By Paul Bassey
Last week I wrote about the daunting task Stephen Keshi faced against Botswana, a quality opposition which unfortunately we were not in a position to appreciate before the tie.

As a member of the Technical Committee of the NFF, I also stood accused as regards the invitation of the Super Eagles for the two friendlies against Botswana and Zambia.

The reason was very straight forward. Keshi could not have resumed in time to be able to beat call up deadline for the FIFA window. In as much as we also took the blame for the quality of players so invited, let it be emphasized that we did not manufacture players from the blues.

It was very convenient for us to call up nearly all the players that had been part of the Siasia experiment for the ten months that it lasted, the only inclusions being Enyeama, Dickson Etuhu and Victor Moses.

It was also last week that I said Botswana was NOT Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Ethiopia and EVEN Guinea.

Proof came sooner than later.

Senegal went to Conakry and hammered Guinea 4-1 in a friendly, while Equatorial Guinea ousted Madagascar in the Africa preliminaries of the 2014 World Cup qualifier ( Yes Equatorial Guinea ) yet these are teams we struggled with and eventually lost out, against.

Today I can stretch the Botswana argument further by adding Zamabia.The pathetic showing against Zambia in Kaduna was further proof that we have been wasting our time in the past ten months, since it has become evident that we do not have a team on ground, and that even the quality of individuals is suspect.

After the Zambia match, I said to myself that as many as fifteen players in that squad will not make my team. Someone said I was not a coach. But Coach Keshi was to confirm that the next day when he talked about a possible “clear out”.

Unfortunately for him a “clear out” is nearly impossible given the time at his disposal which militates against a wholesale overhaul of the team. So?

So, Stephen Keshi has an onerous assignment to be able to raise a team that will meet the test of time, even as early as January, in a country were December is reserved for holidaying, merry making and feasting.

This takes me to the Westerhof days, the days when players were committed, and the coaches were in control. Those were the days when players forsook kith and kin, and spent Christmas in Otta in the company of their colleagues and officials. First Vice President of the NFF Chief Mike Umeh will remember that he was Team Manager of the Eagles then and that in addition to concentrated sweat and toil on the training ground, efforts were made to sustain the spirit of christmas by killing goats and donating gifts to players.

I ask myself, can we go back to those days? With the present crop of players will it be possible to capitalize on and dedicate December to intense preparation with a view to catching up on lost times?

On a recent visit to Algeria, I remember writing back home that given the difficult Nations Cup qualification situation that Algeria had found itself, the football federation had decided to move players out of their hotel to a camp environment, asked them to forget about the feast that was to celebrate the end of the Moslem Fast and cell phones were restricted, among other Spartan considerations.

These are difficult times.

Apart from the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers that start in January, one would have been tempted to relax, given our World Cup qualifying group that has Kenya, Malawi and Namibia, yet are we not talking about Nigeria, the sprawling giant of African football who struggles to qualify for any competition, no matter the quality of the opposition? (cf Botswana )

That, in brief is how herculean, Keshi’s task, our task, is and the sooner we appreciate it as such, the better.

All Behind Eguavoen

I have not lost sleep over the non release of players for the CAF U-23 Olympic Qualifier in Morocco because what applies to Nigeria is also applicable to the other seven countries.

FIFA knows why it should not halt play for what ordinarily should be a developmental tourney.

The only difference between Nigeria and the rest is that whereas they evaluated the problem early enough, we still believed we could arm twist the foreign clubs to do our bidding even in the thick of their leagues.

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 we qualify?

Yes we 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?

Count down to NNPC/Mobil schools athletics

Eleven years on, and still running. That best sums up the annual Akwa Ibom State Schools Athletics Championship sponsored by Mobil Producing Nigeria, Operator of the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture whose Grand Finale is scheduled for the Eket Stadium on Saturday December 10.

After celebrating ten years of unbroken sponsorship last year, we now move into another decade of what has become, unarguably, Nigeria’s foremost schools athletics championship.

This week, I am in Abuja to parley with the leadership of the Athletics Federation Of Nigeria towards the traditional technical assistance they offer the competition, as well as invite the Honourable Sports Minister and Chairman National Sports Commission to grace the occasion like his predecessors have done in the past ten years.

See you next week.

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