! The Indian striker stepped up and blasted into the top-left corner. Goal! 9-0. Three goals in the opening ten minutes? The Nigerian spectators were dazed, wondering what could be the matter. Their side of the stadium was silent as the graveyard but the Indians were shouting and hooting at the top of their voices.
Peeen!…….Goal! 12-0. 15-0. 18-0. 21-0. 24-0. 27-0. 30-0. It was the 25th minute and the Nigerian players had not neared India’s goal territory. In fact, the Indian goalkeeper had not touched the ball at all.
However, two minutes later, Ilerika charged forward on a solo run with the ball and as he neared the Indian’s goal territory, he raised his foot to shoot but he slipped and fell, twisting his ankle in the process. Ilerika laid on the turf groaning and moaning like a baby while an Indian defender quickly played the loose ball away. That was the nearest and clearest chance the Green Eagles ever had. Ilerika was then brought off for another striker.
Eighteen minutes later, the score stood at 54-0 as Touati blew to signal the end of the first half. Many of the Nigerian spectators had angrily left the stadium even before the half-time interval. However, the few optimistic and loyal Nigerians waited to see the end of the match.
A Storm in a Teacup
Meanwhile, in the Nigerian dressing room, the Head Coach of the Green Eagles, Otto Gloria was furious.
“Can someone just explained what in the heavens happened back there?” Gloria fumed. But no one dared to speak up.
“Okala, you are the damn captain, answer me!” He shouted. But Okala was speechless and at the same time angry.
“Erm..erm.. Coachito,” Christian Chukwu interjected, “Those Indians are using juju. They are using black magic.”
“Yes, yes,” the rest of the team echoed Chukwu’s assertion and murmured among themselves.
But the Brazilian would have none of it as he disregarded their allegations. “Will you keep you quiet? Magic my foot. There is no magic in football and you are all going out there in the next 45 minutes to prove me right.” Gloria substituted Okala and brought in Peter Rufai to replace him and Segun Odegbami replaced Alloysius Atuegbu.
The Second Half
However, when the Nigerians kicked off the game to commence the second half, the match was full of mysterious occurrences that were unbelievable to the human eyes according to the players. They were the only ones who saw and felt it. But to the spectators and coaches, it was just a normal football match. Each time the Nigerians wanted to kick the ball, the players alleged, they saw a ball of fire. This meant that they avoided attacking any charging Indian player on the ball.
The goalkeeper, Peter Rufai, also said that each time an Indian player approached him, he saw a lion roaring towards him and a ball of fire. For one of the goals, he purportedly ran away only to hear the crowd roaring and cussing him on why he would leave his post. He turned back to see the ball at the back of the net.
To believe or not to
The players on many occasions complained to the Algerian referee about the despicable situation. However, the referee being a citizen of a country where such complex technology was unheard of, refused to believe their complaints and ordered the match to go on.
This would go on until a courageous Nigerian striker risked the roaring lion’s head and fired the ball into the net. The ball was said to have turned into stone just before he did so. Nevertheless, he went ahead to kick the “stoned” ball and he was said to have dropped dead just after he saw the ball into the net. His bravery paid off and Nigeria “won” the match due to his lone goal, though, as it was said, the striker lost his life in the process.
However, the Indians had already scored 99 goals but the death of the striker brought an end to the match.
In light of this, FIFA banned India from playing football for years because the Indians might adopt black magic to manipulate international matches.
I swallowed hard as my cousin completed his fable and I thought it was so true. It was when I grew up and took an interest in sports (football), that I realised that the match never happened. No match of that sort was played not at any time in Nigeria.
An analysis of the match
Now, let us agree the match was played. But a friendly match played in the ‘70s in a National Stadium like Lagos should have enough publicity and records (this was not 1870).
Moreover, there is no record of the match in the archives of the football governing body of both countries. No radio, television, or newspaper records of the event. Even the popular newspaper then, Daily Times, would have “screamed” it on their banner headline.
Another scenario is that the striker who scored the lone goal died immediately after he scored. But who could it have been? However, the proponents of the fairy tale said it was Samuel Okwaraji but Okwaraji died of heart failure on August 12, 1989, during a FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Angola in the 77th minute. This proves another flaw in the story.
Also, counting one goal as three goals in a friendly match is against FIFA rules and the implications of doing that would result in Nigeria’s revered internationals not taking part in the game. It would be termed unserious. There are many aspects of the game that do not augur well with FIFA standards and the Indian players were not known by any name.
Lastly, most of the players, especially Peter Rufai, mentioned in the story were not full-fledged internationals as of 1970. In fact, some of them were just toddlers if we would go by that date.
I must salute whoever concocted this story. It caught most people off guard since no one has ever seen India participate in an international football game, especially the FIFA World Cup. This gave minute credence to the story to convince most little minds. Nevertheless, the reason India does not participate in the World Cup is that they do not qualify.
So, it was a fable after all. It was not a true story. There was never a time India played Nigeria not to talk of scoring such a number of goals. It was one of “the football tales by moonlight” and I personally “salute” the initiator of this story. It would make a perfect Nollywood script for the Nigerian version of Shaolin soccer. In conclusion, the match never happened.
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