Godwin Izilien Recounts Rivalry with Pele

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Brazil lost a footballing icon on the 29th of December, 2022, when Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele drew his last breath.

The football world has been mourning since then, and Pele was laid to rest Yesterday in Brazil.

He won three World Cup with Brazil and was the greatest player of his era, his greatness took him around the world and at a point he was in Nigeria.

Former Coach of the Nigerian Super Falcons and The Golden Eaglets Coach Godwin Izilien recounts his experience of how he man marked Pele in a friendly game between Santos and Midwestern Selected team in 1969.

In an interview with STV Sports, Godwin revealed how he single handedly stopped Pele from inflicting more damage on his team after Santos went two goals up in just five minutes into the encounter.

He also recalled how supporters gathered to enjoy and watch the footballing great even in the midst of a civil war between Biafra and Nigeria.

“The match was scheduled for 3.30pm, but the stadium was opened from 10:00am.”

“Ogbe Stadium was newly commissioned then, and it was filled up at 2pm with a lot of people stuck outside the stadium as they were unable to get in.

“I also remember then that some football fans came from neighboring towns such as Abudu, Agbor, Asaba, Onisha and some other regions controlled by the Biafran soldiers.

“They sneaked into Benin City to watch Pele and his Santos FC played. Even before the match started, many of the fans had already concluded that Pele would demolish the Midwestern selected team with as many as 10-0”

“I was the captain of the Midwestern selected team, and under five minutes, we were 2-0 down. We came up with a trick, pretending that one of our players was injured. That gave me an opportunity to counsel my teammates.

“I told them that if we should allow Santos FC to continue that way, we may concede 20-0 and above. I told them that the only way to avoid heavy defeat in front of our fans was to pick on the Brazilian players one by one.

“But the biggest challenge was, who will mark a dangerous Pele? As the team captain, I volunteered to mark him (Pele).

“I devised a means to go hard on him within the limit of the laws of the game because Pele was very skillful. At a point, Pele became angry with some of my tackles, and he came on me speaking Portuguese and I was speaking English. People started laughing because I didn’t understand what he was saying.

“The game continued and Pele had a pass and I gave him another hard tackle. Both of us went down. The referee, Augustine Alisha, came and warned both of us. This, in a way, reduced the pressure on us.

“Pele went to his own half and started distributing the ball instead of unleashing series of attacks on us. We were very happy. The first half ended 2-0 in Santos’ favour.

“In the second half, we were lucky to have a free kick, and ‘Warri boy’ Titus Okere, scored to make it 2-1.

“That brought joy to everyone inside Ogbe stadium. The match was historic in the sense that it brought so many people together once again since the civil war began in 1967. We forgot all our problems at that moment.

“Before Pele left the pitch in the 76th minutes, he dribbled his way into our defence area and clipped the ball above my head. If I had used force on the ball, it would have been an own goal. What I did was to control the ball into a corner, and Pele was shocked to see an intelligent local player in an obscure area like Benin then.

“As he made his way out of the pitch, Pele threw his jersey on me in appreciation of my intellectual display of football. We later met in the house of the Esama, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.”

Izilien expressed his pain and sorrow for the death of Pele, hailing the maestro as the perfect sporting role model.

“I feel sad that we lost a natural footballer. Pele was a gifted player, and he was never involved in any drug scandal throughout his playing career.”

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