By PAUL BASSEY
On Saturday in Yaounde I was held hostage by friends who had my contact details. General Emmanuel Okaro, Mr Linus Mba, Mike Idoko, Onochie Anibeze, Godwin Enakhena, Stephen of Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation by calls and texts were bombarding me by the minute wanting updates on the crucial match between the Falcons and the Cameroun Female team.
It was not 26 minutes when I sent the first negative signal. Cameroun was one goal up!
I got quick replies. Asking for confirmation. Did I say Cameroun was a goal up? I said ‘Yes.’
In between I got calls and text messages ranging from ‘how far’ to ‘are they playing well?’ and ‘any hope of leveling up?’
My next reply was a dampener ‘ Penalty against us and a red card for Ohale Marvis’
Simultaneously my phone rang into life “Did they score”
“yes” I replied
General Okaro: Do you mean we are two goals down?
Godwin Enakhena: 2-0 against Nigeria?
Linus Mba: Na wao Paul. Unbelievable.
Onochie Anibeze: What a sad story.
Stephen: Sir, what is the way forward?
I told the young man that it was too early to talk about the way forward. That the match was just 43 minutes old and anything could happen.
True, the second half stared with a lot of hope. Ten woman Nigeria dominated, going for broke and it paid off in the 75th minute when veteran Nkwocha Perpetua reduced the tally.
Linus Mba: hope rising
Onochie anibeze: I pray we make it, lets close up and go on the counter.
Gen Okaro:I hope we get one more goal.
By the time I later confirmed that we were out, lost by penalties, it was disbelief everywhere.
Back to the beginning. The team left Abuja for Lagos Thursday morning and flew out same day to Douala via Air Nigeria.
The smooth ride to Douala lasted less than one hour thirty minutes. On getting to Douala, it was decided that the team should spend the night and travel next day to Yaounde with Camair.
At Yaounde the team was well received by Embassy officials. We later found out, on getting to the hotel that it was not good enough, alternative arrangements were made and the team was relocated to the five star Hilton Yaounde facility. No room for excuses!
Training at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium was as impressive as it was hope raising. Members of the Nigerian community in Yaounde led by their president came to lend support, promising that not less than two thousand Nigerians will be at the stadium next day to cheer the team to the much needed victory.
Pep talks were delivered and the team left in high spirits.
The arrival of the delegation of the NFF President was to also lift the morale of the girls. Not only was their bonuses upped to 4,000 dollars, the President promised them an extra incentive of 10,000 dollars should they qualify for the Olympics.
Kick off, and nobody in the Nigerian delegation was in doubt that our girls were going to carry the day, until a player called Sunday Uchechi Lopez appeared on the scene. The sluggish player was the architect of key misses. One on one with the Camerounian goalkeeper, she either shot wide or missed. When faced with opportunities to pass to colleagues she decided to go solo and missed. Why she survived forty five minutes is a mystery that contributed to our ouster.
Her colleagues were not better. Nkwocha Perpetua was lost , victim of a faulty tactical formation that made her operate in a midfield meant for younger and faster players. Others were just not hungry. Not enough determination, grit and fight was displayed. Whereas the Camerounians were playing as their lives depended on it, our girls could not be bothered.
In the second half, when all hopes seemed to have been lost, a player called Ofoegbu Gloria was introduced and she won the heart of every body with her industry, mobility and football savvy.
The simple question was? Where was she all this while?
Playing one player down, our girls woke up in the second half, a completely changed team, yet suffering from the vacuum left by the departure of Marvis.
After extra time came the penalties.
The Camerounians scored their fifth and last kick and the lot fell on Faith Ikidi to either level or send Cameroun to the Olympics. Just when it mattered most, when she needed all concentration and focus, that was the time Dede was told to walk across the goal mouth to the other side and in that split moment of distraction, Ikidi rammed her kick against the cross bar and the Camerounians had beaten the Falcons for the first time and booked for themselves a prized London Olympics ticket.
What is the way forward? What went wrong?
The way forward is Ofoegbu and all local based players and the development of the domestic game.. The moment our coaches diminish their ready made foreign players mentality and earn their pay, the better. No more the trips abroad to assemble players whose form and fitness level we do not know, just for the purpose of winning ephemeral glories.
Ofoegbu and before her Ehiosun have proven that talent abound in this country .
Wanted, coaches who have what it takes to discover and groom players to stardom. Perhaps players so brought up and groomed will imbibe that positive attitude and determination needed to garner results.
This is a team that was camped for a long time and provided all it needed to deliver, yet the dreaded Falcons of old are now a team that can be beaten at will by any Florence, Mary, Ghana and Cameroun. We have lost respect, raped and humiliated at will.
Something just has to be done and fast too.