By Pual Bassey
The fear of the Pharaohs is the beginning of wisdom” is a popular saying that is running through Nigeria’s football circles.
Since the draws of the Nations Cup Gabon 2017 was made public, we have not rested. It has become fashionable for any sports writer you meet to ask you about Nigeria’s chances in a group that has Egypt.
Traditionally we have always been paired with the so called minnows in African football, yet failed to, or found it difficult to qualify. This time, Egypt looms large. Before now , such a pairing would have been unthinkable, the two power houses of African football, normally would have found themselves in the same pot, but not any more as the seven times winners of the diadem could not even qualify for the two last editions!
What chances Nigeria?
The re emergence of coach Stephen Keshi on the Nigeria football scene coincided with the inability to qualify for the Equatorial Guinea/Gabon Nations Cup under Coach Samson Siasia. The Aminu Maigari led NFF Board spared no funds, efforts and friendly matches to guarantee the building of a team that was to wipe the Nations Cup tears of Nigerians.
With the phrase “work in progress” as the order of the day, Coach Keshi embarked on a camping and recamping of domestic league players and invitation of various shades of .players as we built the blocks of foundation of a brand new team.
By the time we won the Nations Cup in South Africa , the team had not arrived, yet there was a popular belief that the foundation had been laid and the nucleus of an emerging Super Eagles built.
That dream was evaporated as ego, “ I am in charge” syndrome, lucre worship, pecuniary abuse and indiscipline contributed in destroying the Nations Cup progress. Most of the players that were taken to the World Cup had no business being there while genuine stars were dropped on flimsy excuses as the coach decided to run the team as a personal estate damning popular views of concerned Nigerians as to the invitation of fitter and quality players.
But for the forced inclusion of players like Osaze Odemnwigie and Joseph Yobo, our world Cup woe would have been magnified.
The summary of this was that by the time we returned from the world cup, there was so much pandemonium in the house of football, on and off the pitch. That we decided to paper the failure and pretend everything was okay in Brazil cost us dearly, when, expectedly, we failed to qualify for the Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea.
Just recently we took advantage of the FIFA window to play two friendly matches against Uganda and South Africa and the results of the two matches have left a sour taste in our mouths, confirming that we have embarked on another “work in progress” as we try another rebuilding process with some funny characters appearing on the horizon in the name of players, even as the Nations Cup draw has succeeded in opening our eyes to the reality of our continued maladroitness.
At this stage, one is tempted to renact the coach hiring drama of the NFF. In an effort to arrest the situation he inherited, Amaju Pinnick and his board met a brick wall that not only forced their hands but exposed them to the “political realities of our sports”. It has gotten to the point where the populace decided to resign to fate, abandoning the call for the appointment of a quality coach. Now that the Pharaohs are at the door, the call is for a coach, any coach, “ just give us a coach”
What are our chances?
With no team on the ground, with average players strewn all over the place, our clubs disgraced out of Africa too early in the day, ( The reverse is the case in Egypt where domestic players form the nucleus of the National team) our chances are slim, given the time available to us before the opening match ( June 12)
However , with a coach coming in on Monday( I was told,) some of us can now go to sleep and allow him to navigate the terrain that has been made “simpler” by the luck of the draw. With due respect to Tanzania and Chad, our journey commences on June 13 AT HOME (capitals mine) against Chad. That should give us the chance to kick start our campaign on a safe footing, with two months to prepare for the next clash in September against Tanzania, which is another opportunity to stabilize BEFORE we face Egypt six months later, AT HOME first and away later all within a week.( March 23-29 2016)
What the draw implies is that we would have finished with Egypt before settling down to plot and round up qualification with the last two matches against Chad and Tanzania. Very arithmetic if you ask me, yet we could not have asked for a better draw.
So, what are our chances? With prayers, bright.
See you next week.