From Ibadan to Sao Paulo

August 9, 2019

While Nigeria toiled at the African Cup of Nations in Cairo, another team of footballers strove to do their country proud in the world’s football mecca. 

AK Marvelous, the Nigerian team was minutes away from possible elimination. 

Under Sao Paulo’s glowering sun and in just under 20 minutes they had played two games. Their first game against Kenya ended in a 3-0 victory.

Then, they decided to watch their next opponents, Neymar Jr. Five, court-side, play ahead of their second game against them. This team was a special selection of players from different countries. A dream team if you will. But they were losing. They had gone five goals down against Brazil. The Nigerian team was confident they would defeat them. They exchanged assurances amongst themselves that the team was a walkover. They laughed as their soon-to-be opponents conceded goal after goal. 

The Neymar Jr. Five defeated Nigeria 5-0. 

After the defeat, the Nigerian team headed for the bleachers. At first, an argument threatened to break out amongst them. Blames were traded. The leader of the team, Teslim Ayomide immediately shut it down. He acknowledged they had taken their opponents for granted. He gathered his team in a circle. He calmly pointed out where everyone including himself had made mistakes. He asked for ideas on how they could beat their next opponent, Brazil, supposedly the best technical team in the competition. If they did not win, they would not progress to the next round.  

“That was the best part of the tournament for me. The motivation. The talks. The adrenalin. We didn’t care who we were playing next. We knew we had to win,” recalled Lukman Olagoke, one of the team’s players. 

Around the Nigerian team, other teams – 42 of them, from across the world – played, won, lost, strategized against opponents, screamed at each other. 

The teams had travelled to Brazil for the Red Bull Neymar Jr tournament, the biggest five-a-side competition in the world, now in its fifth edition. It is held at the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr, a football institute set up by Neymar and his family, in Praia Grande, a beachside municipality in São Paulo. Neymar is one of the biggest footballers in the world, and Red Bull, the biggest energy drink company in the world, that promises to give its drinkers “wings”. It is a fitting partnership. 

The AK Marvelous team had emerged triumphant in the national stage of the tournament, beating 35 other teams in the country to represent Nigeria in Brazil. Across the world, over 100,000 players from 40 countries had competed to be at the finals. 

The tournament was a very entertaining change from what the average football fan might be used to. Each game ran for only 10 minutes or ended when five goals had been scored. No goalkeeper was allowed. When a goal was scored, a player from the conceding team had ti leave the pitch. Each team had five players and was allowed two substitutes. Yet, it was clear in Sao Paulo that no matter what surface, no matter what the rules were, football inspired the same amount of emotions: a lot. Playing across a surface that would otherwise be a quarter of a regular-sized football pitch and for only ten minutes, players were as passionate, driven and hungry for victory as they would be on a bigger stage. 

As such, the tournament was rich in highlights. It felt like a model United Nations of football, featuring a diverse group of teams that are not seen often in international tournaments like Georgia, Qatar, Kuwait or Mauritius. It produced refreshing David v. Goliath results that might be unlikely in professional football competitions (Panama 5 v. England 1 // Hungary 5 v. Brazil 0).

Venue at Neymar Jr’s Five World Final in Praia Grande, Brazil on July 13, 2019.

It reflected where the world is or should be going in terms of integration and diversity. Qatar’s team, for instance, was entirely made up of non-indigenes from Mali. The Japenese team had a half-Dutch player. The English team had two Nigerian players. In other cases, the make-up of the team was striking in ways that had nothing to do with dual nationalities. The Oman team, for instance, was made of family members: uncles and cousins. 

The Ibadan-based Nigerian team, not to be left out, also, had a compelling story. As recent history goes, Ibadan is no longer known for producing top footballing talent in the country. Its most successful team, Shooting Stars FC last won the Nigerian Premier League in 1998. Yet the AK Marvelous team defeated better-fancied teams from Lagos and Port Harcourt. The team was created from the genius of their coach, Mr. Akeem Moshood. He registered for the competition and assembled the team through selections he made himself and word of mouth, through other footballers’ contacts.

Neymar Jr is seen during Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five World Final 2019 in Praia Grande, Brazil on July 13, 2019

Before the Red Bull Neymar Jr competition, the seven-man strong team had never played together. The coach made champions out of them anyway. What they lacked in harmony initially, they made up for in determination 

“The manager seemed like someone that wanted to help nurture young footballers. I was fasting the day I was called up to join the team. We had practise the same day. I had already trained in the morning and I needed to conserve my strength,” Olagoke recalled.  

“After the call, I didn’t care, I had to leave immediately to join the team to train and play. It was not hard settling in.” 

Outside of AK Marvelous, all seven men play for different amateur teams and football academies in Ibadan, staying fit and keeping ready for a golden opportunity to show their talents on the global stage. The Red Bull Neymar Jr. tournament was the perfect chance. 

When it was time for the final group game against Brazil, the team was sufficiently amped up. Their game had invited considerable attention. The games in the tournament were played simultaneously across three courts but Court 2, most central was where most spectators were focused on.

Perhaps the spectators also knew about the footballing history between Nigeria and Brazil, because they soon gathered from the other courts in large numbers.

The referee blew the whistle for kick-off. The Nigerian team seemed to have decided to invite pressure from the Brazilian attack – wait for an opening and then counter-attack. The decision bore fruit after three minutes. One goal for Nigeria, one Brazilian player off.

