…It’s a jinxed ground – Laloko
…t’s a lie! Eagles beat Algeria 3-1 on same ground – Paul Bassey
…Take same Eagles to the moon, they’ll lose again to South Africa – Etta Egbe
By Jacob Ajom
As the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Cameroon draws near, the controversy sparked off by the technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation over Uyo as future venue of Super Eagles home matches is growing louder. This is despite a clarification by the NFF that the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium remains the team’s home ground.
The NFF Technical Committee headed by Barrister Chris Green had, in the aftermath of Super Eagles 0-2 loss to South Africa in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier reviewed the match and circumstances surrounding the disgraceful loss, toyed with the idea of taking future matches involving the national team out of Uyo. Port Harcourt was mentioned as possible replacement while Abuja and Kaduna were put on standby.
Reasons adduced then were that Uyo fans were not giving the players enough motivation; some said the distance from the players’ hotel to the stadium was too far and that the players spend at least 45 minutes to get to the training ground or before getting back to the hotel after training.
Some others went superstitious, saying the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium was an unlucky ground where the team always struggle while playing matches. “The Eagles are not always lucky on that pitch,” another official was quoted as saying.
Former head of the Nigeria Football Association technical department, Coach Kashimawo Laloko added his voice to the debate when he said in a chat with our correspondent, “in football, there is an element of luck. In 2005, I warned the NFA then, not to take the 2006 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Angola to Kano. We needed a straight victory. I told them we have never won a match in Kano and that the worst the Angolans would get would be a draw. They ignored me and I resigned. Angola actually came to Kano and drew that match. That match cost us the tickets to Germany 2006 World Cup.
“He said South Africa has found Uyo a fertile hunting ground and Eagles will find it difficult to beat them there. They drew their first match there and won the second. The same player who scored two goals in the first match opened scoring in the last match. He finds Uyo a perfect home away from home. Let us look for another place.”
Laloko got strong support from a former deputy National President of the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON), Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka who, during the week warned that Eagles must leave Uyo if they hope to avoid another embarrassing defeat.
“It looks like the Uyo stadium is not favourable to us, it is ‘jinxed’,” he reasoned, adding, “the best thing is for the NFF to look for alternative venue. Otherwise, Cameroon can come here and defeat the Super Eagles, and that will end our 2018 World Cup aspiration.”
Can this be true? Is Uyo really jinxed? Chairman of Akwa United Paul Bassey, who has been involved in the making Uyo a good host to Super Eagles and their guests is still wondering why Nigerians forget so easily and too soon.
“Which stadium did the Eagles beat Algeria 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier on November 12, 2016?” he asked. Although he was not bothered if the NFF wanted to take Super Eagles home matches away from Uyo, he begged that opinions on the matter should be put in the right perspective.
Bassey said Uyo fans were the most loyal to Super Eagles. “Even when the team was 2-0 down, the fans remained seated to the final whistle. Nobody booed the team even when they were second best on the pitch against South Africa.
“Indeed, given our experience in the previous match against Algeria when the stands were overflowing and because of the fear of possible sanction from CAF and FIFA, we managed to control the inflow of fans in the match against South Africa. Whoever was at the venue would have noticed that we had more people outside the arena than those who were inside. Whoever want to blame the Eagles defeat on the fans is missing the point,” Bassey said.
“Definitely, one cannot blame the defeat on the pitch, because it was the same pitch the South Africans played on. We need superior reasons, not such excuses as logistics, match ball or the pitch. It’s like someone is running away from the truth,” the veteran journalist said.
Spokesman of the Nigeria Football Coaches Association, Etta Egbe dismissed talks about Uyo not being a lucky ground for the Eagles. “It’s is unfortunate that we kill our own. Godswill Akpabio Stadium is one of the best in Africa. Super Eagles players who ply their trade abroad should not complain because the pitch is grass and very good to play on.”
Egbe added that against South Africa, the Eagles had a bad day. “The team didn’t measure up as the South Africans were better. No one can blame Uyo stadium for that. Take that team to anywhere, South Africa can beat them again.”