By Paul Bassey
Originally, I had wanted to entitle this week’s piece “ When victory is not enough”
While the Eagles were sweating it out in Calabar, I was away in Cameroun, Yaounde to be precise as a member of the CAF Delegation to the Nation’s Cup qualification match between Cameroon and Cape Verde.
I arrived Yaounde to meet a tense situation but one that bore a lot of hope and confidence.
The government had hijacked the functions of the Football Federation ( FECAFOOT) by inviting Etoo personally, some other believed old players and appointing a coach. The team was also moved from their traditional Hotel Mont Febe base to the Hilton. Nothing was left to chance.
Also put in place was a committee of eight ex internationals …Roger Milla, Theophilus Abega, Antoine Bell, Emmanuel Kunde, Bonaventure Djondkep, Eugene Ekeke, Libih Thomas and Victor Ndip Akem. Severally they met with the players, psyched them up and addressed the press.
The media was agog and the underlying message was qualification, with a rider that even victory may not be good enough.
Twice I attended The Indomitable Lions training session and over 5,000 expectant supporters turned up to watch and to cheer.
On the eve of the match, news filtered in that Nigeria had massacred Liberia and as far as the Camerounians were concerned this was a morale booster in a continent where Cape Verde was not as highly rated as Liberia!
Came the D-Day and as early as 8 am fans were already waiting for the gates to be opened by 10 am. Support was not going to lack. As the CAF Security Officer for the encounter, I knew I had my hands full.
All the Lions needed according to the media analysis was to score the opener in the first ten minutes and expect other goals to follow. Ten minutes on, no goals. In the 12th minute, Cape Verde got a free kick and scored. Silence of the grave yard. Disaster. Calamity. Instead of the three goals that were needed to guarantee victory, now the Lions had to score four without conceding no more.
The rest is history.
Interestingly, when I came back home I found out that in less than 24 hrs, the joy and celebration of victory was quickly giving way to the realities of South Africa next year.
Suddenly the victory over Liberia was welcome, but not enough. A bigger picture loomed. This went to tally with a discussion I had with the NFF President on phone immediately after the Calabar match ended.
I congratulated him and the NFF for the massive work that was put in to guarantee not only the qualification of the Eagles but for that of the Flying Eagles as well and before then, of the Falcons, Falconets and the Flamingoes for continental and world championships.
I then added a “but…” That after qualification comes the competition proper and that preparations must start now. Unfortunately for us, the non qualification for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea demoted the Eagles in the seeding process, so much that we are condemned to fall into the hands of either Cote D’Ivoire or Ghana and to a lesser extent Zambia and host South Africa.
On Wednesday, the draw will be held. What fate Nigeria? The coach and other pundits have been quoted as saying “…..bring on Cote D’ivoire”
I have a different view. I am not the coach, I am a realist. I fear Cote D’Ivoire, I fear Ghana. The Ivorians, for an incredible and frightening array of arsenal in their armoury, ditto the Black Stars whose commitment and attitude laced with patriotism is a dangerous blend.
I do agree that to be able to win the cup any team must be ready to take on and beat all comers, yet unlike an Ivorian squad that has been together for as long as I can remember, we are, believe it or not, still in a rebuilding process, not helped by the non qualification last time out.
On Wednesday, I will prefer the South Africa group, prefer to buy time and mature as the competition progresses. Also, given the very circumstance mentioned above, I hope we can reenact the Westerhoff era when players decided to sacrifice their holidays and their Christmas to sweat it out for their glory and that of fatherland.
On Wednesday, I will sit in the International Conference Centre in Durban, with my fingers tightly crossed, a prayer on my lips. So help me God.
Akwa Ibom kids burn the tracks for Mobil
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, all the secondary schools in Akwa Ibom state will be involved in the Zonal eliminations that will qualify them for the 12th in the series of AKS/NNPC/MPN Schools Athletics Championships.
The battle that is earmarked for the eight sports zones of the state at Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Eket, Ikot Abasi, Etinan, Oron and Ibiono Ibom will involve the participation of over six thousand students with Uyo zone boasting a participation of 62 schools.
Competitions will be held in 12 sports namely 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres, 100 and 400 metres relay, and the field events of high jump, long jump, discuss, shot put and javelin.
The first two finishers in each zone will qualify for the grand finale in Eket scheduled for the second week in December, immediately after the National Sports Festival.
As I await these and other results, see you next week.