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  Without a doubt, it is the dream of almost every aspiring Nigerian football player to make it to Europe and feature in the grandest stage of them all. However, there are Nigerian players whose past exploits in Europe opened Nigeria to the world as a country filled with football talents. One of such players is the legendary Nigerian footballer, Nwankwo Kanu.
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Today, we recall his hat trick for Arsenal FC against Chelsea in the English Premier League on October 23rd, 1999. Signed for a fee of around  £4.15million in February 1999, Kanu finished his first season for the Gunners with seven goals in 17 matches and would go on to prove the following season that his performances were no fluke. Up against a Chelsea side that had not lost a home game that season at the Stamford Bridge and goalkeeper Ed De Goey who also had not conceded a goal at the Bridge, the contest looked all but over when the Blues were commanding a 2-0 lead, courtesy of headers from Tore Andre Flo in the 38th minute, and Dan Petrescu in the 52nd minute. Recalling events of October 23, Kanu hailed his coach Arsene Wenger for not pressuring the squad after they fell to a 1-0 lead from Chelsea in the first half.
“We went in at half-time and every player was like ‘This is not us, what is going on?’ Arsene said go out and enjoy yourselves. He didn’t get angry. That’s a part of him that people don’t really appreciate. I don’t think I’ve seen him put a lot of pressure on players. Some coaches are (not) like that; they keep shouting, but he didn’t do that” Kanu
With fifteen minutes left for the game to end, Kanu put up a display that has gone down in history as one of the greatest comebacks and hat tricks in the English Premier League. The former Super Eagles captain in the 75th minute of the encounter intercepted a shot from Marc Overmas and toe-poked the ball into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit for the Gunners to 1 (2-1). About the first goal, Kanu said:
“I got the first goal. I knew the surface was slippery and when I saw that space I had to do what I had to do. When you use the toe to hit the ball, it moves faster than when you side-foot it. So I had a chance and I did it.”
Kano levelled the scoreline in the 83rd minute after controlling an Overmas cross into space before firing home the equalizer.
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“For the second goal, there was a cross on the ground and I took it with a good first touch. Thierry Henry was really helpful because he blocked off Marcel Desailly so he couldn’t reach me. I had to shoot from that range and even the keeper was not expecting it” Kanu
On his third strike, the former Iwuanyanwu National star revealed that
“when it went to 2-2, I was like ‘Phew, OK and the Arsenal fans were up for it then. They were shouting but nobody was expecting us to win — 2-2 was OK, a draw at Stamford Bridge? We can go home with that.”
Kanu needed no help for the winning goal after chasing a loose pass from Suker which had gone wrong to the opponent. The then Super Eagle, won the ball back, and after beating De Goey who raced out in a bid to tackle him, Kanu remembered what his international teammate, Celestine Babayaro, who was playing for Chelsea then, told him in the tunnel.
“Before the game, as we were in the tunnel, my friend Babayaro told me ‘We know your style, we know what you’re going to do, I’ve told all the players and the keeper what you do when you want to do the fake shot’. I was like ‘OK, that’s cool. So when the keeper came out, I believed he would remember what Babayaro told him. So, I dummied him but then there was no one to pass the ball to, even if I wanted to, because of where I was. I decided to go for it. It was difficult to hit it from that angle to the top corner but good players have to find a way” Kanu
At the end of the game, Kanu and Babayaro swapped jerseys. Also, Kanu’s heroics endeared him more to Arsenal fans as he went on to win the African Footballer of the Year for the second time in 1999, after scoring 16 goals in all competitions. He spent five seasons and a half at the North London club. Sources: TalkSport Premium Times Premier League Featured Image Source: Complete Sports
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This article was first published on 23rd June 2021 and updated on June 24th, 2021 at 1:21 pm


I am a Lion, I love to hit heights that seem impossible so I can motivate others and prove doubters wrong. For me, impossible is nothing. I'm open to learning and I love to read, travel and meet new faces.

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