The Kaduna State government opened gates to fans to attend Friday 25 March’s African Cup of Nations qualifier and things went out of hand. Ahmadou Bello Stadium, a 16,000 seater stadium was stretched to hold an estimated 40,000 people on the day with some watching the game from the top of the scoreboard and others on flood-light scaffolding. The Nigerian fans were so serious about the match that Mohammed Salah, an Egyptian player was relieved his team did not win.
“I breathed a sigh of relief after the ref blew the final whistle,” he told Al-Ahram Daily Newspaper. He said if he had scored, he would not have been able to tell what the fans’ response would be.
Hours before the match was due to start, supporters started arriving using both conventional and unconventional means to make it inside. Some are said to have scaled fences in a bid to get in while others were pictured clambering up floodlight scaffolding to gain a vantage point.
“I felt the game was not going to take place because I thought the number of people on the pitch side was going to cause encroachment,” Rotimi Akindele, a Beat FM reporter told Goal.com.
It is a wonder why Nigeria Football Federation chose this particular stadium considering its size and the obvious level of excitement the public had about the match. Goal reports that NFF was fined $5,000 by CAF for fans’ encroachment just last year in the same stadium yet in 2016 it seems no lessons were learnt. The free entry was unnecessary and particularly unwise especially with the ever so imminent risk of a stampede. Surely NFF can do better. Fortunately the match passed without incident save for Nigerian captain, Jon Obi Mikel’s claims that Egypt cheated and the Egyptian players’ protest of the final whistle which was blown just as Salah was breaking towards goal.
Nigeria took the lead in the 60th minute when Etebo Oghenekaro finished off a rebound after Kelechi Iheanacho’s shot had hit the woodwork. The hosts were domineering on the field but lacked the lethal finishing touch necessary to bury Egypt. They were punished for their lack of enterprise as Mohammed Salah made a well-timed run to score an equaliser in stoppage time. The Nigerian captain, Mikel however felt the Egyptians ignored Fair-play and instead of giving the ball back to Nigeria after the hosts had kicked it out, played on and scored.
“We expected them to give the ball back to us after one of my team-mates kicked it out to enable the referee to attend to the injured player, but instead they went on with play and scored,” the aggrieved Nigerian captain said. Coach Samson Siasia however, felt the team should have been more vigilant in that regard since Egypt was under pressure as it was losing and therefore had no time for Fair-play. The match ended a 1-1 stalemate but Nigeria went on to lose the second leg 1-0 at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria, Egypt. This effectively means Nigeria has no chance to qualify for the AFCON tournament in Gabon next year.
Image Credit: Guardian