It all began on December 12, 1976. Shooting Stars of Ibadan lifted the Africa Winners Cup in Yaoundé following a 4-2 aggregate victory over defending champions, Tonnerre Kalara. That was the very first time a Nigerian soccer team would become continental soccer champions.
The Cameroonians had beaten Mighty Jets of Jos on away goals rule when the competition debuted in 1975. After a 2-2 draw in Nigeria, Roger Milla’s Tonnerre were forced to a barren draw at home. In the 1976 finals, winners Shooting Stars won the home leg 4-1. That was the same result in the 1975 finals home leg for winners Tonnerrre who bombed Stella, Abidjan 4-1.
On December 12, 2003, Enyimba won the CAF Champion’s League in Ismailia, Egypt. It was a feat because no Nigerian team reached that height since Stationery Stores began the quest in 1968. It was a jinx that was broken by the People’s Elephants after 35 years.
Enyimba were lucky again on December 12, 2004 when they retained the cup. Losers were Etoile Sportif of Tunisia, parading three Nigerians: Goalie Austin Ejide, and strikers Ogochukwu Obiakor and Emeka Okpara respectively. Obiakor had destroyed Julius Berger with a hat-trick in the last final of the CAF Cup.
Enugu Rangers lost the opportunity of winning the CAF Champions League on December 12, 1982. The Flying Antelopes did not make it to the final. It was a bad year for legendary goalkeeper, Emma Okala, who received a red card in the first round against Angola’s Primeiro de Agosto. It ended 1-1 in Luanda.
When Rangers traveled to Cairo for the semi finals return leg with a 1-0 advantage, it turned out to be an unexpected humiliation. Al Ahly put four goals past Okala. Rangers failed to score. That was the day the goalie hung his gloves.
The 4-0 result was a shocker. In the quarter finals, Rangers were ruthless. From a 5-0 demolition of Algeria’s RS Kouba at home, they moved on to beat the North Arfricans 2-1 in the away leg. The Coal City Boys were the only semi finalists in 1982 who had not lost a match. From Angola to AS Kaloum Guinea to RS Kouba.
Ahly lost to Green Buffaloes of Zambia in the quarter finals. Asante Kotoko fell to Semassi Sekode, Togo in the first round. FC Lupopo, Zaire [Congo Democratic Republic] also lost to Real Bamako, Mali in the quarter finals.
On December 12, 1982, Rangers would have played in the Kumasi second leg of the finals against Kotoko. Ahly stopped the Flying Antelopes in the previous round. The Egyptians took the trophy to Egypt after a 1-1 draw. The first leg had ended 3-0 in their favour.
There was a Nigerian touch to that game. Kotoko coach, Ibrahim Sunday, is a Nigerian ,from Kano. He was born in Koforidua, Ghana and captained Kotoko to win the cup in 1970.Vengeance came for the Porcupines a year after falling to Ahly in Kumasi.
Sunday won the cup as player and as coach in 1983 when he led Kotoko to avenge the 1982 loss. Both teams met again, in the finals. After a goalless outing in Cairo,the Ghanaians put up a brave great fight to win 1-0 in Kumasi. They ensured that what happened before did not happen again. And it was on December 11, not December 12.
Before Shooting Stars won the Africa Winners Cup in 1976, they had to surmount Egyptian obstacle. In the semis, they defeated Zamalek. And the result in Nigeria was 2-0 for the hosts.
Enyimba crossed Egyptian hurdle on the way to the 2003 CAF Champions’ League victory. In the finals, they beat Ismaili. And the result in the Aba first leg, was 2-0 in favour of the Aba Ngwa side.
In 1976, Shooting won their First Round, first leg match at home 3-0. They defeated Kenya Breweries in Ibadan. In 2003, Enyimba won their First Round, first leg match at home 3-0. Satellite of Guinea fell in Aba.
Nigerians should pray for more December 12 dates. It holds a lot. Cup victory and December 12 are like champagne on ice.