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Sports News of Sunday, 1 May 2022

Source: thenationonlineng.net

Qatar World Cup: The cost of Nigeria’s failure

Super Eagles Super Eagles

Nasarawa State-based Braimoh Rotimi had planned well ahead to watch live his favourite national soccer team- the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Abuja.

Dateline was March 29, 2022, and the indigene of Oyo State had bought his ticket a week ahead, brimming with confidence.

He had even boasted to all who cared to listen that he would be at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja to watch the Super Eagles’ last game en route Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.

He was only one of the thousands of other die-hard supporters rooting for the national team to do the nation proud.

But he did not plan for the scenario that eventually played out.

Rotimi shuttles between his Nasarawa State residence and Abuja where he works as an artisan daily. But after closing from work on the night before the match he chose not to go home.

He knew from experience that a game of that stature would attract a lot of spectators and it was a match he did not want to miss.

He slept at work and by 8AM on the match day he headed off the newly refurbished stadium.

He slept little as he played the match all over his mind from dusk till dawn.

Accessing the stadium was a different story altogether. There was a sea of cars heading towards the stadium. Those who found their way there on foot were in hundreds of thousands. It took many of the football fans about six hours to get to the terraces.

Many others who got to the stadium after Rotimi were not so lucky. By 2 PM the crowd got restless, stampeding the security men to throw the gates open.

“I was seated when I heard noise and cry outside,” he recalled.

“I saw many people scampering to enter while the policemen kept pushing them.

“Many people fell, were trampled upon and sustained injuries in the process.”

If Rotimi thought his and others’ pains would be soothed once the Super Eagles took to the pitch in the second leg playoff against Ghana, he was dead wrong. The match ended 1-1 to hand Ghana the World Cup ticket.

As the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of the match, it immediately dawned on Rotimi and other Nigerian fans that their country would not be represented at the Mundial in November.

A moment of fury and chaos soon descended on the stadium. The fans,left disappointed and frustrated by the performance of the Super Eagles, got hostile.

In twos, threes and fours,they began jumping over the divide into the arena, the objects of their anger being the players, the coaching crew, and chieftains of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

They were baying for blood as the price to be paid for not qualifying for the World Cup.

Since making its first World Cup appearance in 1994, Nigeria had qualified for all but one final- Germany’s 2006 World Cup, until now. Some Nigerians think it is a sin for the country not to make the finals.

However, the security personnel were quicker than the angry fans. They succeeded in spiriting the players and the coaching crew out of the arena, using a back exit.

When it dawned on the fans that their targets had escaped, they switched their anger to the

refurbished stadium, pulling out the seats and smashing them on the ground.

By the time a combined team of Police and paramilitary brought the situation under control after shooting multiple canisters of tear gas to disperse them,the stadium was already in ruins.

Sports journalist Bolaji Aluko-Olokun, who witnessed it said the fans had high hopes of their team making it to Qatar.

“They came early to the stadium and they cheered and shouted their support for the team throughout the match. The outcome was a bitter pill to chew for them,” he said

Emma Lewis, a football enthusiast called Nigeria’s failure humiliation for every Nigerian.

“The pains are too deep. Some persons must be made to pay for our collective pain and humiliation,” he said.

Another fan, Musa Abdulahi, felt the players and officials deserved some form of punishment for letting Nigerians down.

“These players and NFF officials should be banished to Sambisa Forest (the enclave of Boko Haram terrorists) to be terrorised.”

WAKE OF FAILURE

Soon after the failure, heads began to roll, perhaps, to assuage the emotional pains inflicted on Nigerians.

Within 24 hours, Austin Eguavoen, interim coach of the Super Eagles sent in his resignation letter and this was closely followed by the NFF summarily relieving crew members of their positions.

Stakeholders, who expected NFF president Amaju Pinnick and his board to also quit, said they too should resign.

The Players Union called for the immediate resignation or sack of the NFF president while also advocating the restructuring of the federation.

They staged a public protest in Abuja to back up their demands for the sack of the NFF board.

The Guild of Sports Editors joined the fray by calling for the resignation of Pinnick.

An overwhelmed Pinnick pulled the brake on his third-term agenda.

Godwin Odiye, U.S based ex-international described the move as “a smart way out as he would be concluding his term this year.”

IMMEDIATE AND REMOTE CAUSES OF FAILURE
While the dust is yet to settle on the World Cup disappointment, stakeholders have been examining the immediate and remote causes.

Eguavoen thought his players were not hungry enough to win. “We lacked the character and zeal to beat Ghana when it mattered most. The Ghanaians showed they wanted it more than our boys and that was why it ended that way,” he said.

He added: “We didn’t do any of that. We did not fight or push enough for the winner and how do you do that? It is with fast-paced football, creating chances but that didn’t happen.”

Segun Odegbami, former captain of the senior national team (Green Eagles), toed Eguavoen’s line but provided a deeper insight into Nigeria’s failure.

“In both matches, they (Super Eagles) did not play as if their lives depended on it, so they did not win. They were not psychologically primed enough, except Osimhen, of course.

“These Black Stars were the worst I have seen of the Ghana national team since I have been watching or playing against them from the early 1970s to date.

“In Abuja, they were simply lucky. On the other hand, the Nigerian team also had only one clear chance at their goal, besides the ball that Osimhen scored but was eventually ruled offside by VAR.”

Andrew Uwe, Germany based ex-international and coach said the coaching bench got it all wrong.

His words:“I did not see the right synergy between the chief coach and his assistants. I did not see them consult during the matches. Eguavoen seemed to me to be running a one-man show. I say this because of the faulty changes made in both legs of the matches. They weren’t good enough.”

REMOTE CAUSES

Uwe faulted NFF for contracting former Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr in the first place.

“I live in Germany and nobody knows Rohr there. They were always asking me why we chose a coach with no pedigree. He set our football back.”

Vandrezzer FC, a Nigeria National League (NNL) club blamed the NFF for neglecting the local league. “We cannot but decry how our football administrators are evidently not on top of issues regarding the conduct of our local football leagues, which should naturally form the bedrock of our national teams.

“The issues are there to see: from biased officiating to hooliganism, bad pitches, etc.

“It is true that some of these vices are perpetrated by the clubs, but that is exactly the reason leaders are elected in the first place, to ensure there is a proper league framework that only those who abide by it will be found in our league. As the saying goes “where there is no order, there is disorder.

“The Nigerian league is supposed to be a respectable league among the comity of football-loving nations, but sadly the reverse is the case.

“The current ridicule ascribed to the Nigerian league, even within our own football family, is one of hopelessness that can never be redeemed.

“Some have described it as ‘dead and buried’ or a ‘pigsty’,’ extremely dirty’ and ‘where anything goes.’”

The club argued that these were the reasons why Nigeria could not produce the best players for the national team.

UNPAID SALARIES, ALLOWANCES, BONUSES
Harrison Jalla, Players Union ex-officio member, came hard on the NFF for not encouraging the team’s coaches and players by owing them salaries and allowances.

“This NFF has failed to encourage coaches and players. Players of today know what is going on and they know a lot of money is at stake. Gernot Rohr was owed up to six-months before he was sacked.

“They owe players allowances and bonuses, not just at the senior level, but also at the junior and cadet levels.

“How do you encourage these players when you don’t give them their dues? This is one of the reasons our players don’t give their all.”

Months before the playoff, Super Eagles influential defender Leon Balogun spoke on the thorny issue.