By Onochie Anibeze
Mikel Obi made just one brilliant move in a 90-minute game that made the road wider for Nigeriaâ€™s exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Unlike him, he saw space and used it, outpacing two defenders before laying a perfect assist for Michael Eneramo to jab in Nigeriaâ€™s second goal that threw the whole country into such an ecstasy that everybody thought the World Cup was already here.
But just like it happened after their first goal, the team especially the defenders, failed to live up to the expectations and Nigeria paid the price. Two minutes to full time, Tunisia found space on the left side of Eagles defence and used it. Taye Taiwo had overlapped and failed to return. Derragi Oussma used the space he created. Goal keeper Vincent Enyeama did not run out to check the blunder. He added to it by remaining on goal line and conceding a goal from what they call impossible angle in football.
The defenders had made a mess of the lead and Mikel knew that his below par performance had become a childâ€™s play to the combination of Taiwo and Eyeamaâ€™sÂ blunder.Â He yelled openly at the defenders in the dressing room. The dressing room ofÂ Green Eagles was a scene after the match. Obi fumed and quarrelled with the defenders asking: â€œwhat kind of football were you people playing? Letâ€™s talk the truth. What were you people doing? What did you think you were doing there. See what you have done to us now.â€
One official said it was good the players told themselves the truth.
The drama continued when some players broke down in tears. Sports minister and chairman of the National Sports Commission, Sani Ndanusa, joined especially when he saw tears roll down Kanuâ€™s cheek. He subbed and his eyes turned red. When he wiped his face and his eyes became heavier with more tears officials held him back and led him out.
The 2-2 draw meant that Nigeriaâ€™s qualification for the next World Cup was no longer in their hands. Tunisia still lead with two points and even if Nigeria win their next two matches, they can only qualify if Tunisians drop a game. And the Eagles Nigerians saw on Sunday may not beat Kenya in Nairobi. Their next match is October 12 against Mozambique, the team that held them to a goalless draw in the first match when Tunisia beat Kenya to take early lead that they seem not ready to drop.
â€œWe didnâ€™t play well,â€ Tony Nnachetta lamented yesterday. The former vice chairman of the NFA said what Eagles presented reflected the poor standard of Nigerian football in the past ten years, the same point Kojo Williams made while recalling what he said when Nigeria topped their group during the preliminary stage.
He said the Eagles were not a good side and that stronger opposition would expose that with time. He would not only blame the players and coaches but also the system that would not address problem of the local league, coaching and the right structure for youth football.
Joseph Yobo had admitted that they lacked professionalism when they could not hold their victory two minutes to time.
But the fielding of Seyi Olofinaja and Mikel Obi, two defensive midfielders in same game, was another blunder on the side of coach Shuaibu Amodu. Another was the use of Taye Taiwo without great cover from the left midfielder on the grounds that he is poor defensively, a point this reporter pointed out in our preview of the match.