By Sulaiman Alao:
RIO 2016 OLYMPICS:
LET THE PROBE BEGIN
Nigeria’s U-23 team to the recently concluded 2016 Olympics Games held in the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil saved the nation a great deal of blushes by winning the only medal for the country – bronze in the men’s football competition while the rest of the sporting contingent came back home empty-handed. While it was not surprising that the rest of the athletes to the Games couldn’t win any medals considering the slipshod preparations the Nigerian Olympic Committee subjected them to, the football team braved the odds to clinch bronze despite their much publicized horrid treatment at the hands of the NOC, Sports Ministry as well as the Nigeria Football Federation. Simply put, the credit for the bronze medal goes to coach Samson Siasia-led technical team and his boys captained by Mikel Obi. The three supervising bodies can’t justifiably lay claims to the men’s football team’s bronze medal achievement.
Following the inglorious outing of Team Nigeria at the Rio Olympics, there have been growing calls for the government to probe the relevant bodies over Nigeria’s poor representation at the Games. It is a genuine call worthy of all concerned Nigerians and which is needed to help us sanitize the glaring rot in our sports administration. It is good to note that the Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports, Obinna Ogba who was part of the official delegation to Brazil and witnessed first-hand some of the unpleasant development is reportedly making moves to broach the issue at the Senate.
While football was Nigeria’s saving grace at the Rio Olympics, the round leather game is set to give us great headache next year as all our beloved national men’s teams have crashed out of continental engagements for 2017. First was the senior national team’s ouster in the race to qualify for the African Cup of Nations slated for Gabon next year. This was quickly followed by the U-20 and U-17 teams also failing to qualify for their respective continental competitions. In essence, the Super Eagles, the Flying Eagles and the Golden Eaglets will all not be featuring at their respective CAF competitions next year. With these unprecedented qualification failures in continental outings, how can anyone say the calls for Amaju Pinnick’s resignation as NFF president are not justified? Even with the recent appointment of German coach Gernot Rohr as the new Super Eagles technical adviser, what guarantee do we have that Nigeria will qualify for the 2018 World Cup slated for Russia? By extension, are the calls for Solomon Dalung’s resignation as Youth and Sports Minister not justified?
This is indeed a very sorry time for Nigerian sports and one can only hope that the government of the day will take a holistic approach to look into the myriads of problems bedeviling sports development in the country and proffer the much-needed solution devoid of politics and sentiments. The ongoing nationwide calls for restructuring should not leave out the sports sector which – especially through football – is seen as the major unifying factor in our nation. Can the government take the bull by the horns by going the whole hog to ring the necessary changes that will help resuscitate our dying sports?
Nigerians are waiting and watching!
Ahead 2018 World Cup Qualifiers:
BEWARE ROHR, MOTIVATION MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH
Following the 1-0 win over Tanzania in the inconsequential African Cup of Nations qualifier played at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo last Saturday, new Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr has been talking tough about Nigeria’s chances of sealing the 2018 World Cup qualification ticket ahead of tough rivals in Group B comprising of Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia. The German-born tactician hinges his optimism on the players’ hunger born of the failure to qualify for two consecutive Nations Cup which according to the coach will make the Eagles more motivated than their rival teams.
While it is not wrong to be an optimist, one must however, not lose sight of the facts on ground when dealing with critical issues and in this case, it will be gross illusion to think Nigeria will stroll to picking the sole ticket in Group B which has been dubbed the group of death for obvious reasons. This is the only group in the African qualifying series where all the four teams have won the African Cup of Nations at various times. Cameroon are 4-time champions, Nigeria are 3-time champions while Algeria and Zambia have both won the Nations Cup once. Of the four teams, only Zambia are yet to participate at the World Cup while Cameroon have played at the FIFA Mundial on 7 occasions while Nigeria and Algeria have featured at the World Cup 5 and 4 times respectively.
Also, going by the latest FIFA rankings of African teams, Algeria currently enjoy better standing being ranked 32 in the world while Cameroon are 54, Nigeria 67 and Zambia 91. But in spite of the rankings, Cameroon first, then Algeria pose the greatest threats to Nigeria’s qualification ambitions. Algeria eliminated Nigeria from the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina but Nigeria returned the favour by knocking Algeria out of the race in 1994. Cameroon edged Nigeria out from qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy and it remains to be seen if the Eagles can pay back the Indomitable Lions in their own coins. Zambia have never beaten Nigeria to any World Cup qualification but will play the spoiler role in the group and the Eagles will do well if they can take the maximum points when they go on the road trip against the Chipolopolos in the first game slated for Ndola on October 9. Difficult you say, but not impossible. An away victory will help put the Eagles in a strong position from the start of the qualification race and will greatly boost the confidence of the players.
With the above analysis, it is clear to any discerning mind that motivation will be the least factor that can help Nigeria’s qualification quest. Our rival teams will also be motivated one way or the other. And talking about motivation, Rohr has only highlighted one aspect which to me is even the least. What about financial motivation for the players which experience have shown over the years is the major motivational factor for Nigerian players? With the present economic crunch hitting the Nigeria Football Federation so badly, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to know that the monetary demon will still rear its ugly head by the time the World Cup qualification series kicks off next month and one can only pray that the Glass House will be financially buoyant enough to exorcise it.
More to come on the subject but in the meantime, Happy Sallah celebrations to all Muslims worldwide.