In the movie Before Sunset, the second part of the Before Series trilogy, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) showed us how a renewed relationship could create even better memories than before.
This is what the Nigeria senior national team and the city of Lagos will also hope to achieve when they renew their relationship on Tuesday evening.
Gernot Rohr’s men host Lesotho in their final game in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, with the match taking place at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.
It’s the first time in over ten years that the Super Eagles will play in Lagos. The three-time Afcon champions last played a game in Nigeria’s commercial capital in 2011, while their last competitive match was a Nations cup qualifier against Zambia in 2001.
However, before the turn of the 20th century, Lagos was the home of the Super Eagles. Nigeria has 36 states, but none is as unique as Lagos.
It’s the country’s most populous city and also the country’s commercial capital. The centre of excellence is also Nigeria’s most famous city, even though Abuja is the capital.
Lagos is literally a city that never sleeps and full of life. The city’s energy is different, and it could be seen as the Los Angeles of Nigeria.
With these kinds of qualities, it’s not hard to see why it was the home of Nigeria’s football team before 2000. The Nigerian team’s relationship with Lagos started as far back as 1942.
As at that time, Nigeria’s football was still in its infancy stage under British Colonial rule. Although there was no National team then, the first-ever official football competition held in Lagos.
The competition, which was called the War Memorial Challenge, featured only teams from Lagos, with Lagos Marines and Lagos Railways among some of the participants.
However, after the Nigeria Football Federation was formed in 1945, the competition’s name was changed to the Governor’s Cup. It produced stars like Teslim Balogun and Peter Anieke.
Teslim Balogun would later have a stadium named after him in Lagos, which is where the Super Eagles will take on the Crocodiles of Lesotho.
But before the Teslim Balogun stadium was built, the National Stadium, Surulere, used to be the home of Nigeria’s football team. It is a 55-000 capacity stadium built under the General Yakubu Gowon administration in 1972.
The first major event hosted by the stadium was the 1973 All Africa Games, and it also marked the first real success in Nigeria’s football history as the team won the gold medal in the football event.
But the most iconic moment of Nigeria’s football national team in Lagos came in 1980 when the then Green Eagles that had the likes of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Muda Lawal and Felix Owolabi, beat Algeria to win the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations.
It was indeed an emotional day for everyone in the stadium that day. As a reward for making history, Nigeria’s president at that time, Shehu Shagari, gave each member of the squad a house in Festac, Lagos.
Some of the other memorable victories recorded at the national stadium include the 4-1 win over Algerian en route to their first World Cup appearance In 1994.
There are wins against Senegal and South Africa at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, but that’s a story for another day.
Lagos continued to be a happy place for the Eagles after that moment, with the team recording several memorable victories in subsequent games.
The atmosphere for every Super Eagles game is always electric, with the stadium fully packed. Nigeria is a country divided along tribal lines. But all differences are put aside when the national team is playing, and the way Lagos supports the team is a testament to that.
Opposition teams feel the impact of the support even before they arrive at the stadium. It’s like a carnival as citizens of the state come out en-masse to support the team.
But sadly, after 2001, the Super Eagles stopped playing at Lagos and moved to Abuja in 2003. However, they returned to Lagos in 2011, but this time, to the Teslim Balogun stadium.
The stadium is also located at Surulere and opened in 2007. The Super Eagles only game at the stadium was a 2-1 defeat of Sierra Leone in an international friendly.
Since then, the three-time Afcon champions have not returned to the centre of excellence for a football game.
But 11 years later, the Super Eagles are back in Lagos, and hopefully, they create more beautiful memories just like Jesse and Eline did.