BUT for the unassailable fourteen-point dominant lead Nigeria stamped on the earlier touted “zone of death”, the Group B of Africa’s World Cup qualification efforts, the nation could have been thrown into deep mourning after it was sanctioned by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
FIFA had announced the deduction of three points from our fourteen points and awarded them to Algeria over the fielding of an ineligible player, Shehu Abdullahi, in the final leg of the qualification for the tournament which will hold in Russia in 2018. Abdullahi was given a one-match ban which he had not served when he was drafted to play in the second leg of Nigeria’s away tie against Algeria.
FIFA ruled as follows: “The Nigeria Football Federation is liable for having breached Article.55 paragraph.1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and article 8 of the 2018 Regulations of the FIFA World Cup Russia. “The match played within the frame of the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia between Algeria and Nigeria on 10 November 2017 is declared to be lost by forfeit by Nigeria (3-0).”
Nigeria was also fined 6,000 Swiss Francs or N2.2 million. Luckily and happily, the deduction did not affect our standing at the top of the log as Nigeria had already qualified for the tournament before the Algeria match.
This kind of blunder which escaped the attention of the coaches led by Gernot Rohr and also the Technical Department of the Nigerian Football Federal (NFF) is as unconscionable as it is potentially dangerous. If the country had had a narrow lead, its qualification could have been nullified. The euphoria that is still the toast of our football circles would have been cut short. It would have been a massive shocker in the soccer world where Nigeria has established a foothold as a major force from the African continent.
Such a turn of events could have sparked off riots leading to the destruction of lives and property in view of the deep love Nigerians have for football which stands as perhaps the only unifying factor for the citizenry. The mistake of a few unconscionable officials could have reversed the thrill of our most commanding world cup qualification in history.
Our football house has remained a sorry symbol of the general incompetence and unwholesomeness of our public institutions, which is why the country is so poorly governed. The NFF has been severally sanctioned by FIFA for age cheating, bribery, corruption and other misdemeanours.
We call on the football governing body to probe and punish those responsible for the blunder. It should wake up from its slumber, clean up its acts and give Nigerians the quality football administration they deserve.