A Double Wake-up Call
Posted: May 19, 2011
NIGERIA received a double wake-up call over the weekend when West African neighbours Togo dethroned our home-based Super Eagles in the WAFU Nations Cup on Saturday, while Ghana eliminated our Super Falcons from the race to the 2011 All Africa Games on Sunday.
Compared with a couple of weekends ago when all our football teams came out victorious in different competitions and we had so much to celebrate, last weekend was a disappointment and there was nothing to cheer. But there are great lessons to be learned.
Two weeks ago in this column, I wrote about the “Price of Arrogance” and warned our football teams about the dangers of overconfidence. After a hard fought semi-final victory over Ghana in Abeokuta last week during which Ekigho Ehiosun scored a fantastic brace to pull Nigeria from the brink of defeat, the Eagles apparently felt that they had done the difficult part of the job and that Togo would be easy meat in the final. But before they realized their folly, the game was over and Togo were 3-2 winners.
Togo captain Zakari Morou told Complete Sports reporter Izuchukwu Okosi after the game that he and his colleagues observed that the Nigerian boys were overconfident and they (the Togolese) were determined to surprise them. Siasia’s assistant Simon Kalika more or less confirmed the Eagles attitude problem when he admitted in a post-match interview that “you could say the players were somewhat overconfident.” Well, that is lesson number one from the WAFU Nations Cup for this set of home Eagles: never underrate your opponent.
Lesson number two is about adequate preparation and, here, it is the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that must take the rap because the Nigerian team was lacking in this area.
Due to the extended break in the Premier League, many players arrived in Siasia’s camp without match practise and match fitness and this eventually told on the team’s performance. If we compared the home Eagles WAFU preparation (or lack of it) with that of John Obuh’s Flying Eagles team ahead of the African Youth Championship, the outcomes of both competitions for Nigeria were fully justified. The NFF reaped what it sowed on both occasions.
As for Siasia, I guess he should actually be relieved now that his unbeaten start to his Eagles coaching career is over and the sporting press can find something else to say. Personally, I thought the Sia-mania in the media was going over the top and we needed to bring things back down to earth.
Last week, I expressed my silent fears ahead of the Eagles’ crucial African Cup of Nations qualifier against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on June 4, because I observed that everybody seems to be getting carried away by the high profile but potentially distracting friendly against Argentina on June 1 in Abuja. Now that “ordinary” Togo has dethroned us as WAFU champions, I hope the warning will be taken seriously that “ordinary” Ethiopia will also have their own ideas about the Nations Cup, especially as we are going to play them on their ground. Anything less than a win could spell big trouble for our qualification. Just like I warned last week: NFF, Siasia, beware!
However, I hope also that history will repeat itself for Nigeria concerning last Saturday’s loss to Togo. En route to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games in USA, the Nigerian Under-23 team lost 3-1 to Togo in a friendly played in Lagos. That defeat caused the press to change the team’s “Dream Team” tag to a derogatory “Dreaming Team.”
The players at that time responded to the insult, worked harder, went on to win the Olympic gold and their “Dream Team” tag was restored. If a Nigerian team has to lose to Togo to qualify for greatness, last Saturday may yet turn out to be a good omen for the home-based Super Eagles.
Ehiosun: The Boy Is Good
THE HIGHLIGHT of the 2011 WAFU Championship for Nigeria must be the Eagles’ 2-1 win over Ghana in the semi-final. Trailing 1-0 going into the last 10 minutes, Ekigho Ehiosun stole a late equalizer for Nigeria following a Ghanaian defensive mix-up, then smashed a furious shot for the winner in extra time.
Clearly, Ehiosun is establishing himself as a regular goal-scorer for the Eagles. He is strong, quick and shoots well with both feet. Since making a scoring debut against Liberia under Siasia, he has not looked back.
I hope Ehiosun is surrounded by good managers and advisers who will guide him on the right career path to take so that his talent will not be wasted. His future in the Super Eagles is bright, but it is too, too early to compare him with the great Rashidi Yekini as some “analysts” have begun to do.
Victor Agali and Obafemi Martins once drew such comparisons with “The Goalsfather”
following consistent goal-scoring starts to their Super Eagles careers like Ehiosun. But they soon faded away to leave Yekini’s 37 goals national team record standing firm.
Ehiosun doesn’t need the pressure of being compared to Yekini. He should be allowed to evolve gradually as a striker and then, we shall all see how far he can go.
Amos Adamu Deserves Credit
SOCCER fans will be shocked to read any praise on suspended FIFA and CAF executive committee member, Dr. Amos Adamu. But, let’s be fair to the man: the story of the just-concluded WAFU Championship will not be complete without a mention of his contribution.
Adamu became WAFU president in 2008 and it is to his credit that he was able to resuscitate the WAFU competition after about 19 years in limbo. I remember that my first major assignment as a sports reporter was covering the WAFU Cup in Bauchi in January 1990. That was where players like Daniel Amokachi cut their teeth in the Super Eagles under Clemens Westerhof before going on to achieve great things for Nigeria. Soon after, the competition became moribund, with serious implications for the discovery of young talents in the West African region. It is Adamu’s doggedness, with support from Ogun State government, that has brought the event back and that is why players like Ehiosun now have a regular opportunity to showcase their talents.
