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Ten Years on from Nigeria 2-2 South Korea and that miss in Durban

Yakubu miss

Football games have this wonderful thing in which they’re remembered by different people for different things. Sometimes, there’s an incident, or game, so iconic – whether agonising and ecstatic – that you remember where you are and the things. Sergio Aguero scoring in the 93rd minute might mean agony as much as agony for a guy in a bar in New Zealand as it would result in euphoria for a woman in her home in Port-Harcourt. For June 22, 2010, when Nigeria and South Korea met at the World Cup in Durban, South Africa, my most prominent memory was a friend in tears.

It was the 66th minute, the Super Eagles were 2-1 down to South Korea, and needed at least two goals to have a chance of getting past the group stage, when Youssuf Ayila drove that low cross and Yakubu side-footed the ball wide from about four yards out. That’s when my friend’s tears truly began, from a small hands-in-face situation when Nigeria fell 2-1 behind to uncompromising agony when this miss happened. But while these tears were the painful memory to remember the game by, perhaps Yakubu’s reaction himself was the most apt, not palpable agony, just utter gobsmacking disbelief as to how what just happened had just happened. It was the kind of finish you’d tuck away and the commentator would go ‘well, he was never going to miss that was he’.

Nigeria had begun the tournament with a defeat to Argentina, a 1-0 scoreline that simultaneously flattered us and strengthened our belief against the other two sides, and our next match was against Greece. ‘I think we should beat Greece… and set up things for the last game against South Korea’, said a Nigerian fan to the Guardian UK’s website after that Argentina loss. Greece had never even scored a World Cup goal before our meeting, and the Eagles weren’t short on confidence. ‘Today, the word is not Greece, but Nigeria’, were the words of The Guardian’s Barney Ronay as he proceeded with his minute-by-minute report for the game.

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria
Nigeria lost their first game of that World Cup against Argentina

Just 16 minutes in it looked like the word would be Nigeria, as Kalu Uche gave us the lead. But 74 minutes, one foolishly-earned red card, and two more goals later, like the city of Troy, we’d fallen to Greece, and had one foot out the door. ‘I apologise to everyone. To the Nigerian people, the officials and my teammates’, said Sani Kaita, whose moment of madness against Vasilis Torosidis – ironically the scorer of Greece’s winner – earned him a sending off in the 34th minute.

So, to Durban, as we needed a win against the Koreans and needed Argentina to do us a favour against Greece in the other group game. Once again, Kalu Uche got us off and running, scoring after two minutes, sneaking in ahead of Cha-Doo Ri at the far post to set Nigeria going. Not long after Uche hit the post, and Nigeria had their tails up. But on 38 minutes, Lee Chung-Soo gave South Korea an equaliser and had us on the brink of despair, and when a Park Chu-Young free-kick found the net four minutes after halftime, the game looked up.

Then the moment happened, a moment that has thrown itself into pop culture, from social media memes to Nigerian slangs, from BBC documentaries to a Tunde Kelani film. Yakubu scored a penalty not long after that to make it 2-2, but when he came off, he would be pulling on a Nigerian kit for the last time. But here’s a pointlessly stupid, what happens if he had scored that?

The myth surrounding this game is that Yakubu’s miss cost us a place in the Last 16, especially since Argentina did do us that favour against Greece in Polokwane. But the magnitude of that miss and the disbelief behind it kind of obscures a form of truth, or at least it the magnitude of that miss carries with it some kind of fallacy. It wasn’t quite Reynald Pedros circa EURO 1996. Yakubu missed that chance in the 66th minute, Nigeria got a penalty (which Yakubu scored) in the 67th, and Yakubu got taken off in the 69th.

From the simple looks of it – and hello, chaos theory – Yakubu scoring that chance doesn’t quite get us home, as the penalty surely doesn’t happen. A more crucial miss was Obafemi Martins’ lob with less than 10 minutes. Yes, you’re asking, which Martins lob? It’s hard to remember, because more often than not, magnitude trumps effect.

Yakubu miss
Yakubu had a fruitful spell at Blackburn in the Premier League in 2011/12

But the issue with Yakubu’s miss was the effect on his Super Eagles. While him scoring that chance doesn’t quite take us past the group stage, it surely wouldn’t have ended his tenure with Nigeria so abruptly and, frankly, unjustly. Definitely not after fruitful spells with Leicester in 2011 and Blackburn in 2011/12. Perhaps Yakubu leads the line in the African Cup of Nations in 2013, and goes to the World Cup in 2014.

That miss did do a good job of blotting his Nigerian legacy, swiftly moving him from one of the country’s best footballing exports to the man who did something so unforgivable. The man who had the stadium in Durban in complete disbelief. The man responsible for a friend being in tears.

Kunle Ajao121 Posts

Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not

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