Football has no respect for colour, race or religion. Football has fought and won many racial wars. It has broken barriers of religion. It has united sworn enemies. Yet when two teams play whether in club or country tie, we find ourselves glued in supporting our own.
When Plateau United, MFM FC and Akwa United recently featured in the continent, we prayed for them to excel even when we knew their opponents were stronger, better and superior.
As Super Eagles take on the world in Russia, it does not matter who their opponents will be, we will all rout for Eagles to win. That is football, it’s passion and powers. Tonight, in the city of Kiev, the UEFA Champions League final will be played. The world will be divided along two lines, as two clubs seek to emerge winners. Millions are supporting Real Madrid of Spain yet millions will be rooting for Liverpool FC of England.
Several European cities have hosted this prestigious final. From Athens to Rome, Munich to Belgrade, Madrid to Milan and Paris to Cardiff among others. The sweet memory lingers. African players have great and exciting feelings of the UCL finals. From Abedi Pelé Ayew with Olympique Marseille, to Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George of Ajax, Samuel Eto’O with both FC Barcelona and Inter Milan, Yaya Toure with FC Barcelona, Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalu with Chelsea among several others. The list is inexhaustive.
In Kiev tonight, Africa will be looking at her sons, ambassadors and flagbearers, the duo of Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane (our Egyptian and Senegalese brothers) to shine and do us proud even as millions of Africans care less about this brotherhood call and tie. You may want to argue here that Zinedine Zidane is also African. True, but he is also a French national. I am talking about those whose allegiance is with and in Africa. Football of course, is where your love and money is. I am not advocating for Liverpool FC support. In England, I follow Chelsea FC and in Spain, I follow Real Madrid. But as an African, I am hoping that Salah and Mane win this trophy as Africans. It appeals to me more. No apologies!
Yes, I am convinced that I am being sentimental here. Again, no apologies. Yes, I am aware that Real Madrid are the favourites on account of their record in the competition. They have a much more experienced and balanced team. Cristiano Ronaldo leading the attack, Luca Modric and Toni Kroos running the midfield and Sergio Ramos and Marcelo anchoring the defence. Same cannot be said of Liverpool whose strongest department is the attack effectively powered by the compatible force of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Firmino.
Surely, the hunger to win a third successive trophy in three years and bring the number of UCL win to12 is a force that will propel Real Madrid to rage in Kiev tonight like a consuming fire but Liverpool going into this final as “underdogs” will be inspired by the fact that they reached this year’s final. At the beginning of the competition, bookmakers did not give the Reds a chance to reach the final but here they are. Their red hot forward Mo Salah has a date with history leading a highly explosive attack that has consumed many a top team in this competition. An attack that dented the unbeaten dream and run of Manchester City in the EPL in the just concluded season. Real Madrid can only ignore this fact at their own peril.
It could go either way even as the Galacticos have the upper hand on paper. My brain tells me, it’s going to be Real Madrid’s night. But kindly permit me folks, I want to be an African tonight….Salah and Mane on my mind!
By Desmond Ekwueme