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Nigeria 2009: Mr President can still save us

By Onochie Anibeze
Jonathan Akpoborie scored a brilliant goal in the ninth minute.  Victor Igbinoba made it 2-0 with a television goal a minute to full time.

That marked the beginning of a new era in Nigerian football. It was a wake-up call to Nigerians in the sense that from that moment, Nigerians began to believe in their ability. They began to think big, to aim high with the belief that they can rank among the best in the world. It was some kind of renaissance.

When we first saw them on television, many did not know that they were Nigerians.
There was no news about their preparation and departure. Even the tournament was no news until it started. That it was the maiden edition, then Kodak Under-16 tourney, probably made it so.

Suddenly, we saw a group of unbelievable Nigerian kids playing with so much passion that Nigerians watched in amazement.

They were simply amazing. Their passing game was unusual. It wasn’t common here. They displayed what we saw in Brazilian teams. They even looked better as they added speed to their samba play. “What is this?,”  Nigerians awed over their colossal versatility asked.  Who produced them?

Sebastine Brodricks, Christian Chukwu and Bala Shamaki. Great combination. Brodricks was  a fine attacker in his days in the Green Eagles. As a coach he was a firebrand and a disciplinarian. Chukwu, a commander in the defence of the Eagles and a great leader in the field, was magnificent in training as a coach. Shamaki, a young coach who never relented in making runs that kept the team together, added value to the group.

Who were the boys? Lucky Agbonsabafe, Imama Amapakabo, Nduka Ugbade, Binebi Numa, Kingsley Akhionbare, late Victor Igbinoba, Jonathan Akpoborie, Segun Fapetu, Sani Adamu, Bella Momoh, Duere, Salisu Nakande, Hilary Adiki, Yaya Mohammed, Bazuaye, Dele Abubakar and Chukwuma.

These boys wrote Nigeria’s name in gold. They won the maiden edition of the championship that Nigeria will host from tomorrow. Interestingly, they beat Germany 2-0 in the final. That final in far away China in 1985 was classic. The youthful Germans moved like machines.

They raided Nigeria’s area like a moving train. But the Eaglets were cool. They marked well and made good use of space. Their counter attacks were in blistering speed. Igbinoba was masterly and Akpoborie superb. Akpoborie continued in that character throughout his career. He had pace and when he graduated into the Green Eagles, those who couldn’t match or understand his pace couldn’t click with him.

That was why, to the ordinary eye, he appeared more successful at club football than in the Eagles. But to the technical eye and those who knew him and his football well, they appreciated how result-oriented his game was. What with Sani Adamu, Fatai Atere and Bella Momoh in the midfield? Then the ever stable central defender and bander boy Akhiobare.

He charged on attackers like a bull. Duere at the right back and captain Nduka Ugbade at the left were gracious in their overlapping runs. Binebi Numa was very cool, calculative and picked up the loose balls that Akhiobare missed in the central defence.

Lucky was great in goal. They were all menacing throughout the tournament and when they won the cup they returned to Nigeria as Golden Eaglets. Great team they were. In a normal country, in a country where history has purpose, in a country where heroes are true heroes and are so recognised that they easily turn role models to the younger ones, these heroes of our time would be playing significant roles in the organisation of the event they graced and left as champions when it was first held.

They will be the faces of the tournament. I know about the experience of those organising this competition. I believe that they should know better and I know that they could have done well if they used some of these heroes to promote this championship. Up till this week, many were still asking when the championship would kick off. I got such calls up till Tuesday, interestingly, one was from a former chairman of Nigeria Football Association.

That is how poor the build-up to Nigeria 2009 has been. The hype, if any, does not befit a World Cup event. Controversies have created awareness than projections on any expected spectacle. First were the hurdles and the shame that followed the process of approving the venues.

Most of them were not yet ready at the time the draws had to be made and FIFA had to succumb to our style. There was the AIT and NTA controversy on who would be the host broadcasters. AIT had their OB vans ready while NTA was still awarding their contract to get some. But typical of Nigeria, they strongly believed that federal might would prevail over capability. But the owners of the game are FIFA, not a Nigerian organisation.

Then followed the MRI controversies. These matters created awareness in some ways. But, generally, the poor results Nigeria’s football has been recording have affected the morale of many. People are disenchanted. President Umar Yar’Adua, while receiving the trophy in Abuja, boasted of a great Nigeria, the hospitality and spectacle that await all the delegations and the entire world on arrival.

He was, probably, not aware of the shortcomings of the Local Organising Committee and the problems with funding. He was not aware of the low rating Nigeria 2009 had received even before kick off. Things are far from being smooth. They are far from the imagination of Mr. President. I urge him to intervene and rescue the LOC from an impending crisis that will smear Nigeria’s name and that of his government.

Experiences so far have lowered our mark and we cannot be talking of hosting the best championship ever. We should be struggling to avoid being branded the worst. We are tilting towards that. Let those who doubt me find out from the FIFA officials around if they are so patriotic that they can never see faults in us.

The President can save us. And while he may be trying to do so I urge Nigerians to rally round our team. Let our support be massive. Let the team play well and keep this tournament going till the end. Interestingly, we begin with Germany, the country we beat to make history and get a space in the world map of football in 1985, although we have enjoyed subsequent victories in Japan ’93 and two years ago in Korea. Asia, always.

There are Honduras and Argentina in our group, too. Not an easy group. Let us cheer, sing and ginger our Eaglets to victory so that they can become golden too.  Let’s forget our differences and support the LOC, the sports ministry, the Nigeria Football Federal and cheer our team to victory. We have had enough of failures, enough of defeats. Let’s also be good hosts.

Cheer other teams, treat them to tremendous hospitality and get them talking about Nigeria years after this event. This cannot be possible without a smooth organisation of the event. The President can still do something. The Presidency allowed things to become this shaky. I blame them.

I also blame FIFA for the politics they played from their approval of venues to the millions of euros they extorted from Nigeria on the grounds of poor security and poor health conditions in our venues. They know that if we fail, they cannot absolve themselves of blame. They have played our game and should help us succeed. Now, let the games begin.

Congrats Bizlaw

On Monday, our friend, teacher, father and most impor-tantly erudite senior colleague,  Bisi Lawrence, aka Bizlaw, breezed into our conference room for our usual Monday Editorial Meetings with some palatable cookies. He was all smiles as he graciously announced the good news.

Just the previous night, he turned a great grandfather as his grand daughter gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. We all stood to celebrate with the guru, the veteran whose verbiage, according to our Tony Ubani, is full of prose language of grammatical expression. Bizlaw prayed for us to also get old to have great grandchildren.

We chorused Amen. Today, Bizlaw would be the one saying AMEN when we pray that God continues to bless him with good health and grant him many more of this day. The guru turns 76 today. We thank God for his good life.

His contributions to sports, both as an administrator and as a sports journalist, remain enormous and the entire sports family in Vanguard, from the chairman of the Editorial Board, Ikeddy Isiguzo to my humble self and the rest wish our beloved Bizlaw many happy returns. Happy Birthday, My Master.

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