#Sholawatch – Shola’s International Debut
While the England match hype turned out to be about the biggest Crystal Palace non-event since the Great Exhibition of 1851 and a fluke volley into an empty net from the poor man’s Swedish Andy Carroll will steal the morning’s headlines, the Geordie football world’s abiding memory of Wednesday, November 15th ,2012, will be Foluwashola Ameobi’s international star finally rising.
In a memorable 35 minute cameo, Newcastle’s favourite Nigerian son demonstrated the football skills and personality which make him a natural international footballer and perfect club ambassador.
With Newcastle fans represented in Marlins Park, Miami, the venue of the friendly and in a first half atmosphere – on Twitter at least – reminiscent of the Colombus Crew game on the American tour in the pre-season of 2011-2, nothing much Shola-related occurred. Yet streaming links of the match were being found (courtesy of wiziwig.tv), online friendships forged, Shola trivia exchanged (it’s definitely Beyonce NOT Shola Ama who is his dream girl!), expectation of Venezeulean slaying slowly built.
With the score at 2-1 to Nigeria on the hour and Obafemi Martins doing his whizz-bang best to remind all Newcastle fans exactly why we went down, Shola entered the fray wearing the no. 18 shirt and provided a snapshot of everything great about The Mackem Slayer.
He was his usual island of calm in an ocean of football chaos, steadying the Nigerian ship with his first touch and laying the ball off to a man in the same unfamiliar green shirt as his own, with typical simplicity and class.
As the #SholaWatch hashtag (credit to Miami based Barry Ameobi @ToonArmyMIA for that) buzzed on Twitter for the hardcore Ameobists among the Newcastle faithful watching until 3am. His next major involvement was a physical clash with brave Venezuelan, Rondo.
Not realising who he was messing with, the ponytailed centre half attempted to get his hands around Shola’s neck only to realize it was an impossible task. Shola laughed in his face in response and with a shrug of his shoulder, ‘left one on him’.
Next up, Shola was spotted alongside Super Eagles Coach Stephen Keshi, hands pointing in deep tactical discussion, seemingly having set up the trusted, experienced lieutenant role he enjoys with Alan Pardew after three days with the Nigerian international set-up.
Yet the best was still to come on the pitch. As the Venezuelans pressed for an equalizer, the ball broke to Shola on the counter. Turning his marker inside out, he opted to pass when he could have easily shot and like so many of his Newcastle colleagues over the years, his new Nigerian team-mate benefitted from his unselfish play and duly scored.
It was the moment The Shocal Hero transcended the international date line, the magical moment the Segedunum Socrates became a fully-fledged international footballer. President John F Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. Shola provided the definitive answer tonight.
Stuart Latimer @ultrastartime
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