Saturday, February 04, 2006

Only clichés will do.

You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The tension was palpable. We were on tenterhooks. We had our hearts in our mouths. We held our breaths for minutes. Then we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was sweet revenge after 2004. "Nigeria advance to semifinals after tense penalty shoot-out."

I've run out of clichés. The Tunisian fans threatened to replicate their behaviour in 2004, when they pelted us (Nigeria fans) with plastic bottles. This was Port Said, not Tunis. We were the home team here, and wouldn't be intimidated. The Tunisia team had huge travelling support here, easily drowning out our trumpets and "he's a miracle working God" chants. But the Tunisians aren't liked in Egypt, everyone we bumped into over the last couple of days asked us to shaft Tunisia. Though not in such polite terms.

As usual, the "independent" press corps led the singing after Enyeama saved Bouazizi's penalty. I cringed (again), but also smiled because I was pleased we had won. Nigeria winning on penalties is a rare thing. We lost to Tunisia on penalties in the 2004 semifinals, and also in the 2000 final against Cameroun. I was also pleased to see Kanu score a penalty. The man of the match was Mikel, but Enyeama comes a very close second. The man has saved Nigeria time and again in this competition, and the defenders owe him half of their match winning bonus.

Sitting in front of me was a spy, sent by the Cote d'Ivoire coach, Henri Michel. If they beat Cameroun, he'd have notes to consult for our semifinal clash. As soon as Tunisia scored, he turned and said to me, "problem of concentration". The man also reckons that Mikel is a more defensive option than Jay Jay or Oruma. He shouldn't be deceived. That perception is probably due to the differing styles. Oruma and Jay Jay dribble past players, Mikel doesn't need to that. He takes players out of the game with his passes, rather than by dribbling.

Cote d'Ivoire have just won 12-11 on penalties, beating the Ghana v Cote'Ivoire 1992 final of 10-11. See you in Alexandria.

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