Nigerian football fraternity was thrown into another mourning yesterday following the death of former Green Eagles defender, Yisa Sofoluwe, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Sofoluwe, who was diagnosed of mild cerebral atrophy at the Prince and Life Medical Hospital, Ikorodu, was moved to LUTH last Friday when his condition became worse. The 54-year- old former defender gave up the ghost on Tuesday night while waiting for surgery.
The news of Sofoluwe’s ailment was first broken to Nigerians last week on FUBS, a WhatsApp platform for sportsmen and women. And on Tuesday afternoon, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, and other Nigerians initiated moves to rescue Sofoluwe from the ailment. Dare reportedly sent money through another ex- international to support his medical bill. But all the efforts failed to save the Cote d’Ivoire ’84 and Maroc ’88 African Cup of Nations silver medallist.
Yesterday, Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, expressed ‘deep shock’ when news of Sofoluwe’s demise broke.
“The news of Yisa Sofoluwe’s death is quite devastating and one that hit me like a tornado,” Dare said in a statement yesterday. “He was a great, committed, disciplined, humble and patriotic player. He came ahead of his time.
“My condolences and prayers go to his wife, children, teammates and the football community. He died just when help was on the way to pay for his surgery. His death is a huge loss. Rest in peace Dean of Defence.”
To Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, Sofoluwe’s death came as a rude shock.
“It is another sad, sad day. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were lamenting the loss of former goalkeeper and coach Joseph Erico. Now, Yisa Sofoluwe. That man was a gem in the green-and-white and did his very best for Nigeria whenever he was on the field. Personally, I have sweet memories of Yisa Sofoluwe.
“It is more painful that he left just when help was coming to him from everywhere and the process was on to rectify his medical condition. We loved him but God loves him more. May his soul rest in peace.”
Former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala also described Sofoluwe’s death yesterday as shocking. Sofoluwe first wore Nigeria’s colours during the qualifying series for the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championship (now FIFA U-20 World Cup) in Mexico. He was a key figure in that squad that became the first Nigerian team to feature at a FIFA-organised championship.
Nicknamed ‘Dean of Defence’ by Ace sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, Sofoluwe was saddled with the task of marking the Dutch legendary footballer, Marco Van Basten at that World Youth Championship. The Flying Eagles defeated old Soviet Union, lost to Brazil and drew with The Netherlands, narrowly failing to make the knockout stage.
The same year, Sofoluwe made his senior debut on August 28, 1983 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match with Morocco at the then Ogbe Stadium in Benin City, which ended scoreless. The return leg in Rabat also ended scoreless, but Nigeria triumphed 4-3 after penalty shootout to qualify for Cote d’Ivoire ’84.
Sofoluwe played a notable role in the Green Eagles squad that finished as runner-up in Cote d’Ivoire, winning Nigeria’s first silver medal at the AFCON, and was also a force in the team that repeated the feat in Morocco four years later.
He won a total of 40 caps for the Nigeria senior team, scoring one goal – in a 1986 World Cup qualifying match against Kenya in Lagos on April 20, 1985, which Nigeria won 3-1. He held sway in the right back position between 1983 and 1988.
Sofoluwe played club football with ITT FC, Abiola Babes FC, Shooting Stars FC and Gateway FC.The late defender was buried in Lagos yesterday according to Islamic rites.