Cheers echoed around the stands. There was apparently no love for the home team. In seven minutes, AK Marvelous scored four more unreplied goals, defeating the “best technical” team in the competition, 5-0. 

Soon after, they had to play against Kuwait in a playoff round after finishing second in their group. They lost and exited the competition. But they do not think they lost at all. 

“Travelling to Brazil to represent your country is very big,” Olagoke said matter-of-factly. And it is. While there they also got to meet their football idol, Neymar; and players from other countries, bonding over the beautiful game they love. There were many opportunities to be inspired by the sheer talent on display, accomplishments, pride, the game can bring, which AK Marvelous fully took advantage of. 

And that too, Olagoke reckons, is a kind of victory.


The writer was in Brazil at the invitation of tournament organizers Red Bull. All photos courtesy of Red Bull. 

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

December 2, 2019

You’ve met Buhari the military dictator. You’ve met Buhari the klutz. You’ve even met Buhari the swag daddy. But have you met … Buhari the lover? Well, us neither.  This caption — typed out by the president’s least favourite Special Assistant, is as romantic as a bank account opening application form. Then the first lady […]

October 28, 2019

For some people, the best time of the year is Christmas, for others, it’s the new year and all the renewed hope it brings. Clearly neither set is Nigerian, because what is a Christmas or a new year when the Ake Festival is right over here, looking to brighten your whole life. The 7th edition […]

June 21, 2019

What happened this week? Did you finally start that diet? Did you tell your boss to stick it like you’ve been planning for the past 5 months? Did you lose a little weight? Well, I’m sure you have positives to all of these questions and your week had a fair share of doldrum and crazy, […]

January 6, 2020

In a land of dust, and time of ashy skin, the fate of your social clout rests on the type of presents you get your friends…the name: thoughtfulness. Here are five thoughtful gifts to make your friends go: “who send you message?” Cold Medicine With all the dust in the air, everyone is either sneezing […]

Watch

Now on Zikoko

Recommended Quizzes

December 11, 2019

In the past month, we’ve made quizzes that guessed the last time you had sex, how many people you’ve slept with, and just how good you are in bed. For our latest attempt, we will use your taste in Nigerian music from the 2010s to ascertain what you’re like in bed. Take to find out:

February 26, 2020

Are you all set for marriage, or are you still figuring it out? Well, if you’re curious to know the answer, then this is the quiz for you. All you have to do is create your own ideal Nollywood wedding film, and we’ll tell you if you’re ready to say “I do”. Go ahead:

November 15, 2019

There are two types of people in Nigeria right now: those who are proud Marlians, and those who are still in denial about stanning the divisive star. So, for those who proudly wear the Marlian tag, we made a quiz to test how well you really know Naira Marley. If you get more than 6 […]

April 1, 2020

Everyone has a Nigerian bank that matches their personality. You could either be as likeable as GTB, as efficient as Access or as mature as First Bank. Either way, all you have to do is take this quiz and we’ll let you know with almost 100% certainty. So, go ahead:

December 3, 2019

Are you a professional Yoruba demon? Are you walking around in search of whose life you can wreck at any given time? Well, this quiz knows exactly how many hearts you’ve shattered to date, and before you lie that your result is inaccurate, just remember that Zikoko is never wrong. Now, take it and be […]

November 28, 2019

There are so many talented and stunning Nollywood actors that make it hard not to fall in love with them. So, while we all know the likelihood of us ending up with any of them is super low, it’s still fun to imagine a world where we actually stood a chance, and that’s why this […]

More from General

March 10, 2022

Offers opportunity for young changemakers from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to join the Global Citizen Fellowship Program for a year-long, full-Time, paid placement International advocacy organisation Global Citizen has today announced that application for the 2022/23 Global Citizen Fellowship Program powered by BeyGOOD is now open until 29th April 2022. Fifteen young African changemakers: […]

March 8, 2022

Triller, the AI-powered, open garden technology platform for creators, has joined #BreakTheBias, the global campaign in honor of  International Women’s Day (#IWD2022) on Tuesday, 8th March.  All Triller platforms will feature stories from 30 incredible women in the music and entertainment industry who are working to end gender bias, along with a specially curated #BreakTheBias […]

March 4, 2022

In view of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, MTN has announced it will be offering free international calls and SMS to all existing prepaid and postpaid customers, effective immediately. This offer is aimed at supporting customers to stay in touch with their loved ones while eliminating associated International Direct Dialing (IDD) costs due to high […]

March 3, 2022

ASUS has released its new Zenbook 14 Flip OLED (UP5401EA) and Vivobook Pro series (N7600/N7400). Pre-orders are available now. The Zenbook 14 Flip OLED (UP5401EA) is a slim, light and ultra-versatile convertible design equipped with a 4K OLED HDR NanoEdge touchscreen, having a 16:10 aspect ratio to give you a bigger visual workspace. The Asus […]

February 26, 2022

FairMoney Microfinance Bank, a leading fintech firm is currently revotionalizing  the digital banking space in Africa. The firm known for its dominance of micro lending in Nigeria has  transitioned into  a full fledged credit led digital bank. With this new height reached, comes a promise to provide Fair banking for all. FairMoney prides itself as […]

Feature image
February 26, 2022

Ensuring that Valentine’s Day fell within ten-day chocolate marketing period may have been a masterstroke for Ghana’s chocolate marketers. But they were also helped because a campaign launched 15 years ago to encourage local consumption of chocolate is beginning to bear fruit. By Zubaida Mabuno Ismail, bird story agency. “I have run out stock of […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X