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Play well, play with pride and honour the legacy – Paul Okoku charges Super Eagles

Nigeria captain Stephen Keshi (right) in a handshake with Cameroon captain Theophile Abega just before the 1984 AFCON final. Middle is Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur.

Resilience Beyond Rivalry between Nigeria and Cameroon in AFCON, 40 years later!

In the heart of Nigeria, where soccer is more than a sport, it’s a legacy, I carry with me a story of determination, rivalry, and the unyielding spirit of the Super Eagles. As the AFCON 2024 unfolds, I find myself caught between memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I was fortunately a member of that Super Eagles AFCON 1984 silver medal winning squad that etched its mark on Nigerian soccer history. Our journey wasn’t just about victories; it was a testament to resilience and skill. Yet, one match changed the course of history—the showdown against Cameroon.

Everyone said we lost because we were inexperienced. That’s not the whole truth, as I reminisce. The Super Eagles, far from inexperienced, had triumphed over formidable opponents to secure their place in AFCON ‘84. A goalless draw against Morocco in Benin, 1983, set the stage for an epic battle in Rabat two weeks later, where we emerged victorious against all odds and thus qualified for the AFCON 1984. Myself, Isa Shofoluwe and Chibuzor Ehilegbu played in that match, in Rabat. We were invited straight from the Flying Eagles after returning freshly from the U21 World Cup tournament in Mexico, 1983.

However, playing in the finals of a prestigious, coveted and the highest football tournament in the continent of Africa, in this instance, AFCON, requires a team with significant experience and skill. Hence, the idea of being an inexperienced team doesn’t corresponds with reality in my mind.

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1984 Super Eagles squad

Nonetheless, the journey continued, and we faced a powerhouse—Egypt—in the semifinals. Defying expectations, we conquered the mighty Egyptians, earning a place in the finals. Our performance showcased not just skill but the undying Nigerian spirit.

Fast forward to AFCON 2024, where a new generation of Super Eagles takes the stage. As a member of the 1984 AFCON silver medal-winning team, will be watching with anticipation. While the echoes of the past reverberate, I wish the current team success, urging them to play with pride, honor, and the spirit of true Nigerian champions.

I hate to admit it, but our rivalry with Cameroon started with us, the 1984 AFCON team, I am saying this with a wry smile. Let our story be a source of inspiration, not just rivalry that started in defeat. Play with all your heart, and remember, the entire nation is behind you—100%.

In this instance, as the Super Eagles take to the pitch in AFCON 2024, against Cameroon, they carry the legacy of our great players of the past, the AFCON heroics. It’s more than a match; it’s a continuation of a story that transcends time—a story of triumph, resilience, and the indomitable spirit that defines Nigerian soccer.

To the Super Eagles of AFCON 2024, we send you our best wishes: Play well, with pride, and honor the legacy. Good luck, and bring home the victory for Nigeria!

With our heartfelt support!

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Play well, play with pride and honour the legacy - Paul Okoku charges Super Eagles

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