A Referee who prayed with a team

The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has entered its second day.

As we look forward to an exciting show, I would like to take a long walk down memory lane to reflect on one of the football festival’s funniest moments.

One of them took centre stage at the 1984 finals in the Ivory Coast during the semi-final encounter between the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Officials from FIFA, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and spectators at large were stunned when the Egyptian team went into prayer and the referee joined them in that prayer session as the teams headed for the dreaded penalty shootouts.

The Egyptians had gone 2-0 up before Nigerian captain Stephen Keshi pulled one back. Then Ali Bala equalised for the Super Eagles with 15 minutes left to send the game into penalty shootouts.

Then something funny happened.

The Egyptian players ran to the touchline where their kit bags were and drew out small copies of the Holy Koran, and started praying right on the football pitch.

They were a religious team and the five players to take the penalty kicks went through the pages of the Koran praying. The referee from Gambia, Omar Sey, was confused and didn’t know what to do.

He was also Muslim and so, did not want to disturb the Egyptian players in their prayers.

What happened next stunned everyone including the Nigerian players. Sey, the referee then joined the five Egyptian penalty takers in prayer — right on the field of play.

The players were praying to Allah that they convert their penalty kicks and the referee was adding his voice to their prayers!

It was unbelievable for this was the first time something like that had happened, not only in African football but also the world over.

But when the teams finally took their penalties, the Egyptians lost 4-5 and their star player, Taher Abu Zeid popularly known as the Maradona of the Nile, missed the crucial penalty kick to hand the Super Eagles a passage into the final.

The Nigerians, however, went on to lose the final 3-1 to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

That is football. It is so funny.

On that note, let the best team win the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.