FULL NAME: Friday Efosa Elaho
DATE OF BIRTH: 14th November, 1967
NICKNAME: Elastic Elaho
START OF FOOTBALL CAREER: Early 1980’s
CLUB SIDES PLAYED FOR: Bendel Insurance, Benin; African Continental Bank (ACB), Lagos; Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Owerri; Brondby FC, Denmark.
CLUB HONOURS WON: Best Player Award in Danish League, 1990; League Championship with Brondby, 1991/92; Bronze boot in Denmark, 1991/92.
NATIONAL TEAM HONOURS: Africa Cup of Nations Silver 1990.
START OF NATIONAL TEAM CAREER: 1986
FIRST NATIONS CUP APPEARANCE: 1990 in Algeria
UNFORGETTABLE EPISODE: No particular episode but I was overjoyed at being invited to the national team for the first time.
THE qualifiers for the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations were conducted in a knock-out format. Nigeria was paired against Guinea in the first round. We played the first leg in Conakry and the game ended in a draw. In the second leg, we eliminated the Guineans after defeating them 3-0 in Lagos to advance to the second round.
Zimbabwe was our opponent in the second round and I remember that we secured – over the two-legged encounter – an impressive 4-1 aggregate win over them to book our place in Algiers.
PREPARATION AND SQUAD SELECTION
The 1990 Africa Cup of Nations was my first in the competition. However, the coach that first invited me to the national team was Paul Hamilton, back in 1986. I learned about my invitation through the newspapers.
My first day in the national team camp was memorable. I considered myself as the best for the left wing position at the time, so I told myself I was going to monopolise the position. My roommate in camp during our preparation was my good friend, Uche Okechukwu. I was glad to be paired with him because we were also flat mates at Owerri while playing together for Iwuanyanwu Nationale. Later we were teammates at Brondby FC in Denmark.
The camp welfare was pretty okay. We did short camping in Nigeria before leading for Papendal in Holland. At home, we played some friendly matches against clubsides like ACB and Julius Berger both of Lagos. While in Papendal, our first warm-up game was against the famous Ajax Amsterdam and we beat them 2-1. We also defeated PSV Eindhoven 2-0. We played a couple of games more against Go Ahead Eagles and Young Boys.
We trained three times daily but it was later reduced to two. Our training was hard. It was meant to build our stamina but during the Nations Cup finals proper, it was reduced to light trainings.
Clemens Westerhof, who was head coach, was very encouraging. He was a good manager of players. He would provide 100 dollars, 200 dollars and add to the players allowances. He had wonderful assistants in coaches Sebastian Brodericks and Jo Bonfrere. A Dutch airline, I think KLM or so, airlifted us to Algiers from Amsterdam.
We played our first round matches in Algiers. We were in the same group as Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt. We knew it was going to be difficult but we certainly didn’t bargain for what we got in our opening game against the host country, Algeria.
We lost the match 5-1 and we couldn’t believe it. Emma Okocha scored our only goal but it was scant consolation. It was probably the heaviest defeat Nigeria has suffered at the Nations Cup and we were all heartbroken. Aloy Agu was our goalkeeper and captain but the whole team was responsible for the defeat. We were a complete disaster.
On a personal note, I was not selected for the game and I felt very bad because I thought I could have done better than some of those that played. I think Westerhof also realized the mistakes he made with team selection and he overhauled the team for our second game against Egypt.
I and a few others were picked to start and that was how everything changed. We were a different team entirely and we beat Egypt 1-0 through Rashidi Yekini’s early goal. Yekini scored early again in our third game against Cote d’Ivoire which we also won 1-0 and that was how we qualified for the semi-final against Zambia. We were the under-dogs against the Zambians who had won their group by beating Cameroun and Kenya and drawing with Senegal. However, we played our best game in the entire tournament and beat them 2-0 with Uche Okechukwu and Yekini getting our goals. By the time we returned to Algiers for the final, our team had regained full confidence. You wouldn’t believe we were the same team that lost 5-1 in the opening game.
