By Onochie Anibeze
I know how it feels when things go wrong. I know the bashing the coach takes when he fails. I know how players are jabbed for errors.
Itâ€™s all part of the game. I remember the names they called Ibrahim Galadima when Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. I remember the humiliation he went through. I also remember how Christian Chukwu was still on his way back to Enugu when he was disengaged without a letter till date. Angola had come to Kano to earn a draw and that ended our dream to the World Cup from a group that appeared to be a piece of cake to all eyes.
As usual with Nigeria, reactions were on the spur of the moment. Many forgot that the sports ministry and then football association were against each other. The ministry starved NFA of funds just to get back at Galadima. How unreasonable they were. They hurt Nigeria and not Galadima. Chukwu took most of the blames. Some went to Galadima. They forgot the role the sports ministry played.
They were to some extent architects of our failure. Galadima was bashed for taking the match to Kano. I had nothing against Kano, but I had everything against playing the match in the heat of the sun rather than late in the evening.Â Failure on the part of FA. NFA scribe then forgot to write a letter to FIFA for change of time as advised by the team doctor.
But most unfortunate was how officials searched for players to use for World Cup matches. Players chose the matches to play. It was so bad that Nigeria could not find a complete team to play in Angola and they lost a match that was to haunt them out of the World Cup. Same thing happened in Rwanda and rather than win against the minnows we struggled to equalise and returned with a draw. Of course Angola went there to win and ensured their place in the World Cup.
Before then they came to Kano with bottles of champaign. They did their home work and were sure of qualifying for the World Cup in Kano.
They did with their 1-1 draw.Â I bet you to replay that match and you would see that the foul that led to their equaliser should have been against them. A Nigerian player was fouled in a contact situation and free kick was awarded against us.
Later came two penalty chances that the Bennet, the sameÂ referee who was in charge in Abuja on Sunday, turned his eyes away from. The free kick, a feeble one, still beat Vincent Enyeama and Nigeria sang the Nunc Dimittis and Angola popped champaign on our soil with two matches still left.
Itâ€™sÂ exactly the same situation we have found ourselves today. But the difference is that while the present team, from the federation to the players, enjoyed total support from government, the Galadima board faced hardship and suffered in the hands of government until the Kano disaster.Â But Bennet made up for what he did to us in Kano. This time, he looked away when we committed a glaring penalty on Sunday.
Donâ€™t forget that we enjoyed favourable officiating in Mozambique and earned a draw in a match we could have lost. The government has set up a task force and every material thing has been made available to the team. Government has dangled money before the team as if money plays football. All invited players report early to camp each time thereâ€™s a game. If the Galadima board got one quarter of this support Nigeria wouldÂ have qualified for Germany 2006 and would haveÂ also done well in the finals.
I feel bad that we have found ourselves in this messy situation after the Presidentâ€™s concern and the awareness the Task Force created. But football remains team work and I didnâ€™t see that team work before Tunisia came here and snatched a draw that may haunt us out of the 2010 World Cup. In football, you need team work on and outside the field. We lacked all in Abuja. The Task Force is chaired by a sitting governor.
The sports minister is there. Ex-internationals like Segun Odegbami and Jay Jay Okocha are all members. I have great respect for these guys.
But what did the Task Force do immediately they came on board and issues on the technical crew were raised? What did they do when the coach said he would not play a friendly match before facing Tunisia when others were doing so to get their teams ready? How far did they liaise with the football federation to sort out problems on technical matters?
Did they brainstorm? I ask becauseÂ raising and promisingÂ millionsÂ would not take us to the World Cup if technical matters are not addressed. Federation chairman, Sani Lulu, I understand attended the meeting of the Task Force for the first time on Monday, the day after the 2-2 draw. Why?
He never, just like many, believed in the Task Force. What happened in Abuja on Sunday was a collective failure. Shuaibu Amodu had no business playing Olofinaja and Mikel Obi, two defensive midfielders in a game he needed to be offensive. He should not have started Chinedu Obasi, knowing the psychology of a relative new player starting such a big game in such an atmosphere. He should have done something about our marksmanship.
The central defenders of Tunisia enjoyed so much space. Nobody was on them throughout. We had no point man. We were meant to mount pressure on them but we gave them space. Our marking was poor. Each time Tunisia had the ball we were far away from them. But each time we had the ball they did not allow us space. Osaze Odemwingie scored but resorted to holding the ball unnecessarily, typical of him.
Mikel Obi appeared tired after 15 minutes. He was falling behind Olofinjana when he should be in front. Ike Uche, Osaze and Obasi played as strikers. All of them were falling deep into our half for ball since there was no link from any attacking midfield.
That killed our striking force. We have always had poor reaction to the ball and it was glaring that day. That was why any time we attacked, the ball ended in our goal area because the opponents were quicker in reaction and that helped their counter attacks. Amodu had problems but he should not be crucified alone for a collective failure. Everybody knows my position on the football federation and I cannot be repeating myself everyday.
But if the Presidency lacked confidence in NFF and appointed Task Force to work with them and ensure our qualification, they should know that they have equally failed. Their failure should be more pronounced for they had powers from the Presidency. I thought that they knew that money was not everything.
They were part of the failure. Then the players who failed to use their brains. They didnâ€™t need the coaches to teach them how to kill the game when they led 2-1 and it was just two minutes to full time. From the NFF to the Task Force and to the players and coaches, it was a massive collective failure. But letâ€™s not lose hope yet.
FG: Where is the Rule of Law in our sports?
Have you heard the latest in our football? The Federal Government, through the National Sports Commission, compelled the Nigeria Football Federation to disregard the contract it signed with Daar Communications over broadcast of Green Eagles matches. The owners of AIT and Raypower paid N250m to NFF in a sponsorship deal that gave them broadcast rights of matches of the national teams. It simply means that all radio and television stations that want to broadcast matches of the Eagles would consult with and take signals from DAAR.
But last Sunday, the match commissioner almost did not want the match to start following the breach of contract brought before him before the game. FG wrote to NFF that NTA must produce their own signals from the venue, broadcast right or not. Dark age in our sports, you would say. Is our government that ignorant or were theyÂ just displaying federal might? This is funny for a government that prides itself as respecter of Rule of Law.
I hope Nigeria will still host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. If they try such a thing, FIFA which makes its money through television,Â may be compelled to take drastic measures against Nigeria. Such an action can even lead to withdrawal of event from Nigeria. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.