Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
NIGERIAN authorities have finally fulfilled the promise they made to the only football coach to take charge of both the Super Eagles and the Zimbabwe Warriors by handing Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof, title deeds to an apartment 25 years after they made the offer.
The two teams meet next Saturday in a high-profile friendly international at the 22 000-seater Stephen Keshi International Stadium, which was commissioned last year, in honour of the late Super Eagles legend, as part of both countries’ preparations for the AFCON finals.
The Super Eagles, ranked the third strongest team on the continent, will also use the match to bid farewell to their fans as they will then fly out to Egypt for a final friendly international against Senegal’s Lions of Teranga in Ismailia before plunging into their AFCON business.
Westerhof provides the remaining link between Nigeria and Zimbabwe after the Dutchman took charge of national football teams of both countries, with contrasting fortunes, taking the Super Eagles to greatness and failing to repeat that magic with the Warriors.
He led the Nigerians to their first AFCON title in 14 years when they beat a resilient Zambia, still battling to recover from psychological and emotional scars inflicted by the tragedy off the coast of Gabon which wiped out a generation of their finest stars, 2-1 in the final in Tunisia in ’94.
They then went to the ’94 World Cup finals carrying the weight of an expectant nation, the most populous African country, and they started their adventure in impressive fashion with a 3-0 win over Bulgaria.
A 1-2 defeat at the hands of Argentina didn’t matter, at the end, as a 2-0 victory over Greece was enough to propel them to top place in Group D to earn a second round date against Italy.
The Super Eagles had one foot in the World Cup quarter-finals when, with a minute left in regulation time, they led the Italians 1-0 through a 26th minute goal by Emmanuel Amunike.
Gianfranco Zola’s 76th minute red card meant the Azzurri had to fight back, while being a man down, and time appeared hostile to their cause until Roberto Baggio popped up to fire home an equaliser in the last minute of regulation time.
Baggio then converted an extra-time penalty to propel Italy to an incredible comeback and destroy the dreams of the Nigerians and the African continent.
Westerhof was hailed for the way he guided that star-studded Super Eagles side and was promised an apartment as a present although it wasn’t delivered until on Monday, 25 years later.
The Dutchman was back in Nigeria, where he enjoyed his finest success stories during his lengthy time coaching in Africa, to receive the title deeds of an apartment the West Africans promised him a quarter-of-a-century ago.
Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, presented the Dutchman with the title deeds who made the presentation on behalf of government said it was regrettable that a promise took so long to redeem.
“It is unfortunate that this is a promise that has taken us so long to redeem. But it is indeed better late than never in this case,’’ Fashola was quoted as saying by the News Agency of Nigeria.
“I thank Westerhof on behalf of all of us for the services he rendered to Nigeria, and we are proud that he has come to receive the documents alive.’’
Fashola said the apartment, which is in the Gwagwalada area of about a million residents, was being refurbished and would be handed to the Dutchman once the job had been completed.
Westerhof thanked the Nigerians for finally fulfilling their promise. “I am thankful to you all, and now I can feel myself more of a Nigerian now. I can now stay here when it is so cold back there in Europe,’’ he said.
“I also thank God for this blessing of being invited here today to collect my papers. I hope I will soon get my keys, because you never know with Nigeria. Nigeria is a country where people love to win at all times, and Nigerians were not ready for any nonsense. This was very clear to my players, and that is why we were able to move the country from number 79 on the rankings to number five by the end of the World Cup.’’
The delivery of the gift also comes exactly 19 years after the Dutchman superintended over a controversial 0-4 thrashing of the Young Warriors, by their Nigerian counterparts, in a qualifier in Lagos where the hosts got exactly the victory margin they needed to beat Angola for a place at the 2000 Olympic Games.
A 1-0 win for Angola in Uganda meant the Young Warriors, who had beaten Nigeria 2-1 at the National Sports Stadium in the reverse fixture with Benjani Mwaruwari scoring twice, would only qualify by avoiding defeat in that final match against the West Africans in Lagos.
Although they would end up with the same number of points as Angola, in the event of a loss, the Young Warriors would lose the battle for the sole ticket by virtue of an inferior goal difference to the Angolans. The Nigerians, though, needed a victory of, at least, four goals for them to pip Angola on goal difference in a group where all the top three teams would end with 12 points.
A quick-fire double by Emmanuel Ebiede broke the resistance of the Young Warriors and the same player missed a controversial penalty awarded soon afterwards as the Nigerians went for the kill.
Still, with time ticking away, the Nigerians were staring failure but late goals by Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Pius Ikedia in time added on powered them to Sydney.
Westerhof turned his fury on the match officials, accusing them of having fought in the Nigerians’ corner, but the presence of his former wife in Lagos led to accusations, in this country, that he had not given the assignment the respect it deserved.
Others accused him of appearing to concentrate on bathing in the media spotlight, on his return to the West African country, than on the mission. That another Dutchman, Jo Bonfrere, was the coach of that Nigerian side also fed into the conspiracy theories.