For some time to come, Uyo’s Godswill Akpabio International Stadium will be remembered by Nigerian football fans as the place where three interwoven historical events took place-both on 22 May.
It hosted the maiden edition of the GOtv MAX Cup, which saw LaLiga giants and 2018 Europa League winners, Atletico Madrid, play their first game on Nigerian soil against the Super Eagles B team and perhaps more defining, Fernando Torres’ last match for the club at which he is regarded as a legend.
The 34-year old striker, whose one-year contract lapsed at the end of the season, was the undisputed star of the Atletico Madrid squad that arrived Nigeria.
The man fondly called “El Nino” (the kid) may be ageing, but still possesses star quality. When his image popped up on the stadium’s screens, fans chanted his name lustily, as reflected by the palpable collective wish to see him score.
Torres was not only star to arrive with the team. There was the highly regarded goalkeeper, Jan Oblak, Argentine international, Angel Correa and Ghanaian international, Thomas Partey. They were led by their star coach Diego Simeone.
Most of the affection and attention, however, was on Torres, particularly because he was turning out for Atletico for the last time-a piece of history claimed by GOtv MAX Cup.
Torres was omitted from the starting line-up, as his teammates began the confrontation with the Super Eagles B team.
The young team started with vigour and skill, matching their opponents. They went ahead in the 31st minute through the superb Kelechi Nwakali, who stunned Oblak with a shot from the distance.
Atletico did not waste time before restoring parity through Correa to ensure the first half ended on an even note.
Torres was introduced at the start of the second half to rapturous applause from fans and made his presence felt immediately by stinging the hands of the Super Eagles goalie with a shot from outside the box. On 64 minutes, the striker scored with a firm header off a corner kick to give the LaLiga giants the lead.
The ovation was deafening. The Super Eagles leveled when Usman Mohammed’s beat Oblak after mazy run.
Five minutes to the end, the Super Eagles were undone when Borja Caceres scored the winner for Atletico to claim the GOtv MAX Cup, providing a glorious end to Torres’ Atletico Madrid career and ensuring a piece of history was made in Nigeria.