Having said that, I am averse to Nigeria playing a permanent host to the competition. It’s good to be a “big brother” to our West African neighbours but we mustn’t turn into a spendthrift “Father Christmas.” Having hosted the competition twice in a row, let other countries also give it a shot, no matter how modest the organization will be. Or, don’t we have other things we could also do with our money?
Back to Amos Adamu, he wouldn’t have been sighted at the WAFU Championship in Abeokuta because he is currently suspended from “all football activities” by FIFA. A couple of weeks back, he finally submitted an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which will determine his place in history. We await the outcome.
Falcons Had It Coming
lTHE JURY is out on Super Falcons coach Eucharia Uche following the failure of her wards to qualify for the All-Africa Games holding in Maputo, Mozambique in September. Poor Eucharia has the dubious distinction of being the first coach NOT to qualify for an African women’s football event since the Falcons started dominating the game on the continent. And now, the inquest has begun on whether she is good enough to lead the team to the Women’s World Cup in Germany next month.
I predicted the current state of affairs two weeks ago when the Falcons could only draw 1-1 with Ghana in the first leg of their qualifier in Abuja. The girls looked like they would turn the tide in the return leg, when they scored first in Accra. But the Ghanaians bounced back to equalize and grab a stoppage time winner through a penalty kick.
The manner of the loss suggests to me that the Falcons must have put up a good fight in Accra. But “nearly” doesn’t kill a bird, and their elimination from the All-Africa Games is a setback for women’s football in Nigeria.
But, we had it coming. Women’s football experts have blamed our ouster on Eucharia’s failure (or inability?) to use foreign-based players in the first leg. That is an admission of the total collapse of our domestic women’s league. There’s no money to run the league but there’s always money to travel and participate in competitions. That’s the story of Nigerian football.
It is rather strange that the NFF cannot find sponsors for the women’s league despite the large population of our women, the huge number of women’s-only products in the market, and the consistent achievements of our women’s teams over the years. Sponsors are said to always want to associate with a winning team, but the NFF has failed so far to translate the Falcons’ previous successes into a sustained sponsorship.
Had that been done, the women’s league would have been virile; the players would have been in regular action; the women’s national teams would not be lacking money for adequate preparation; and our girls wouldn’t be failing to qualify for an “ordinary” All-Africa Games. Those are the remote and immediate causes of last weekend’s defeat in Accra.
But right now, I’m sure that very few people will be looking that far for the problems since Eucharia is at hand as a ready scape-goat. Her competence had always been questioned and now she is ripe for the plucking
I can’t defend Eucharia’s technical ability because it’s indeed doubtful. But rather than blame her now, I think we should question those who appointed her in the first place. The NFF has a history of appointing coaches on sentimental considerations and regional balancing, rather than merit. Now, the chicken is coming home to roost.
The NFF may argue that they want to correct their mistake by sacking Eucharia or demoting her in order to put a more competent hand in charge ahead of the Women’s World Cup. But we will only be repeating the events of the 2010 FIFA World Cup when Shaibu Amodu was sacked for “incompetence” but Lars Lagerback still couldn’t take the Super Eagles beyond the first round despite the eye-popping amount he was paid on a salvage mission.
My position, therefore, is that Eucharia, in spite of her limitations, should be left in charge to complete her assignment. We mustn’t be so scared of losing that we keep repeating the same “madness” (changing coaches on the eve of major tournaments) over and over again.
Even if Germany will beat us 8-0 again at the World Cup and we crash out in the first round, so be it. At least, that will teach us to assess our coaches properly before appointing them in future.
Blatter Is Back...
lLAST WEEK, I analysed how FIFA president “Joseph Blatter was on his way back” for another four-year term at the elective FIFA congress in Zurich on June 1. This week, I want to amend that to read “Blatter is back already.”
Initially, it appeared that I had spoken too soon when Lord Triesman, former chairman of the England 2018 World Cup bid, last week reopened FIFA’s can of worms by alleging pointedly that a number of FIFA executive committee members sought for cash and other favours in exchange for their World Cup votes.
That public allegation was made just a day after Blatter announced a FIFA–sponsored four-year partnership with INTERPOL to track down and prosecute the criminal cartels that are fixing results of football matches especially in parts of Asia. It was like Triesman telling Blatter to cleanse the “devils in FIFA” first, before pursuing the “devils in Asia.”
Not surprisingly, CAF president Issa Hayatou, CONCACAF boss Jack Wanner and other top dogs accused by Triesman have all denied the charges and challenged Triesman to produce his evidence. The whole world is now waiting on Triesman to back his weighty allegation with concrete proof.
Rather than hurt Blatter’s chance at the upcoming elections, however, Triesman’s “revelations” (are they really new?) appear to have increased support for the Swiss. Most FIFA insiders see the latest corruption allegations as a continuation of England’s belly-aching over their loss of the 2018 World Cup vote to Russia.
Last week, I suggested that the African votes may be split between Blatter and Mohammed bin Hamman, his Qatari rival for the presidency. But on Monday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced after an executive meeting that it was advising all its 53 African members to vote for Blatter. With Europe (53), CONMEBOL (10) and Oceania (11) having already declared their support for Blatter, and CONCACAF (35) also a sure bet, bin Hamman is left only with his Asian Confederation (46).
The presidential contest is over even before it had started. It’s game over, advantage Sepp Blatter. Unless, of course, Triesman comes up with some heart-shaking evidence-which is unlikely.
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