The prognosis that Nigeria - the giant of Africa will fail or succeed in its race against 31 countries to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup has now been properly documented in the annals of history, but it does leave a few lessons for the Super Eagle, Nigeria Football Federation and Nigeria has a nation.
Before the World Cup, there have been concerns in every quarter has to the performance quotient of the Super Eagles coupled with series of calls for the inclusion of some players which include Ike Uche and Osaze Odemwingie. Though the latter eventually got invited, questions were raised on the quality of strikers the Super Eagles had paraded.
The super eagles ended their first match against Iran with a goalless draw, millions of Nigerians were left hearts broken, frustrated, disappointed, cursing players and demanding the retirement of Keshi. Following from his superlative performance at the Africa's Nations Cup, Nigerians had a lot of expectations based on his experience in his football career, with his success in taking Togo, Mali and Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations, and qualifying for the World Cup.
It was widely believed Iran would be a game changer for Nigeria after having a draw with Italy, Mexico and Scotland before qualifying for the World Cup 2014. Even if the country fails to defeat others, we have players internationally recognized who can compete at the highest level so what could have gone wrong? In all honesty, our players were a shadow of those who lead the Nigeria to victory at the Africa Nations Cup, our Eagles wings failed to flap even before it took off, having Iran digging in deep, frustrating our players in the last ten minutes of the game, our players lacked the skill and competence and seemed to have little idea on how to break down a resolute Persian wall, where is the excitement and skill that won the Olympics less than a decade ago?.
A major flaw in our first match is the act of indiscipline from our players, what is the essence of international recognized players when they play like amateurs in a serious tournament like the World Cup? The players did not stick to the plan and played as individuals rather than a team. Most of the players were left confused, not sure of what the next approach is, one could tell our lack of dexterity in our matches. Seasoned coaches understand that by substitutions the game changes, the Super Eagles are easily predictable, they lack speed, match stamina and clinical finishing.
The zeal and hunger for goals is lacking, we had many chances with our ball dominance but we let it fade away, our international players were bench warmers in respective clubs since this past league season, our players lack the creativity and ability for midfielders to string penetrative passes and it had a huge effect on the game. Our possession of the ball was not borne out of superiority, but for the opponent’s preference to soak pressure in the hope of hitting the Nigerians on the counter.
Our midfielders lacked the inventiveness on how to open the opposition defense, every counter attack played by Mikel went to a slow zone speed limit, no passion, There was little swagger and skill from the plodding African champions, as they lacked the ambition to win in the opening match, running up and down with no intention to score a goal. Even when the games got tough for the Super Eagles, there was no change in the striking department which makes the exclusion of Ike Uche a big mistake given his impressive performance for his Spanish club side.
The match against Bosnia played at Arena Pantanal was better, has it could be considered “an evenly poised game”, It was balanced, fair but still lacked an aggressive attack which enables the opposition to easily decode their intentions off.
Tactical dexterity was lacking in our second match against Bosnians, Keshi needs to devise tactics against opponents that best neutralizes strengths, identifies their weakness and exploits them. A good coach is the difference between victory and defeat and it can only be achieved by understanding the tactics of the game. Keshi should have made use of creative players instead of the less intelligent, clueless players in the match, Victor Moses and Osaze should have been more involved in the match.
Our players were no match for their counterparts in other countries, it was obvious that the teams that prepared very well performed well at the World Cup, Right from the beginning of the tournament, it was clear that Germany, Argentina, Holland and hosts, Brazil would go far in the tournament not because of their football pedigree in World Cup but because their preparation towards their qualifiers and friendly matches clearly demonstrated their serious quest to win the tournament, the two finalists, Germany and Argentina, showed that they had one thing in common. Firstly, both countries had players that have been playing together in the last six years at the national teams. Secondly, most of their players are playing in top clubs in Europe and another factor that worked for both countries is that they have developmental programmes and good football administration. These qualities really helped the countries to go far in the tournament.
