FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiThursday, February 5, 2015
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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WILFRED AGBONAVBARE: THE LEGENDARY GOALKEEPER; ADIEU!

In loving memory of Wilfred Agbonavbare


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he news of the demise of Wilfred Agbonavbare, came to the writer as a rude shock. Before the ultimate and unfortunate sad announcement, the writer saw in the press, the picture of Wilfred Agbonavbare on the hospital bed, in what turned out to be his last days on earth. The heart of the writer missed a beat, on seeing the once robust, agile goalkeeper, lying weakly on the hospital bed; and certainly not looking like the Wilfred Agbonavbare of yore.

Wilfred Agbonavbare, shot into limelight, as a member of the 1983 set of Flying Eagles, that represented Nigeria, at the 1983, Under-20 World cup competition, in Mexico. He was the first choice goalkeeper, and was in the first eleven together with: Skipper Ali Jeje, at right back; Amaechi Otti, at left back; Tajudeen Disu, at centre-half back and Wahab Adesina, at left-half back. The three- man mid-field, consisted of: Vice- Skipper: Paul Okoku, as central/ defensive mid-fielder; Femi Olukanmi, as right-sided offensive mid-fielder, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, alias "Mbuzu ," as left-sided offensive mid-fielder. The offensive trio consisted of: Samson SiaSia, as right winger; Segun Olukanmi, as centre-forward and Humphrey Edobor, as left winger. It must be pointed out that Samson Sia Sia, missed the Under -20 World cup competition, as a result of the "West African School Certificate Examination " popularly known as "WAEC," which fell at the same time as the Under-20 World cup competition. Samson Sia Sia's place in the first team ,was taken over by Tarila Okorowanta, alias " Super brat." It must also be pointed out that the first choice deepest striker: Segun Olukanmi, lost his place in the team, on account of injury, sustained, in the first leg of the final bruising qualifier, against Guinea, in Conakry; and was subsequently replaced by: Dehinde Akinlotan.There were of course, the other beautiful members of this great team, who due to limitations of the human memory, cannot be mentioned in this piece.

The 1983 set of Flying Eagles ,under the coaching guidance of: Chris Udemezue of blessed memory, was the first Nigerian team ever to appear at a FIFA World cup event and Wilfred Agbonavbare was a very prominent member of the squad.

At the FIFA under-20 World cup competition, in Mexico, in 1983, the Flying Eagles were drawn in the same group with: The former Soviet Union; Brazil and the Netherlands.

In the opening match against the U.S.S.R, the Flying Eagles eeked out a win, thanks to a dying minute goal, scored by Tarila Okorowanta. As a fresh man student of the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, yours sincerely, together with other soccer -minded fresh men students, got the news, as the fresh men students were moving to a lecture theatre for a lecture. We were excited at the news; and it gave us hope the Flying Eagles, could hold their own even against the 'Almighty' Brazil!

However, the match against Brazil, took away all that illusion, as the Flying Eagles, lost by 3-0; no thanks to their relative inexperience. They certainly had a sort of complex playing against the "Almighty" Brazil, as they missed a number of goal scoring opportunities. Tarila Okoronwanta, however, played without complex and was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Brazilians. In the final match against the Netherlands, that had in it's line up: the legendary Marco Van Basten, the Flying Eagles needed a victory to qualify for the next round. The Flying Eagles gave a good account of themselves; Goalkeeper Wilfred Agbonavbare kept the nul, but the Flying Eagles, couldn't score. Humphrey Edobor, missed a sitter of an opportunity, in the dying minutes of the game. The match ended scoreless; and the Flying Eagles,were eliminated from the Under -20 World cup competition, with their heads held high!

On account of his sparkling performance, at the Under-20 World cup competition, Goalkeeper Wilfred Agbonavbare, together with: Yisa Shofoluwe, who broke into the first eleven of the team, during the Under-20 World cup competition; Tajudeen Disu; Paul Okoku; Chibuzor Ehilegbu ;Tarila Okoronwanta; Humphrey Edobor and Dehinde Akinlotan, were invited to the Super Eagles.

In the Super Eagles, Wilfred Agbonavbare, gave the then number one goalkeeper: Peter Rufai, a run for his money. The then coach of the Super Eagles: Chief Festus Adegboye Onigbinde, put him between the sticks in some competitive matches; like the W.A.F.U competition for senior national teams, in West Africa, in December, 1983. It was at this competition, Wilfred Agbonavbare acquired a reputation, that was best forgotten! In the match against Togo, a country considerd a soccer minow, by Nigerians ;the Super Eagles surprisingly lost by 5-2. Wilfred Agbonavbare, as the Super Eagles' goalkeeper, for the entire duration of the match, conceded all five goals! He couldn't be solely blamed for conceding all five goals, as the Super Eagles' defence, at a point in time, during the course of the match, broke down! In the words of the radio commentator: " The Eagles defence has collapsed……" This fact notwithstanding, Wilfred Agbonavbare, was blamed for all five goals scored by Togo, by a majority of the Nigerian fans of the Super Eagles. This coupled with his perceived 'rivalry' with fans favourite: Goalkeeper Peter Rufai, earned him the unenviable nickname of " Agbo-ni- basket ." He certainly didn't deserve the nickname. But like the trojan he was, he trudged on, as one of the Super Eagles' goalkeepers.At a time, he was the number one goalkeeper of the Super Eagles. He was a member of the great, highly talented, all-conquering, Super Eagles squad of 1994, that won the 1994 Nations' cup competition and worthily represented Nigeria, at the 1994 Senior World cup competition. A squad that is unarguably, the best team ever assembled by Nigeria, to any FIFA World cup event! He played professional soccer in Spain for Rayo Vallecano, before hanging his boots.

He will no doubt go down in history, as one of the best Nigerian goalkeepers ever! He was among the first generation of Nigerian goalkeepers, that plied their trade as professionals overseas. That way they went a step further than the preceding generation of Nigerian goalkeepers.

The writer will like to seize this opportunity to send his sincerest condolences to his family, particularly his three children, who are now orphans. May the good Lord grant them the courage, to face life's challenges, without their parents; and may the soul of Wilfred Agbonavbare find eternal rest in God's bossom.

Amen!

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