At first, it looked like Nigerian church team, Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC, were in for a drubbing when they arrived late in Bangalore, India, for their first game against Colombia in the maiden edition of the Church World Cup.
Eight countries namely hosts India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Portugal, Colombia, Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana participated in the event, organised by the Pope John Paul II Foundation for Sports, which held from December 5 to 15, 2014.
After receiving the approval of the Nigeria Football Federation to represent Nigeria, visas were issued out late to the team due to their application. But the squad braved all odds and departed Nigeria on December 5, 2014, the same day they were scheduled to play their opening game against Colombia.
Unfortunately, the team spent two days on the way to India but the church’s prayers were answered when the game was moved forward by 48 hours despite tickets having been sold.
Eventually, players and officials of the team didn’t have their bath when they played their first game less than two hours after arriving India.
Thus, nobody expected anything from them but they surprising shed off the jetlag and battered a better relaxed and prepared Colombia side 3-0.
In their next game, Nduka Ugbade’s side overcame Egypt 2-0 while they hammered Uzbekistan 7-0 to emerge winners of their group.
In the semi-final against India, the Nigerian side had a man sent off early in the second half but the hosts couldn’t make their numerical advantage count, as MFM squeezed out a 1-0 win to set up a final clash against Colombia.
In the final played in Goa, a confident MFM side showed their 3-0 group win over The United Church of Colombia was not a fluke, as they thrashed the South Americans 7-0 to become the first winners of the Church World Cup.
Their top striker, Adekunle Adegboyega, emerged tournament’s top scorer with eight goals while diminutive midfielder, Emmanuel Omuwa, won the Most Valuable Player award.
Chairman of MFM, Godwin Enakhena, told our correspondent that the club only came into existence in 2006 “As a result of a divine instruction from God to the General Overseer of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Dr. Daniel Olukoya, to reposition youths for Jesus Christ, using sports as one of his 70-point agenda.”
An elated Olukoya said after the squad’s feat, “The achievement of the team is a thing of joy and a confirmation of the fact that the youth repositioning agenda is yielding dividends on the football pitch.” The General Overseer also promised to put smiles on the faces of the players but he didn’t stop at that. On the team’s arrival at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, the boys were driven through major streets of the city on his instructions and a welcome party organised for them.
Enakhena says the church is now focused on creating an impression in Nigerian football by earning promotion to the elite league this season.
“Having conquered the world, we want to become the first club to play in the Nigerian Premier League,” he said.
In 2009, MFM teams from Africa — Ghana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cameroun, Mali and Togo — took part in the event but it was the church’s headquarters that triumphed over MFM Osogbo on penalties at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.
The church team joined the Nigerian league in 2011, playing in the amateur division. They progressed to the National Division One League, after they were offered Bolowotan FC’s slot.
They have won the Tinubu Cup, the Church League in Nigeria, Boska Cup and the Believers Cup. They also represented Nigeria at the Lagos International Football Tournament, which they won courtesy of a 2-1 win over Dragons of Benin Republic. They’ve also represented Lagos in the Federation Cup.
But Enakhena, who is also the church’s Director of Sports, admits that they have had to battle with bias officiating.
Enakhena said, “Poor officiating is a cankerworm that has eaten deeply into the system. Clubs have been given the responsibility of paying the indemnities of match officials. When the referees are coming, you will put them in a hotel and feed them.
“Despite this, you still have bad eggs among them; they will still be bias in their officiating. For the records, MFM had the highest number of draws last season. Where am I going to get money to pay the refs? Will I tell the General Overseer to give me money to bribe officials? That is certainly not possible.”
The church has been consistent in grooming top quality athletes, not just footballers alone. They had four players in the 2013 U-17 World Cup winning Golden Eaglets, while defensive midfielder Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and goalkeeper Joshua Enaholo, were part of the Flying Eagles that won a record seventh African title in Senegal.
Glasgow 2013 Commonwealth Games gold medalists Ese Brume and Odunayo Adekuoroye are also products of the church’s youth policy.
“What we do is to give the youths an opportunity to showcase themselves and earn a living from their talents. For example, a player like Enaholo has helped her mother complete her house. We ensure the players are accommodated and there is food for them as well salaries,” Enakhena said.
By ’Tana Aiyejina
Source: PUNCH NEWSPAPER