I remember the Algerian coach telling journalists at a news conference that if there was any player his team would be watching closely in the final, it was the Nigerian number 11 (myself). Indeed, I had been having a fantastic tournament since being introduced against Egypt. I was running down defences regularly on my left flank and sending killer crosses for Yekini to score. Nobody needed to tell me, I knew I was in great form and I was determined to make a difference against Algeria in the final.
Unfortunately, we lost to them again, but this time, the 1-0 scoreline was more respectable. Looking back, I think they won because of home support. They were not really better than us in the final.
Uche Okechukwu was my room-mate throughout the tournament and I remember that we played a lot of indoor games together on match-free days. Anytime I wanted a good laugh, however, I had to go and listen to Rashidi Yekini. Yekini was a truly funny character. Anytime he opened his mouth, the whole camp must explode with laughter.
The food in Algeria wasn’t bad but we ate more of rice and chicken than their local delicacies. Our embassy in Algeria also gave us treats with Nigerian food.
There was no player who could be described as stubborn in our camp. If any player had any misgivings on any issue, it was resolved amicably. Nigerian players can be difficult especially when it concerns their welfare but we are also disciplined. Besides, Westerhof was not the kind of coach that would tolerate any rubbish from his players. Everybody behaved himself.
The constant instruction we got from Westerhof was to always play as a team. He hated players showboating. Westerhof also instructed us to make use of the wings where I was operating on the left and Emma Okocha on the right. Wing play will always be a very strong element in Nigeria’s style of play and it helped us a great deal in Algeria.
We celebrated our wins by singing songs of thanksgiving to God, making telephone calls to our families in Nigeria, drinking (not alcohol) and eating together like one happy family. Our camp allowance was US $50 daily while match bonus was between US $1,500 and US $2,000. When going for games, we usually sang gospel songs in the team bus although Makosa music was very popular at that time. Aloy Agu, who was our captain, led most of the singing and also led the team prayers, most times before kickoff.
Air Commodore Anthony Ikazoboh was the NFA chairman. His relationship with the players was very cordial. He would usually mandate the secretary-general, Patrick Okpomo to regularly keep him posted on the situation of things in camp. We were well looked after. The episode that stood out for me at Algiers ‘90 was that declaration by the Algerian coach that I was the player they were going to look out for in the final. It was like saying that I was the star of the Nigerian team and that made me feel proud. My most embarrassing moment, naturally, was our 5-1 defeat in the opening game. Thankfully, we were able to turn things around and get to the final.
Because of the way we turned adversity into greatness, we were warmly received on our arrival back home even though we didn’t win the cup. The President, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, and Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu, hosted the team to a civic reception and we were given N50,000 each for our effort.
The newspapers praised me so much. The press were of the view that I single-handedly took the team to the final with my pin-point crosses from which the likes of Yekini scored. I was very proud to be so highly rated but I must say that our achievement was a collective performance by the whole team and the technical crew.
GOALKEEPERS: Alloy Agu, Pressley Berthold
DEFENDERS: Abdul Aminu, Uche Okechukwu (Iwuanyanwu, Owerri), Andrew Uwe (SK Roselare, Belgium), Tajudeen Oyekanmi (Ranchers Bees, Kaduna), Wahab Adesina (Belgium), Isaac Semitoje (Bendel United, Benin), Herbert Anijekwu (Rangers, Enugu), Toyin Ayinla (BCC, Gboko)
MIDFIELDERS: Ayo Ogunlana (Ranchers, Kaduna), Thompson Oliha (Iwuanyanwu, Owerri), Wasiu Ipaye, Moses Kpakor (BCC, Gboko), Baldwin Bazuaye (Insurance, Benin), Emmanuel Okocha (Rangers, Enugu), Friday Elaho (Iwuanyanwu, Owerri)
FORWARDS: Daniel Amokachi (Ranchers, Kaduna), Rashidi Yekini (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal)
COACH: Clemens Westerhof (Holland)
ASSISTANT COACHES: Johannes Bonfrere (Holland), Gary Van Iyke (Holland), Sebastian Broderik