By PAUL BASSEY
News coming in from the Morocco camp of the Nigerian U-23 camp had it that whenever a foreign based player arrived, there was so much jubilation in camp.

That as many times as they arrived, the Technical crew quickly readjusted the starting eleven to be able to accommodate the latest arrival.

Few hours before the match, the team Media Officer Arafat Aliu sent out a team list and embargoed it. “only to be published one hour before the match” initially, I said to myself of what use is a team list that can only be used one hour before the match?, except perhaps for Radio and Television?

Not to worry, when the team lined out, Arafat’s list was not to be reckoned with.

For one reason or the other, perhaps as stated above, the Austin Eguavoen led technical crew had reasons to tinker with the list as frequently as possible. This position did not do justice to months of camping in Ibadan, escape to Ghana and the few days acclimatization in Morocco before the start of the competition.

Ordinarily, if enough work was done in Ibadan, Ghana and perhaps Morrocco before the competition all those who did not belong to this set up would have been positively shut out and the mantle of responsibility thrown on those available and psychologically tuned to take over.

Methinks that just as Eguavoen lamented daily about the non availability of his foreign armada so did it translate negatively to those in camp who also lost confidence in themselves. It is no more news that the “non release of players by foreign clubs” has been coach Eguavoen’s swan song. He remains so frustrated by this position that most times he resigns himself to fate. Confused.

On Saturday we saw a position where like the Super Eagles against Botswana and later Zambia, a bunch of strange bed fellows were sent out to “go out there and make the nation proud.” They duly filed out and ran and ran all over the place, not familiar with each other, lacking team work and coordination.

Then the commentator, who in the process of doing his beautiful and well researched job did not fail to rub it in, perhaps ignorantly. He talked about the player who is the teams “prayer warrior” and hoped it will translate physically today. He mentioned the “good luck” message that was delivered to the team by Nigeria’s President and tightened the noose by claiming that the President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Sani Ndanusa has declared that the Nigeria contingent to the Olympics will be incomplete without the football team.

On Saturday we were second best. We did nothing to guarantee victory. Even the last minute free kick that got the Moroccans flustered was frittered away. Before then did we see the jittery performance of goalkeeper Ajiboye (Unattached.) whose only qualification is that he has experience? Of what use is experience in football without practice? And to think there are a couple of other UNATTACHED players in that team!

Let me repeat that I believe and strongly too that we will qualify for the London Olympics. I said so last week. I quote “Morocco for instance has a very young squad mostly of home based stars who were subjected to at least one quality friendly match a week, thereby building a team different from our case where we had TOO MANY FOREIGN BASED PLAYERS and could not do anything concrete in their absence.

I lost count of the number of players Eguavoen invited to and discarded from the Ibadan camp put together to source for alternatives to his foreign armada.

So, will they qualify?

Yes they will. How can Nigeria not pick a spot out of the four reserved for eight teams? Haba.

We will qualify. Whether as champions, beaten finalist or losers final winner, we will qualify. Can someone say Amen?”

My position remains the same. As the competition progresses the TEAM is likely to get better, and get even better at the Olympics. It has to because football is a team game not the heterogeneous set up we saw on Saturday, blooded in full competition.

The lessons to be learnt are that there are no short cuts to success. Our coaches must be ready to work. Elsewhere they are called SWEAT MERCHANTS. Especially at age grade level, we just have to work and forget about this culture of assembling players just for the purpose of winning matches.

A DAY WITH THE REFEREES

Last Friday in Abuja, I had the privilege of sharing a day with the referees at the practice pitch of the National Stadium in Abuja.

Friday was the fifth day in an intensive seven day Pre-season medical and physical fitness test programme aimed at providing this country and indeed the league with the best materials there are.

All referees who wish to officiate in all the leagues next season were expected to participate and over 900 of them turned up. On Friday, I saw how referees considered old were literally begged to go home. On Friday, I saw the leadership of referees in this country, still smarting from the deaths of their colleagues a season ago, insisting that you just had to be declared medically fit before you were allowed to participate.

Last Friday I sat in and saw the retirement of a couple of referees, whose tears at being denied the opportunity of benefiting from the “generosity” of club owners was pathetic and appreciated. About a hundred failed the test and will have to repeat. FIFA referee Advisor Mr Linus Mba even made the situation “worse” when he said that according to FIFA regulations from next year all FIFA referees need to undergo this type of test FOUR TIMES IN A YEAR. Anytime you fail, you are denied matches.

For those in the domestic league, even those who have passed this time around, by February they will be called out for another test and you just have to pass to be available for matches, so all year round, you MUST STAY FIT.

We are getting there…

FOR DEACONESS EKANEM.

Last week friends and colleagues of Deaconess Eno Ekanem turned out en mass at the Hilton Luxury Hotel in Abuja to honour her attainment of the golden age of fifty.

Next day, she was at the Maitama Orphanage to share with the needy, while December 11 has been reserved for thanksgiving service at The Apostolic Church Jabi.

Remain Blessed dear Mother in Israel. May you live long in the service of Humanity. Amen.

See you next week.

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