From Doha, Duro Ikhazuagbe
When he enters the main-bowl of the 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium in Qatar this evening, Odion Ighalo will be overcome with emotion.
Of the eight stadiums that Qatar has built to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will begin on November 21 and is slated to take place there, the majestic Lusail venue is the largest.
Starting on November 22, when Argentina and Saudi Arabia play in Group C, this arena, which shares an air-conditioning cooling system with the other seven sites, will host matches. On December 18, when it hosts the edition’s final game, it will be the center of attention for the whole world’s football audience.
The contrast between light and shadow that is present in a fanar lantern served as inspiration for the stadium’s architecture. Its form and golden exterior are reminiscent of the elaborate ornamental themes used in bowls, cups, and other works of art that were produced across the Arab and Islamic worlds throughout the period of the region’s ascent to civilisation.
Ighalo will be representing his Saudi Arabian team Al Hilal SFC on this field this evening rather than representing Nigeria in the green and white shirt. Al Hilal, the Saudi Pro League champions, will compete for the Lusail Super Cup against Zamalek, the Egyptian Premier League champions.
After a string of disappointing performances, Ighalo, 33, was called out of retirement to assist the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s senior national team, find its way. Prior to deciding to put up his boots, he had a fantasy of attending the World Cup in Qatar for the last time. But it was not meant to be. Millions of other Nigerians looked forward to the Eagles’ attendance at the World Cup every four years as a way to make some money via merchandising and other such football-related businesses. Ghana’s Black Stars crushed their dreams and aspirations.
After the home and away legs were tied at 1-1, the Black Stars stole the victory with a cruel away goal rule. Nigerians didn’t care about the goalless result at home in Cape Coast, but they did celebrate late into the night in Accra and other major Ghanaian cities when the match ended 1-1 in Abuja.
In light of this, Ighalo’s appearance at this venue this evening is certain to elicit a range of emotions. The former Manchester United attacker, who led Al Hilal in scoring with 24 goals last season, has two goals on the board so far this year.
Former Nigerian players recall feeling anxiety when they heard the term Zamalek. no more. Ighalo won the AFCON 2019 best scorer award and helped the Super Eagles to a third-place finish in Egypt.
It is yet unknown whether Ighalo, who played Zamalek today evening in this lovely stadium, would be satisfied and not fully miss the “Qatar 2022 activity.”
In March 2015 against Uganda, Ighalo made his international debut for Nigeria. He represented Nigeria in the 2018 World Cup in Russia before deciding to leave the Super Eagles due to threats his family, according to him, got from some angry fans after his performance at the Mundial. He later changed his mind, however, and came back to serve as top scorer for Nigeria’s AFCON 2019 campaign in Egypt. He finished the competition in the IX position and as the highest scorer.
Ighalo transferred from another Saudi team, Al Shabab, to Al Hilal. Ighalo played in the Chinese Super League for Shanghai Shenhua for a total of 17 league games, totaling 10 goals, before transferring to Al Shabab in February 2021. He was then leased out to Manchester United in the English Premier League.