The DJ couldn’t help himself. He punched the button.
An air horn drowned out the last chords of the Nigerian national anthem, “Arise, O Compatriots,” and the wall-to-wall crowd at Appioo African Bar & Grill on Saturday afternoon exploded back into the shouts and laughter from moments before.
“Give us one goal, Nigeria!” yelled Adetayo Ogunsanya, who wore a giant grin and somehow bigger sunglasses around the collar of his shirt, which he customized to read: “This Naija Swag is on a 100.”
On TV, the Croatians and Nigerians met for kickoff and, inside Appioo, in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, everyone jostled for a better view. On the edges of the crowd, hips wedged into benches and feet clambered upon them. Nervous energy rippled through everyone not in line for plantains, Jollof rice, stew and egusi soup made with ground seeds and spinach.
As the ball rolled into play, Kweku Amoako beamed. He organized this event through Afropolitan Cities, the organization he founded eight years ago to “bridge the diaspora divide” for Africans. He is Ghanaian, as is Appioo, but this day the restaurant flooded with Super Eagles green — though no one in the lounge wore this year’s Nike-designed Nigerian kits, which sold out globally the day they were released and soared in online bidding.
At the end of the first half, Nigeria had generated no shots on net and allowed an own goal. One man screamed out a claim as bold as the green stripe in Super Eagles center back William Troost-Ekong’s hair: “We’re going to win the whole thing!”
Others hoped the World Cup’s youngest side, averaging 26 years old, would just make it out of the group stage, but Solomon Oli, a Floridian born to Nigerian parents, understood the brashness.
He saw the statement rooted in the Super Eagles’ hard-charging style with offensive flourishes. He saw it in the exuberance of those around him. He saw it in a quote by Nigerian pastor Ghandi Olaoye of Jesus House in Silver Spring: “If you go somewhere and there are no Nigerians, there is no money to be made there.”
As the second half came to a slow, painful finish, Amoako didn’t see a 2-0 defeat. He didn’t see a Nigerian offense that never quite kicked into top gear. He didn’t see it as another beginning to a possible group-stage exit.
He saw more than 100 Africans commiserating.
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