Those boys in Nigerian green and white colours fielded against the Syli Stars of Guinea in Abuja last week Saturday, in a final showdown to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup, were not footballers. They were far from it! To now imagine that they were supposed to be the nation’s best legs and professionals from Europe, makes a mess of professional football and the premier leagues abroad in which they play. What I saw last weekend for 90 minutes was simply a ragtag side that appeared to have been hurriedly assembled and horded unto the field. Their display was short of a lacklustre performance. It was, to say the least, a no-performance, lacking in competitive spirit, direction, style, finesse, and strategy. That was not a Nigerian National Team. That cannot even be a Nigerian Secondary School Team. In our playing days at the Government College Makurdi and University of Ibadan, we would receive the Sports Master’s whip or the Student Union’s pelting if we put up such a tragic and scandalous performance.
While my heart remained in my mouth for most of the duration of that Nations Cup qualifier; while my legs, hands and body jerked feverishly to the tempo and rhythm of the colourless game, while my head ached from shouts and anxiety; the boys on the field of play pitiably worked themselves up and wore themselves out for what was their own fault. They simply lacked creativity. The defence was careless and easily susceptible to cheap menaces from the Guineans. The midfield was not water-tight and easily torn apart. The wings lacked power, tact and enterprise, while the attack was just not coordinated nor sharp. The entire package was pitiable, lacking in bite and confidence to overcome their opponents. The Eagles looked vulnerable from the blast of the whistle at 2.pm Nigerian time. No wonder they fell 0-1 soon after the second half started, before they managed to even scores and take the lead. Their incompetence was finally validated when they conceded a late equalizer to Guinea and chose the exit door of the Nations Cup.
Three days later, on Tuesday night to be precise, the Eagles were to face Ghana in a renewed soccer war between the two neighbours, and in the Eagles’ quest for redemption of national honour. From my own lens, the London showdown turned out to be more horrible. Although it ended goalless, the Eagles had to, again, struggle and sweat on the field of play. Their greater possession of the ball was not out of any tact, nor was it a strategy or sign of domination. It was more out of not knowing what to do with the ball. Their possessions thus ended in futility and lack of clear or decisive attempts at goal. The attackers were all goal-shy, fleet-footed and uncreative. The Eagles, on both occasions, worked so hard on the field of play, but lacked creativity, ball-sense and confidence, which killed their game.
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The downward trend in Nigerian football and sports in general, as evident in the dismal performance of the Eagles in the just concluded Nations Cup qualifiers and other competitions in recent years, is symptomatic of the Nigerian sickness. Mismanagement, indiscipline and lack of continuity in football administration, among other factors, account for the huge failure in football competitions in the last 10 years. Among a plethora of causes, Ministers of Sports are hired and fired spasmodically without regard for sustained development. Sports administrators appointed are either beneficiaries of political favours or are party loyalists. Soccer administrators without any previous experience or record of passion, ideals and blueprint to advance the sport find their way, through the backdoor, to the Glass House. Coaches are hurriedly booted out as they are hurriedly engaged to grow a formidable national team. Again, sadly, there are no sustained agenda to nurture world-beaters at the U-17 and U-20 levels into the main theatre of the Senior National Team. There is a sudden discontinuity as the boys get lost in the world and a new coach begins an endless search for new (relatively unknown) third-rate lackeys in obscure European leagues to wear the National Team shirt. Those are the killers of Nigerian football.
As for the Eagles Siasia paraded last weekend, they could not have been his Eagles. Siasia made a mistake: you cannot raise a chicken and expect it to grow into an eagle. Even if cocks, hens or fowls are nurtured in the company of eagles, they would not grow up to fly or soar like the eagle. Going by his pedigree in the 2005 U-20 World Cup and 2008 Olympics Soccer, at which he got to the final; much was expected of Siasia to rebuild a strong Super Eagles team. But that team we saw was made up of chickens sand ducks, which may have wings, may look like birds, and may possess all the “paraphernalia” of a bird; but no matter what, cannot fly. I ask for the immediate dropping of that qualifying word, “Super”. I would have asked for an outright rechristening from Eagles to something else- because there has not been anything “Super” or Eagle-like about that team since World Cup 1998- but they say a name can remold destiny. So let Siasia or whoever the Football Federation (hurriedly) hires after this huge embarrassment of an ouster, rebuild the team, raising a new generation of real Eagles, and not chicken-hearted boys.
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