By Pual Bassey
Yesterday morning Nigerians breathed a sigh of relief when the Flying Eagles overcame a nervy start to beat Hungary by two Awoniyi goals( one in each half) to progress in the Group behind Brazil.
AS second in the group, the implication is that they are most likely to face a tougher Group winner and fingers are already being pointed at free scoring European giants Germany. It may be argued that Germany qualified from an easy group that had Fiji, Honduras and Uzbekistan, but what cannot be taken away is that they are the current European champions with a certain Davie Selcke as danger man. That is the story for another day.
The lessons we have to draw from this competition is that in which veteran sports journalist Isaac Ibhafidon drew my attention to, when the media was agog with news of the Nigerian being crowned champions even without kicking a ball.
The Nigerian football expert took me back to 1987 where we had the best assemblage of Nigerian youth ever, coached by Christopher Udemezue, that team had the multi talented Etim Esin alias Maradona, Jonathan Akpoborie, Thompson Oliha, Ladi Babalola, Victor Igbinoba, Nduka Ugbade, Peter Nieketien, Adeolu Adekola, Lawrence Ukaegbu, Okon Ene, Ikponwosa Omoregie….while the goalkeepers were Willy Okpara and Lucky Agbonsebafe……what a star studded squad.
We were so sure they were going to win the world cup, only for them to be drubbed by Brazil 4-0 in the first match.
They managed to draw 2-2 with lowly rated Canada and lost 0-2 to Italy for an early flight back home.
The current squad has escaped . A battle has been won but the war is still on. More of penetrating passes from the boys, a more articulated midfield and the conversion of numerous scoring chances that they create and we are guaranteed further progress in the World Cup.
I want to believe that yesterday’s victory would have been a tonic potent enough to buoy the Falcons for their World cup opener this evening against Sweden in Winnipeg.
Good luck Nigeria
Warri Wolves as metaphor
While football clubs in Nigeria perpetually groan under the weight of financial inadequacy, their counterparts in Africa are gearing up to make mega bucks at continental level as the money making league stage of the CAF Confederation Cup and CAF Champions League kicks off later in the month.
As Nigeria prides herself as being one of the best soccer playing nations in the world(?) Algeria as an example will have THREE clubs in the CAF champions league alone while we have none in any of the league no thanks to Warri Wolves ouster last Saturday in the Confederation Cup final qualifier the same stage Bayelsa United got knocked out in 2014.
For a couple of years now our representation in Africa has been a shame as we get knocked out at the drop of a pin, sometimes in very bizarre and unprofessional circumstances.
How can we forget the drama that led to the ouster of Dolphins of Port Harcourt as an example?
The current situation calls to question continued government involvement in the whole sale running of football clubs and indeed all other sports clubs in this country. Before now the argument was that since government has financial muscle it was best placed to run football clubs. A situation where a club has to wait till the last minute to get funds to either travel or prepare for any competition does not augur well for the well being of the clubs.
When recently, the League Management Company called for a break in the league “……to enable the clubs acquaint themselves with incoming administrations in their states” many took it as a joke. Our prayer for the election of sports loving governors was also in the same direction. You can imagine the case of a Governor who feels he has “tried” by releasing six million naira for the prosecution of an international engagement, money which is easily swallowed by referees tickets ( especially if they are appointed from far away North Africa) their board and lodging and entitlements, ticket and entitlement of the Match Commissioner, etc
What about the camping of the local team, their allowances, security and logistics of organizing the match? Before now, clubs were saddled with the accommodation and feeding of the visiting team.
Some of the incoming governors already believe that good roads, provision of electricity, employment and security are of greater importance and cannot afford to spend over N500,000.000 (N500 million ) a year to run clubs that “bring no dividends” to the state. Employment arguments to the contrary have been debunked by the fact that most of these clubs employ non indigenes in a bid to win matches at all cost.
In Akwa Ibom as a known example , Government runs four professional clubs ( Akwa United, Akwa Starlets, Ibom Angels and Ibom Youths) and runs it pathetically with incessant complaints of lack of funds to pay salaries and event host home games not to talk of travelling to honour away matches.
About two years ago in Rivers State, Governor Amaechi said the Government was disposed to selling Dolphins as it could not successfully sustain two clubs ( Plus Sharks) in the Premier League.
I have had readers arguing that the quality of our league and the crowning of undeserved champions contribute to the poor show in Africa. I beg to disagree. I may not be an expert in African football, but I can categorically say that our league is one of the best run and most competitive in Africa, yet those achievements are rubbished when they fail to switch to the realities of playing continental football whose demands are taken to another level.
A few examples will suffice.
The moments clubs qualify for Africa and get their opponents, they are expected to book their flight tickets and travel at least four days before the match, given some tricky African flight connections and the playing of matches at the locality of the clubs that require further movements ( Dolisie, Warri…..)
Before the teams live base, advance team(s) should leave a week before to make hotel reservations, provide information on the weather ( quality of jersey to be used) altitude, playing surface ( grass or synthetic) quality of that surface, food, crowd behavior and strength of supporters etc.
What about the country from where the referees are appointed? As insignificant as this is it is always advisable to know that while referees from North Africa will be disposed to free flowing tap tap football, their counterparts from Cameroun and Cote divoire will not mind some robust tacklings and the players should be educated accordingly.
What about psychological talks on behaviours during the match, lectures by referees consultants on laws of the game as constantly updated, importants factors to look out for and the psychology of referees?
What about a dossier on the opposition? Their strengths and weaknesses, star players, information on their technical crew, club history and possible acquisition of tapes of their current league matches that can be provided by the help of our embassies and High commissions?
Tell me how many Nigerians clubs do as much as half of this? If they don’t how are they expected to win and go the distance? Impossible.
God help us.
See you next week.