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Calls on June 20 match

By Onochie Anibeze

It’s been interesting trying to analyse the reactions of Nigerians after the goalless draw with Tunisia on June 20.

While the game was going on, I received calls from a few Nigerians who expressed disappointment at the way the game was going on. After the game, it was same, some condemned the play of the Eagles.

There were, as usual, calls for Amodu’s head. But this was not total. There were those who commended the coach and the team.

The conclusion the callers reached was divided. There were those who felt the team had picked up and those who felt that Eagles still had a coaching problem.

I thought of reproducing some of these reactions on our pages. Many of the callers were unknown to me. I decided to use some, especially the ones Nigerians know. Yusuf Ali, one time Nigeria Football Association chairman and one of the respected names in the game of football was the first caller.

The man eats and sleeps football. Unfortunately, those who run the game now distance themselves from such people and lose the experience that can enrich them.

Ali was not harsh on the team. But he was unhappy about their attack. “I knew we were playing away and I knew the importance of cautious play. But how come that in a 90 minute game we had one shot at goal? We have to improve on that.

But the result is good for Nigeria. I’m happy they got a point,” Ali said from his Abuja home. I was actually in Abuja and watched the game with my friend Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, his friends Chris and Mohammed. Kojo Williams, another one time FA chairman and Maurice Inok, a keen follower of the game who, at a time, managed Calabar Rovers, called during and after the game.

Kojo fumed over our play but as usual blamed the system for what he was watching on television. “The problem,” he said,  started long before now. “I have been telling them there’s need for us to restructure our football so that younger players, the real youth players can play in youth competitions.

That way, you will be able to discern a tradition when our teams are playing. South Africa may not be winning now but they have a youth programme and that will help their football in the near future. But if you ask me where our future is I’ll tell you that you are watching it right now on tv.

If we qualify and play like this at the World Cup, we will be disgracing our country. If we want good football we have to build it. Samson is now looking for already- made players to execute World Youth Soccer Championship because he got the job late and wants to make an impact.

He has repeatedly been crying out over the poor domestic league and says he doesn’t have a team yet. He is now going to rely on our foreign-based players.

If I had my way no age grade team will invite pros from abroad. We’ll use players from our league. That will compel us to do something about our league. If we have real young players moving from one age grade team to another I bet you that what we are watching now will be better”

Maurice kept emphasizing on the coaching problems of the team and use of players. He maintained that Amodu should have continued with the team that beat Kenya in Abuja and noted that he did not see anything extraordinary Mikel Obi brought to the team in Tunisia.

“We were already building a team with the games against Ireland, France and Kenya. We should have continued,” Maurice argued. “ What is Mikel Doing that Dickson Etuhu cannot do? Disckson even scores for Fulham. When last did Mikel score or take on defenders? See the way we are playing. Tell me the creative player in that team.

After Jay Jay Okocha left, we have not had any creative midfielder. Is it not a shame on our side? Nobody creates things in our team. Too bad. I know that we can do better.” All these were while the game was on. Abdulrahman of First Fuels and FC Abuja chairman was among those who felt the team achieved commendable result.

Back to Lagos, one man approached me in the office, pouring venoms on our team and dismissing them. He described them as good for nothing and maintained that “we should have beaten Tunisia 2-0 or 3-0. Tunisia was nothing and we couldn’t beat them.”

Same day, one of our marketing consultants, Babs Alasa, came close and expressed outrage on the match, saying that if Eagles were a good team Tunisia would have been beaten. He was so loud that Uncle Bisi lawrence, the guru in the house,  had to calm us down when I said, loudly too, that the way we look down on other countries had become worrisome and part of our greatest problems.

But I understood the passion Alasa was voicing. He is always emotional about our national team and wants the best for Nigeria. He believes we have the potential to be world beaters and usually gets sick about our sports administration.

I was not making any defence for Amodu and his team but simply warning that we were overrating ourselves. I have pointed out this problem before and the reactions that have followed the June 20 match in Tunisia informs another highlighting.

Ali,  Maurice and Kojo have spoken more on the general problems of our football and not particularly on one match. They have made valid points. But for those who think that we are super in football and should, therefore, destroy all teams that come our way, I plead to them to take another look on our past and try to appreciate our position. That way, we can begin to respect our opponents, plan better for not only competitions but also for our sports and see what results we can achieve.

The way we dismiss others is absurd. The way we rate ourselves smacks of outright delusion. I couldn’t understand what led to the illusion other than our usual perception of Nigeria as a great country when we are not. Do we have the potential to be great? Yes, of course. But are we great?

No, especially when we consider our natural resources. No great country lacks electricity the way we do.  No great country has the type of roads we have. No great country allows its education and health systems to rot the we have done.

No great country accommodates corruption the way we do. And back to our topic on sports, great countries boast of organised league even if they cannot boast of the talents to make it rich with world class players.

Tunisia went to the World Cup long before Nigeria went for the first time in 1994. And they have been there more than Nigeria. Their league is so organised that many Nigerians go there for greener pastures and better football.

The likes of Garba Lawal played in Tunisia before going to Europe. One of our revelations is Michael Eneramo. He plays for Esperance of Tunisia. Not more than four players in the team that played Nigeria ply their trade abroad. Many of their players play at home.  Some earn more than some European teams can offer.

That is the country we look down on or dismiss with a wave of the hand because “we are giant of Africa.” It is important to know and appreciate your position and plan to go higher rather than assuming what you are not. That is the message of the day.

It is intended to let us know our true position and make us wake up. We are not giants of Africa in anything. Our football ought to have developed more than it is now. God blessed us with talents, just as He blessed us with oil and other natural resources. But we have failed to manage these gifts and make our country great.

The North Africans are closer to Europe and developed their sports even before we started appreciating the importance of sports. But we have always had the potentials to overtake them. We have, however, failed in this respect.

So, let’s not assume that we are a super power in sports. As bad as it is, we should even note that it’s only in sports that we try to rob shoulders with the best in the world. Certainly not in education, health, infrastructure, tourism etc. It’s, therefore, unfortunate that our governments do not appreciate this and lead the way to make us take full advantage of our potential.

On the match in Tunisia, the interesting thing is that those who should know better pointed out some flaws but did not condemn our play at Rades. They tried to analyse the tactical aspect of thes match and generally commended the team for grabbing a point.

See page 7 of our stunning eight  page sports pull-out. I think that we can play better. But I also want to agree that people should appreciate the fact that the tactics for away match are usually different for a home game.

It’s  also  important to note that a team’s position determines what tactics they adopt. If we needed victory to be back on track, then attacking football would have been absolutely necessary in Tunisia.

And the approach could change from time to time, depending on the scores.  Eagles needed a victory or a draw to be back on track and they got a draw, avoiding an all attacking play that could have thrown the game open for the two sides.

I think that the result was good for Nigeria. And while I admit that we have a lot of work to do I wish we could really appreciate our position and stop overrating ourselves. The bitter truth is that others are leaving us behind even in areas where we have potential to excel.

We are not clearly ahead of Tunisia in football and should not expect wonders against a country that is even topping our group. Forget our victories in age grade competitions.

We know why.  We should also expect a tight game when Tunisia visits Abuja and a 1- 0 victory should send us dancing on the streets, not into our usual audible grumbles as far as these qualifiers are concerned. But this doesn’t mean we should keep quiet over the mounting problems of Nigerian sports especially football. We are still not there, yet.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.