By Paul Bassey

I regret the day I met Nicodemus. This young man is simply impossible.

No sooner had the Eagles walked out against Morocco in white jersey than Nicodemus rang me. I ignored him. He rang again and again and finally resorted to sending a text. “………Oga Paul, we should not have worn white. We should not. We will not win this match. We should have worn green ”

I remember taking Nicodemus through the exploits of the Eaglets in Abu Dhabi and how the colour of their jersey did not matter, yet Nicodemus was not convinced. He ended up saying that “perhaps” at the junior level it does not matter.

Nicodemus was at it again. He has no respect for the concept of ‘home’ and ‘away’ teams. For him no matter what happens, Nigerian officials should always insist on wearing green jerseys whether they are home or away.

The match started and before you could say… CHAN, we were three goals down!

What annoyed Nicodemus most was not that we were three goals down, but that I refused to pick his calls. He resorted to sending text messages at the speed of light, one of which read. “ Oga Bassey pick my calls please. Try and reach Keshi, if there is any excuse they can muster to change to green in the second half, they will come back……”

To cut a very long story short, the Eagles did not change to green, they came out and won at extra time and all efforts to reach Nicodemus proved abortive…….Now he is the one that did not pick my calls.

On Saturday, I called Nicodemus again, this time after we had lost to Ghana wearing green jerseys! I just hope that others like Nicodemus would have been cured of the senseless belief that anything but determination, attitude and ability wins matches.

Against Ghana we were not just good enough. Many have tried to justify why. Some say we were muscled and bulldozed, others claim Morocco left us weak and deflated…..whatever, we lost to a side that was hungrier.

That we could not, for over one hour neutralize a team that was numerically inferior was not very complimentary. And to prove that our helplessness against Ghana was no “fluke” we were presented the same “gift” against Zimbabwe, yet we had to labour for about an hour before we were saved the agony of facing another set of penalties with Agbim in goal…….

Let us not talk about penalties here. We were awful. After watching the final match between Libya and Ghana I drew certain conclusions. One, that if the Ghanaians were so good at taking penalties, how come the Libyan keeper kept them at bay? (Nabduala it will be recalled saved two penalties and converted one against Zimbabwe ) Perhaps I should also talk about the Ghanaian goalkeeper who also contribute so much in giving his side hope by attempting and saving penalties…….

I have been asked again and again, was CHAN worth it?……I do not know about other countries, but CHAN is the best thing to have happened to our domestic league. That we did not qualify in the first two editions did not drive the message home to us. Now that we ‘ve gone there……. to get Bronze at first attempt, I cannot wait for our league to commence, wait for the fierce competition between clubs, between players who now know that apart from their clubs going continental, there also exists the possibility of getting a CHAN call up and with it an opportunity of show casing one’s talent on a continental shop window.

There also exists a lot of arguments as to whether we took the best there is in the domestic league to South Africa. Maybe not Agbim. I also know that at a time Kwambe was a regular on Keshi’s list he was nowhere on the starting eleven of Sunshine Stars! Benjamin Francis of Heartland is even worse……not for his club duties, as long as he is a national team regular……

However, What ever the arguments are, I remember that in the previous two editions when perhaps we had taken the “best”, we ended up not qualifying, so we can only thank Coach Keshi for this singular effort and achievement. It can only get better.

Finally, did the competition offer Keshi World Cup alternatives? People rush to mention Ejike Ozuenyi. God bless him. How can I forget that terrible fall and the look on the face of his colleagues who rushed in to see whether he was still breathing? More worrisome for me was to see him rushing back to the field minutes later…….thanking God that he is still alive to reap from a very productive championship for self and country.

But Ejike has always been around…..Benjamin….. Kwambe….Agbim….they are as old as Keshi’s exploits in the Nations Cup and World Cup. Perhaps this competition has only helped to prove that a lot still needs be done at the domestic level to challenge the rising profile of our foreign armada who gratefully have stepped up their activity level in Europe in the last three weeks.

We thank God for CHAN ( We nearly came back after the first round) we salute the team and welcome them back home with the credible bronze. As one of my friends will say “at all at all na him bad”

For Keshi, too bad that he cannot go on break. As Blatter perhaps told him in South Africa, “….see you in Brazil” …..where the Real Thing waits. Brazil will not be ‘moi-moi’ I swear.

See you next week.

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