While the heavy rains, which hit Lagos on Saturday, June 11, may have inconvenienced residents of the city, keeping some of them indoors; it did nothing to dampen the spirits of football fans who thronged the Teslim Balogun Stadium to pay homage to Nigeria's most decorated football player.
Even though parts of the city were flooded by the rains, which came in torrents, the scene outside the Teslim Balogun Stadium from 3pm when the rains had receded resembled something of a bedlam with fans jostling, pushing and shoving to get into the stadium. The atmosphere inside was no different as security operative worked frantically to bring the surging crowd under control. No one could blame them for their excitement; this was the last time most of them would see, Nwankwo Kanu, their very own Papilo in flesh and blood. The lanky star whose career had seen him play for some of Europe's leading clubs was calling time on an international career that spanned a little over one decade and half.
That career had begun with an international friendly game against Sweden in 1994 and had ended in June 2010 after Nigeria's 2-2 draw with Korea, which sent the Super Eagles out of the World Cup.
In that span of time, Kanu titillated Nigerian football fans and their global counterparts with his velvety football skills. In the colours of Nigeria, Kanu was as committed as he was for the clubs who splashed thousands of pounds on him weekly. He was at once a magician and a warrior.
Appearing frail and lethargic, it was easy to fall into the error of thinking he was harmless. Opponents who fell into that error paid dearly for it. For within that frail body lurked a mind as sharp as a needle and as precise as a quartz watch.
A slice of genius
The Brazilians found this out this out to their chagrin during the semi-final of the football event Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games in the USA. With Nigeria trailing the South Americans 3-1 with less than fifteen minutes to the end, the Nigerian U-23 team captained by Kanu began a fight back with Victor Ikpeba making it two for Nigeria on 78 minutes.
With the Brazilians bracing up for the Nigerian challenge, Kanu, like a general at a battlefield led the charge. With the seconds ticking away on 90 minutes, Kanu, in a masterful display of nerve and skill, picked up a pass in the Brazilian eighteen with his back to the goal deftly outmanoeuvred his markers and slotted the ball home for Nigeria's equaliser. It was a beauty of a goal that sent Nigerians worldwide ecstatic. Four minutes later in extra-time, he killed off the Brazilians with a superb volley that sent Nigeria into the final of the event.
That career came to an end on Saturday and the turnout not only of fans but of football stars who came to do him honour is indicative of the high regard in which he is held. After all, it is not every day that we see superstars like Samuel Eto'o, Emmanuel Adebayor, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Rigobert Song, Benjani Mwaruwari, Emmanuel Eboue, Stephen Appiah, Sammy Kuffour, Anthony Baffour and Kolo Toure, showing in Nigeria. Neither do we enjoy the privilege of seeing our former stars like Finidi George, Peter Rufai, Ike Shorunmu, Uche Okechukwu, Mutiu Adepoju and Austin Okocha in action in Lagos. Kanu has paid his dues to Nigeria and deserves ever accolade he gets.
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