There are ghosts all over Uyo tonight ( May Friday May 20 2020) as Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates face Renaissance Sportive de Berkane in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup.
The good thing is that the South African Buccaneers came with son of the soil, Olisa Ndubuisi Ndah who joined them from Akwa United at the end of last season.
Pirates are also known as ‘Happy People’ and their supporters carry the tag, ‘The Ghost’. Captain of the squad is Happy Jele. He stars in the defence with libero Ndah. They should be able to gel with the Nest of Champions crowd.
There is no cause for alarm. The Akwa Ibom State Capital will not be a Ghost Town. All the black colours belong to the Pirates who quenched the fire in Soweto some decades back. Their mission is to win the Confederation Cup for the first time.
RS Berkane may not be used to the Nigeria crowd but they deserve much respect. The Moroccans lifted the Confederation Cup in 2020 and qualified for this year’s final after dumping almighty TP Mazembe of Congo Democratic Republic 4-2 aggregate, in the semifinals.
The secret to that victory remains RSB coach, Florent Ibenge, a Congolese who is blessed with compatriots, Chadrack Lukombe and Tunsila Kisinda.
There are four other Sub Saharan Africans at his disposal. The Burkinabe duo of Issoufou Dayo and Fiston Abdulrazak add pep with Mamadou Camara of Senegal and Zambia’s Clatous Chama.
Pirates are always around Nigeria. There is a strong Nigerian touch to their lone continental laurel, the CAF Champions League, then known as the African Cup for Champion Clubs.
The South Africans were African champions in 1995. Their goalkeeper was Willy Okpara who captained the Flying Eagles to the Chile ’87 FIFA World Youth Championships. Pirates defeated ASEC Mimosas. Nduka Ugbade played for the Ivorians in that game.
Pirates were dethroned in 1996 by Shooting Stars. Okpara was in goal. The first leg at the Free State Stadium, Bloomfontein favoured the hosts 1-0. Referee Sidi Magasa gifted the Buccaneers a 15th minute penalty which was converted by Dumisani Ngobe.
Shooting responded in the return leg at Adamasingba through Dotun Alatise. With aggregate scores at 1-1, Okpara could not save his team and they lost 5-4 penalties.
Okpara came back with the South Africans in 2006 as Goalkeeper Trainer. Pirates sacked Enyimba from the CAF Champions League when all the Elephants needed was a draw to qualify for the semis.
More heart breaking was that after Enyimba forced Pirates to a 1-1 draw in Aba, the lone goal that punished them at away was scored by Onyekachi Okonkwo, who left after winning the Champions League twice with the Aba Ngwa club.
Pirates were in Aba barely a year ago. They lost 1-0 to Enyimba in the Confederation Cup. Cyril Olisema’s 90+5 minute goal helped the Nigerians to the next round, after losing the first leg at away.
There are many families and fans here who are attached to Orlando Pirates. Late Shuaibu Amodu managed the team between 1996 and 1997. He was there with Sam Pam, Jnr. Sammy Okpara and Ezenwa Oturugo were Buccaneers, as well.
Willy Okpara and his wife, Chioma have South West Town ( Soweto) as second home. They had a son, Tochukwu William Jnr. there. He is also a goalkeeper.
Olisa and his father, Ndubuisi Patrick Ndah are very much like the Okparas. Both are liberos. The senior Ndah also captained Nigeria to win All Africa Games bronze at Harare ’95.
The dad was Skipper of the Dream Team on their way to that historic Olympic gold at the Atlanta ’96 Games.
After a barren draw with Kenya in Lagos, the captain’s band was handed over to Nwankwo Kanu. Professionals were infused by coach Willy Bazuaye and they humiliated Kenya 3-0 in Mombassa.
Olisa had an Olympic dream too. Nigeria did not qualify for the Tokyo Games which was moved to 2021 due to COVID-19.
The year was not a disappointment though. He won the Nigerian Premier League with Akwa United. That was his base before he flew to Johannesburg to sweat it out in Soweto.
It was a huge disappointment early in 2022 when Olisa made the Super Eagles team to the African Nations Cup. He debuted against Sudan in the last game of the first round which gave Nigeria a 100 per cent record.
In the second round, that record became useless as less fancied Tunisia sent the Eagles packing. Olisa was not called up for the more disastrous World Cup play off against Ghana.
His father is a star in Enugu. He captained the Flying Antelopes from 1992 to 1997. After Rangers, the man ventured to Europe, from Austria to Belgium, ending up in Malta.
Olisa has an opportunity to impress the continent in Uyo. Perhaps, Football Agents from England and France will focus on him. It is time for the defender to break into the Super Eagles team.
Pirates must not build castles in the air. There is so much to drink in Uyo if they become Confederation Cup champions. Harp which gives happiness is not just a musical instrument. It is as refreshing as the most popular beer brand in the town, Champion.
Akwa Ibom people are happy people too, we know. Their hospitality is amazing. Pirates must enjoy it and go back with tales for Amazulu.
I would not be surprised to see goalie Richard Ofori and striker Kwame Peprah go back with Ghana Must Go bags loaded with money from appreciative Uyo fans.
And that is if coach Ibenge and his Maghrebian troops are jailed by Skipper Happy Jele, Ndah, and the Buccaneers. Otherwise, it will be hard for fans to sing Nakupendia Olisa while Lukombe and Kisinda enjoy Awilo’s Soukous.