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From Sudan with hope

By Pual Bessy
September  6 was a terrible day in the history of Nigeria football. It was a day confidence was buried alive and a buried “hope” was exhumed, becoming a bride courted by Nigerians from Maiduguri to Uyo. September 6, our World Cup qualification was put in dire straits, to say the least.

Let me put this straight. Before September 6, you could not mistake the confident, say arrogant gait of members of the Nigeria Football Federation and the Presidential Task Force. Before September 6, defeating Tunisia was not in doubt. I read a lot of Nigerians who said instead that it was the number of goals that counted.

“Hope” as a word, was not in our dictionary. Certainty loomed large and anybody who dared suggest anything to the contrary was dubbed a saboteur who was going to be shamed come September 6.

Because we were so confident of September 6, board members of the NFF who believed they deserved more than one complimentary invitation were told to go and roast in their own stew. Accreditations were mystified, fancy walkie talkies surfaced as off the field showmanship beclouded the reality that was the match itself.

The rest is history. My commentary is late in coming and there is nothing I am going to say or write that has not been said or written. My worry is, if we all know what our problem is, how come those in charge are blind to those pieces of knowledge?

After September 6, one needed to run away, hide, go away, wherever,  isolate oneself from the trauma and the nightmare. My own escape came courtesy CAF.

Before our match I had been appointed by CAF to proceed to Sudan and coordinate the Champions League match between arch rivals Al Hilal and El Merreikh. This explains in part why I could not be in Abuja to watch the match and even pen my column last Monday.

Sudan for me was a welcome distraction from all the outpour of disbelief and anger that flowed through the land after Tunisia had come to Abuja to disgrace us. Sunday night through Monday morning, my phones never stopped ringing.

Apart from those who called to discuss the way forward, the summary of the calls I received bordered on whether there was still hope.

My answer was always “yes”. Yes there is hope. As the Athletics Federation of Nigeria ( AFN) will tell you, presently, any of our athletes that gets into a race will pray that either the opposition drops batons,or there is a false start, or someone falls in the course of the race……. That, to me is the definition of “hope”. Yes there is hope that we can still qualify.

Before leaving Nigeria, I read coach Amodu saying that qualification was no more in our hands. He can say that again.

Now we have to go and prostrate, beg hapless Kenya that has lost even Angola Nation’s Cup relevance to be motivated enough to beat Tunisia in Tunis or Rades! We have to plead that Mozambique come here and take it easy, while they go back home and gird their loins against Tunisia.

We have to remind them that we are still Big Brother, the giant of Africa, and that they should please allow us to represent them at the World Cup.

Regrettably, this is the only way we can go to the World Cup, through the back door. It will not be by our might. No. Tell me, where is the team that will beat Mozambique here and floor Kenya at away? Yes, where is the team? Where are the players that will score goals? Who are the midfielders? And the defenders?

September 6, I heard a TV commentator pleading for the introduction of Nwankwo Kanu. I also heard that the entry of the player changed the course of the match for the better.

Every time I hear this, I weep. Every time I hear that Kanu who is way past his peak, is still relevant to our team to the point where he becomes the fulcrum of our squad, I visualize how terribly static and lame our national team is.

Still on Amadu. He did re-emphasise why he shunned friendly matches. I hope he has learnt his lesson. Even coaches who had solid teams still played friendlies. England played a friendly when we did not. Even the Saturday, before a crucial mid week  World Cup qualifier against Croatia, England played yet ANOTHER friendly.

There is nothing like friendly matches to keep the players in shape and the team in tune for crucial competitions, that is why I frown at Nigerian clubs who destabilize the domestic league fixtures by asking for the postponement of their matches on the flimsy excuse that they are “preparing for continental”.

I was telling you about my trip to Sudan. Elsewhere, I had written how I was attacked and harangued at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, accused of being part of the failure of the Super Eagles and that Nigerians will not forgive “us” if we failed to go to the World Cup, AGAIN.

Whenever I tell friends and family, I am on my way to Sudan, there is always this frown “Sudan? Why Sudan?” Well, Sudan for me evokes very fond memories. It was in Sudan in 2007 that CAF honoured me with an award for “meritorious service to the development of African football”. I was in Sudan three times in 2007, once last year and here am I.

The emotions have not changed. I do not know about Darfur. Here in Khartoum, peace and serenity reigns supreme especially if you have to lodge in the five star plus Al Salam Rotana Hotel.( remind me to write again about Nigerian hotels and our biscuit and water serving  airlines)

Despite my late arrival at the Khartoum airport, (minutes after midnight) I met officials of the Sudanese Association patiently waiting and in minutes had shepherded me through Customs to a waiting car.  Throughout my stay, I did not come in contact with the club officials until the pre-match meeting which we held on Friday morning. The association was everything, from sightseeing to the technical aspects of my job.

I am writing on this, because of what our clubs go through in continental competitions without as much help from the Federation, yet they have to cater for federation officials especially on away trips.

On the day I was to travel, the referees for Heartland match from Mauritius called and mailed me to say they will need assistance regarding entry visas to Nigeria. I quickly copied their mail to Heartland and the NFF. When the chairman and team manager of Heartland got back to me, they painted a picture of hopelessness and wanted to find out how I could help. Invariably, the NFF was not in a position to do anything.

Let it be said that should the impressive run of Heartland and Pillars continue, and they both get to the final of the CAF Champions League this year, the NFF will benefit $125,000US.Yes. In fact, as it stands the NFF is already guaranteed $70,000US with our teams sure of semi-final berths.(they can now pay the bonus of seven players against Mozambique) Or, is this money supposed to be earned by the Premier League Board that produced the teams?
Here in Sudan, I have never had to come down from my room and look for the driver.

Never did he ask me for money for fuel or for permission to take his sick child and pregnant wife to the clinic…… The things we see in Nigeria.
Sudan, yes Sudan. The light here has not blinked for one minute. Street lights function 24 hrs and the roads are neatly kept.

Maybe I should tell you about the match that kicked off by 10pm.  Dear fellow country men and women, there is nothing like a football match under floodlight.

The atmosphere, the ambience, the everything…… have we ever thought of using  night football to combat the stranglehold the Premiership has on our youth? How many clubs in Nigeria have stadia that boast functional floodlights?

I end by appreciating Dominic Iorfa, Dr. Singabele, David Suleiman and Hon. Sani Toro on their far reaching thoughts on how our football can move forward. I share their dream, that one day, we will get it straight. One day……

The funny side of life

Let me share with you a story my friend told me about
her late father, Gothard Ekong. (May his gentle soul rest in peace) Mr. Gothard was never one for sports not to talk of football.

This day, his school ran short of players and he was forcefully drafted in just to make up the number, despite his spirited pleas to be left out.  He was not on the field for more than three minutes when somebody took a shot and it touched his legs…….

Suddenly, he found himself lifted sky high by his fellow team mates and other students and he screamed (Nsido….nsido…) “What is it? What is it?   Drop me…. Let me go…” his screams fell on deaf ears.

They told him that he has just scored a goal, that a shot was deflected by him into the net and he had become a hero in minutes!
Sunday, September 6, I wished an Ekong was on the field, someone to just stand there not doing anything, just stand there and deflect the ball into the net…….I wished In vain.

Do you have any hilarious experience to share with us? Something  original? Just send it in and if we consider it funny enough, we will publish. I promise.
See you next week.

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