Also with the fee payment row and bonuses saga before our second round match against France, which took the intervention of the Nigerian Sports Minister, Tamuno Danagogo, it was a classic case study of what off-field rows can it created unnecessary distraction to winning the World Cup, this was a classic scenario of what off-field rows can achieve in Team Management: it breeds disunity, and that was evident in our performance against France.
Amidst the inefficiencies noticed in the team, it is important to note that this team was only built under two years ago in comparison to every other team that participated in Brazil, lack of accountability and allocation of payment and bonuses to players contributed immensely to the crippling of the Super Eagles
One name which cannot be forgotten so soon in the World Cup is Vincent Enyeama, with his impressive exploit, and incredible saves especially in the last match against France, Enyeama has succeeded to engrave himself in our consciousness and those who were saving their legs for their clubs have also succeeded in making their history short lived.
Players should begin adequate preparation before any tournament kicks off, our football federation needs to engage regular developmental programmes to groom younger talents for the national teams ahead of every World Cup. We need a more effective, young players rather than the same set of faces which has become the routine for African countries.
Also, football administrators in Africa should find a way to be transparent with national players instead of insulting them in the media and pilfering their bonuses during a crucial tournament such as the World Cup.
Granting coach Keshi a new contract for another four years and keeping the group while injecting new blood can only make the team better, Let’s also not forget that Keshi has brought the Nations Cup for Nigeria after 19 years of waiting and he became the first indigenous African coach to qualify a country for the second round of the World Cup. One would say he has done enough to prepare the team for the next African Nations Cup qualifier which kicks off in two months’ time, we can still go back to our drawing board and create an effective tactical approach that will bring the cup home. Surely, together we can win!
Folashade Akintayo is studying Communications at Bowen University, Iwo. She is currently undergoing an internship at Caritas Communications, a foremost PR firm in Nigeria.
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She was looking very beautiful and radiant, although she had her veil drawled over her head and across her shoulders. She smiled at me, her smile was comforting.
“What troubles your mind?” she asked softly. Then, she came and sat beside me before I could answer.
Today, it still seemed a sort of irony to me that the first contact I made with Miriam was a discussion on political matters. That day, I shared my feelings with her. To my surprise, I realized that Miriam was not only very intelligent; she was also versed in the political matters of our Nation. However, her views were in conflict with mine. Miriam believed the problem lies in the false unification of non similar entities. To her, Nigeria is like a combination of strange bedfellows that have been brought up to look at issues of life from different perspectives. They can never agree on issues. She believed the only answer lies in the complete dissolution of the country and breakup into its component parts or else, very soon, there would be cataclysmic consequences. At a time, she looked at me straight in the eye and said: “The elites and the upper middle class of this country are so far above the rest of the citizens that they have been disconnected from the reality of the futility of uniting this country.”
Eventhough, my discussion with Miriam that day ended up posing more questions to me about the future of my country; I had met someone who would become a soul mate to me. From that day, we became friends. Later, we became very close friends and soon, we became inseparable. Despite being a Muslim, Miriam was cool minded and liberal in thought and expression. This was against my perception of Muslims as conservative, violent, vengeful creatures who were enemies of change. Sometimes, when I confronted her with questions concerning Islamic violence, she would shake her pretty head and tell me it is not about the religion, it is about the people. She told me stories about her native town, in Northern Nigeria, about the extremities of using religion as a weapon. Of course, she always had her own version of the story every time we heard news of violence in the Muslim dominated Northern Nigeria. In her view, those acts of violence were just evil and selfish acts, perpetrated under the guise of religious fundamentalism. Unfortunately, the direct perpetrators are also victims of people who take advantage of their poverty and unemployment, to use them for political purpose. No matter how much drama we attached to it, these acts are political, rather than religious.
One day, I went to Miriam’s home. I had meant it to be a surprise, so I did not tell her I was coming. I reached the house and saw Miriam crying. Immediately she saw me, she wiped her tears and asked me to give her some money. That was the first time she had ever asked me for money. I gave her some money and did not ask any question. Later, she told me what had happened.
“My siblings had not eaten for two days. I needed to find something for them to eat and it seemed all hope was lost. Thank you very much Akin.”
