Daily Courier – Column
There’s something called snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. That was what happened Sunday at the conclusion of the 2021/2022 season of the English Premier League (EPL).
I’m an avid follower of both local and international soccer, and that is the way I let my hairs down. Weekends, particularly, are soccer fiesta time.
By Sunday, May 22, 2022, two things could either happen. Manchester City (popularly called Man City, for short), could either lift the league trophy for the fourth time in five years, or the diadem could go to Liverpool FC, for the second time in 32 years. Just a single point separated the two teams.
All the 10 games were played simultaneously, to determine who joined Watford and Norwich in relegation, and who would be crowned Champions of England.
Man City was playing Aston Villa at home in Etihad Stadium, while Liverpool was hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) at Anfield. Either of the two host teams could be champions.
I opted to watch the Man City game, which was largely believed to be a coronation of the team for the fourth time in five years. But things almost turned awry. Almost? No, they turned awful, until God decided to show up. More about that later.
On such a crucial day, football commentators had a way of bringing you up to speed with what was happening in other centers, apart from the one you were watching. The first surprise was Wolves scoring Liverpool within the first five minutes. Disaster!
Recall that by January, which was like the second half of the season, Man City was leading Liverpool by 14 points, though the latter had two games in hand. Over the weeks, by the time Man City had lost at home to Tottenham FC, drew with Southampton, Crystal Palace, and Liverpool, and Liverpool won all its other games, only one point separated the two teams. And it was just some weeks to the end of the season. It was going to be a race to the wire.
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are easily two of the best managers currently in English football today. Who would win? Sunday was the D-Day.
Liverpool conceded an early goal at Anfield, while Man City was equally trying to score. They tried and tried, but Aston Villa had rendered its defense line like the thighs of a virgin. Firmly shut. Impregnable.
And in the 37th minute, disaster struck. Aston Villa scored through a stunning Marty Cash header. A pall covered the stadium, filled to capacity by mainly Man City fans. Coronation was turning to burial.
At Anfield, Liverpool had equalized, and later added two goals. It seemed they had finally upstaged Man City, which in the 69th minute conceded a second goal scored by Phillipe Coutinho, ironically a former Liverpool player. Aston Villa was even coached by Steven Gerrard, a former Liverpool great. It seemed ex-Liverpool players were the ones to unwittingly hand the trophy to their former club.
In the second half, Guardiola made three changes, which proved decisive. He introduced Oleksandr Zincheko, the overlapping Ukrainian left full back, Raheem Sterling in the right wing, and Ilkay Gundogan, the German attacking midfielder. May God help us to make right decisions in life, and at the nick of time too. It turned out to be what saved the day for Man City.
At 75 minutes into the game, 15 minutes to the end of regulation time, the hosts were still struggling to score. Two goals down. It was all over, so it seemed. Coronation had turned to burial. But then, within five minutes, things changed. Right was the man who said between the rising of the sun, and the going down thereof, the face of things may change. And it did for Man City, just within five-and-a-half minutes. How?
In the 76th minute, new entrant, Raheem Sterling raced down the flank, released a lob, which Gundogan, who had got married only a few days earlier, headed nicely into the net. Etihad Stadium roared to life.
But was that not a little too late? The game was restarted, and two minutes later, Zinchenko, whose country was being pounded by Russia at that time, beat down adversity and disaster, and sent in a defense splitting pass, which Rodri put past the Aston Villa goalkeeper. Another roar. Jubilation, a delicious and delirious one.
But not so fast! Liverpool was already leading Wolves at Anfield, so the job was not done. A draw was not helpful to Man City. Their playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne, took the ball, and sent a telegraphic pass to the new groom, Gundogan, who made a mincemeat of the ball. It was the 81st minute.
Goalllllllll. And bedlam at Etihad. Unbelievable. Impossible. No, no, no. Is it possible? All within five minutes. This was a miracle, if ever there was one. The commentator described it as “five-and-a-half mad, magnificent minutes.” And so it was. Mad and magnificent. It was a replay of 2011/2012 season, when the same team had been down to Queens Park Rangers, and the match was already into extra time. The Argentine, who later became a club great, Sergio Aguero, struck, and Man City edged out Manchester United to win the EPL trophy. Since then, the team hasn’t looked back.
Just a couple of weeks back, Man City was leading Real Madrid by two goals in the semi final match of the European Champions League. And within the three minutes left in the game, Real Madrid drew level. And at extra time, got awarded a penalty, and Man City was out. A true shock. In similar fashion, the team was now winning the EPL.
I shook my head, and told myself: only God could have done this. Turning defeat to victory in the twinkle of an eye. Is He interested in soccer? Is the Almighty not too busy than to be interested in something as mundane as a football game? Both sides would be praying for victory, so which prayer would He answer? Would He not then be partial to one side?
Well, I don’t know the answers. But what I know is that only God could have done what happened within five minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. He sits in Heaven, and from there, rules in the affairs of men. He did so for Man City, whether the players themselves believe it or not. He showed His sovereignty once again.
And you know what? God will show up in Nigeria. In our security. Economy. Politics. Inter-social relationships. In our personal lives, at every front, every level. In the lives of captives of terrorists, God will show up, and we shall be like people that dream. The ravening clouds shall no longer be victorious. They shall no longer possess the sky.
I like that amen!
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity