Minutes after Heartland of Owerri lost the Champions League title on Saturday, CAF and FIFA match coordinator, Paul Bassey, was on line reacting to the tie in Coango DR. He was outraged and expressed his reservations this way:

“Saturday in Lubumbashi, Heartland Football Club of Owerri shamed this country with a pathetic display of football amateurism.

Never in my life have I seen such a poor and lame attempt at winning a trophy.Saturday, I lost whatever respect I had for coaches Emeteole and Iroha as they allowed their wards to play without any game plan whatsoever. Perhaps I am angry.

For the past two weeks in my column in Champion newspapers I kept on hammering on the need to win this cup that has so eluded Nigeria. While other countries have won it for as many as 12 times, Nigeria has only done so twice through Enyimba.

On my return from Lubumbashi I made available to Heartland, a document on how best to beat Mazembe. I included the opinion of Paulo Campos, the coach of El Hilal who went there to outscore them 2-0.

I was so emotional about this cup that I believed it could be more important than the U-17 World Cup and decried the non-release of Okoro to them. I protested the lack of interest by the state government, the relative poor preparation compared to TP that spent ten days in Zimbabwe, yet no one seemed to respond, except AIT that finally brought that match live and gave us the opportunity of seeing live the pathetic display of Heartland.

I did not watch the first leg, so I was not in a position to comment, hence the acceptance of some of the excuses that were offered, including the unwelcome presence of NFF officials.(Did I not warn them? did I not say that this NFF does not emit positive vibes? That the moment they identify with you, you lose?)

Saturday, I saw an Heartland team that held the host for 45 minutes. And that for me was enough tactical victory that needed a change of game plan in the second half, only for me to sit through a second half of so much indiscipline, especially in the defence.

For crying out loud, was coach Emeteole expecting to defend for ninety minutes? Unnecessary time wasting tactics, for a team that knew that all the opposition needed was just a single strike and they were done.

How can a team go all out to court the wrath of the match officials? How could a team allow itself to earn so many foul calls with brute defensive and purposeless play? Then came the pressure they attracted to themselves, earning as many as six corner kicks in quick succession in one instance.

I saw no one in the Heartland team who was ready to take up the gauntlet, ask his colleagues to get out of the goal area, hold on to the ball and frustrate the opposition. There was nobody to do that and they allowed TP to keep on coming at them. I remember that King Usanga opportunity in the 45th. How did he miss that?

And to show you that this team could play, the moment that goal was conceded, they came out and for the first time I could see that there was a goalkeeper on the other end.

How could Heartland have won that cup with such a display? Heartless to say the least.
For once, Nigeria was at the threshold of three key football milestones. I sincerely pray that this hapless play by Heartland will not have a ripple effect on the U-17, and the World Cup qualification match.

Saturday’s display was certainly the best way of how not to play football, not to talk of winning a major continental trophy.”


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