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Day Utaka the attacker made Nigeria’s day in Blantyre.

John Utaka

 

Good memories and even bad ones are not easy to forget. No matter how long it takes, from time to time it flashes in the mind like a clip from a good movie more so when you were there live.

That is why in sports for instance some breath-taking moves and jaw dropping goals by some of the best footballers in the world seldom leave the mind.

They remain as reference point sometimes long after the actors have left the stage.

Time to venture into coaching for Super Eagles ace John Utaka

Seventeen years ago, former Super Eagles striker now current coach of French side Montpellier Under 19 side, John Chukwudi Utaka got a standing ovation in faraway Blantyre, the commercial city of Malawi.

It was the occasion of 2004 Nations Cup qualifier between the then Christian Chukwu tutored Super Eagles and the Flames of Malawi.

The Malawians chose to stage the match in Blantyre instead of the capital city Lilongwe. You may want to consider it a case of Lagos versus Abuja.

While Blantyre is the commercial city that bubbles of activities and of course boasts of legion of soccer fans, Lilongwe is the political capital, that is not to say that  it does not boost of soccer fans but of course you cannot compare it with what you would expect if you staged a high wire match in the country.

And so the match was dubbed battle of Blantyre billed for March 29 2003 at the 60,000 Kamuzu Stadium Stadium.

Midfield maestro Jay Jay Okocha took charge of the middle in the battle of Blantyre

Expectedly before the two teams arrived every available space has been taken by eager fans wanting to savor every minute of the show. Interestingly it was a time when midfield maestro Jay Jay Okocha was doing what many called a yeoman’s job for Bolton Wanderers.

Some of the fans who had stormed the arena know him and are itchy to watch him at close range.

Ordinarily the home fans would have loved to see their darling team give highly rated Eagles a run for their strength and skill, but Utaka who was then playing for French side Lens had a different plan up his sleeves.

He approached the match with all the seriousness it deserved looking out for early opportunity which presented itself in the 10th minute and there was no missing it.

Some who came a bit late were approaching the stadium when they were told that an Utaka has already shot Nigeria into the lead.

The match was full of thrills, enough to cheer and shout about but the Utaka strike turned out to be the one and only goal of the encounter.

Read AlsoEx-Eagles forward Utaka begins coaching career with Montpellier youth team

It was a match that saw Ifeanyi Udeze and Femi Opabunmi bagging yellow cards just like Joseph Gatros, Essau Boser Kanyenda and Peter Mgangira equally saw yellow on the Flames side.

It may have ended as a low score match, but Utaka sure made the difference kudos also to his entire teammates who worked like busy bees the first blast of the whistle with Okocha marshaling the midfield

Former Super Eagles coach Christian Chukwu called the shots in the encounter

Utaka who flagged off his playing career with Rangers international in 1997 played for over 12 different clubs in the course of his career. He made 49 appearances for the Super Eagles with six goals to his credit.

Recall that that year Eagles made it to the last four of the Nations cup hosted by Tunisia finishing in the third place after beating Mali 2-1.

There is time for everything, time to play and time to teach others how to play perhaps that explains the new role of the 38 year old former international as he ventures into coaching.

Starting lineup of the match way back 2003

Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama

Defender Joseph Enakarhire

Defender Ifeanyi Udeze

Defender/Midfielder Joseph Yobo

Midfielder Ikpe Ekong

Midfielder Jay Jay Okocha

Midfielder/Forward John Utaka

Forward Femi Opabunmi

Forward Yakubu

Chukwudi Nworgu

Olajengbesi

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