By Kufre Ekanem, Kaliningrad, Russia
It is post-match Kaliningrad. The night is finally dark. The chills have descended. It’s cold enough to bring out the sweatshirts, cardigans and ilk but not enough to temper the good bonhomie of fans from both sides.
After the long trek from the stadium and an impatient wait, we finally finaggle the free bus going to the city centre. That is when it happened.
Some of the Croatians break out in a loud chant to celebrate their deserved victory in the group opener. They sing. They chant. Very loud. Without any consultation, we ‘vex’. Together. What is it na? Someone cannot lose game to you people and have peace on the bus?
We immediately respond with our own chants too. We throw in the national anthem “arise o compatriots” in full fettle. Their collective surprise is very satisfiying. These Nigerians can still sing after the way they lost. In my mind, I am borrowing from my in-laws and I am thinking “nkeagbasaraginwa” 😁.
After the momentary shock, they come back. All the Croats are in on it now aiming to drown us out. Like in the stadium, they outnumber us. Unlike in the stadium, the ratio is different. In the stadium, they were almost 70 Croats to 1 Nigerian but here, in the bus, it is 3 to 1. For Nigerians, this is almost like evening the odds. We are already hoarse from the match. We don’t care. A new competition is afoot and we are not backing down. Not tonight.
Yours truly becomes choirmaster or song curator (take your pick). We fire back! Nzogbu nzogbu! Enyimba enyi! Nzogbu! Enyimba enyi! Nzogbu…!
Now, Bus S02 is agog. We drag the Nzogbu as long as we can hold it then we yield the air. The Croats respond with a blare of theirs. I don’t know what they are singing but that is fair. They don’t know what we are singing too.
They clang off a strange one that sounds like “guasdgyush jderoaghsbb jfizic jrhrbdjskzzz” or something like that. In response, we kick off a fave oldie: Nigeria, we hail thee. Our own dear native land…”
And so it goes. It devolves into a ding dong. Ping pong. They ding, we dong. We ping, they pong. Some of them start to flag but the bulk are still cranking it. We are tired but not giving in. We start to interrupt, to break their play (if you get what I mean). “Kererenke! Obi!! Kererenke!!!” My repertoire is finishing but they have no idea.
Just then there is a lull from them. They miss their cue and we seize it like a free kick. I quickly consult with two experienced attackers and we quickly improvise with the chance: “Labe igi oronbo, ni be la gbe sere wa …”
It is unapologetic route one stuff. Like teeing up a free kick into a crowded 18 yard box with space for a free header or two. Our guys know an open goal when they see one. This is it. Injury time in the bus match. The assist in Kaliningrad is on and the strikers seize the moment as if we were just starting: “INU WA DUN ARA WA YA, LA BE IGI ORONBO…. ORONBO!” We put it ‘pon the repeat like autoplay on steroid. The Croats are stunned. Goaaaaallll for Nigeria!
They are already congratulating us before the referee applies the brakes and opens the door for all to leave the stadium (read bus)
Nigeria wins …. hands down. In possession and in the scoreline. We are happy. We have beaten them as they beat our boys.
This is what my people in Akwa-Cross will call ‘eyenowong ikwe’. I am still hoarse from it all and we are still pained by the result from the pitch but bring on the Icelanders in Volgograd and we will proudly do it again.
Like I said: Nigeria is the best country in the world. That is my story and I am sticking to it. So long Kaliningrad. Akanam nkwe ….