I was surprised. Miriam could not be more than nineteen. Was she supposed to be responsible for taking care of the family?
“What about your parents?” I asked.
“My father died three years ago, fighting for ECOMOG in Liberia.”
“What about his entitlements?”
She smiled sarcastically and shook her head. “You ask as if there is justice in this country. The government told everybody that billions had been spent in promoting peace in Liberia, yet my father and thousand others perished without their families receiving any compensation. Where do you think the money went to?”
“At least your mother should be able to take up responsibility.”
She shook her head sadly. “My mother separated from my father a long time ago.”
At that time, I really felt sorry for her. At a tender age, she had been left alone to battle the storms of life.
“I had just come back from a futile attempt at getting a part time job when I found my siblings crying. They told me there was no food in house and they had tried in vain to get something to eat. Fortunately, I had bought some rice at the market on my way back. I decided to cook. Unsurprisingly, there was no kerosene in the stove.
There had been a total blackout for the past three days so I knew using electric stove was out of it. There was no money to buy kerosene, so I rushed to the sawmill to get some sawdust to use as fuel in cooking. However, to my surprise, there was no single grain of sawdust. One of the security men told me the sawmill had been dormant for four days.
‘N.E.P.A has refused to give us electricity.’ he told me.
‘What of your power generator?’
The man shook his head and smiled. ‘Haven’t you heard about the new fuel price hike? Deisel is so expensive now that our company will go bankrupt if we run on generator.’
Frustrated, I had returned home, trying to think of how to get something to eat. That was when the thought of the predicament of this country overcame me and I started crying. Akin! I was weeping for this country, not myself.”
The day the ultimate tragedy occurred, I was in my room, having an afternoon nap. Two days earlier, Miriam had told me she was traveling to her mother’s village in Eastern Nigeria. I was half-asleep when I my phone rang. Reluctantly, I picked it, angry at the fellow who had disturbed my peace. However, the first voice I heard was Miriam’s.
“Hello, Akin.” she said in a frail voice, and instantly, I had an inkling of danger.
“Miriam, what is happening? Tell me!” I asked desperately.
“Akin, there has been an accident. On the road, near Awka.”
Her voice was so weak that I was instantly overcome by a bout of terror. Inwardly; I prayed it wasn’t as terrible as it seemed.
“Miriam, where are you now?”
“I—am in the hospital, I am on the floor. They brought us here three hours ago.”
“Oh God!” I exclaimed softly. And they haven’t attended to her!
“Akin.” Miriam called; her voice was getting weaker now. “There isn’t enough bed space and the doctors are on strike. The nurses are only attending to the Ibo people amongst us. I---” she gave a loud gasp.
“Miriam!” I called. Inwardly, I was fuming at the hopelessness of the situation.
“Akin, I am losing blood. Tell my siblings about what has happened.”
At that point, the situation was becoming clearer to me. Miriam was dying and I could not do anything to save her. I bowed my head and cried, sobbing loudly as I heard the dying gasps of Miriam. Ten minutes later, she died.
When Miriam died, something also died in me. My belief in the problems of the Nation as mere challenges in Nation building vanished. I realized that there is something fundamentally wrong with my motherland. Yet, something new was born in me. The tragedy of Miriam’s death had aroused in me, a new quest for the institutionalization of justice in my country. I realized that if the fundamental identity of my Nation is not redefined, then we are merely postponing the evil day. I remember the parable of an old man, who gave three coins to his four sons before he died, telling them to share it equally. After his death, instead of trading with the coins, the children fought over the coins and destroyed one of them. Each of them gave birth to a son and the remaining two coins also passed to the second generation. Like their fathers, they also quarreled over the sharing of the coins and destroyed one. Now, the third generation has only one coin to spend. My generation is the third generation. We are in a critical point in history. If we fight over this coin and destroy it, there will be nothing left to give our children and history will not forgive us. But if we wisely trade with it and get more coins, then we will earn our place in history. The ultimate destiny of man on earth is making his world a better place.