By Nurudeen Obalola:
If I had done the player ratings for the Olympic Eagles' 5-4 win over Japan on Friday morning, I would have given each Nigerian player 10/10 – the perfect score.
Every single one of those players and their coaches deserve 100 per cent credit for their superhuman effort against Japan in the heat of Manaus.
Of course there must have been flaws in a team’s performance if they conceded four goals in one match, but considering the absolute nightmare that the Nigerian team went through just to get to the match venue on time, every mistake is forgiven.
The sometimes heart-stopping defending and the huge gaps left for the quick-passing Japanese to explore in midfield will be discussed on another day. The coaches should deal with those problems.
For now, we should celebrate the never-say-die Nigerian spirit that drove the team on against all logic and expectations on Friday.
They played with heart, great bravery and an unflagging spirit as they became physically drained due to their chaotic travel plans and the Manaus heat.
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At some point during the match, the commentators were wondering if it was the Japanese that arrived in Manaus just hours before the match. That was how strong the Nigerians looked, despite their ordeal.
For those who might somehow be unfamiliar with what the Nigerian footballers went through, here is a summary.
They were first scheduled to leave their training camp in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States for their host city for the group phase, Manaus, on Sunday.
Then the five-hour trip was shifted to Monday. Fund issues meant the trip was again shifted o Tuesday, then Wednesday.
Finally, they left on Thursday on a chartered plane, arriving in Manaus with just six hours to spare.
No serious football team arrives at a major tournament on the day of their opening match.
Meanwhile, Japan arrived a week earlier and got used to the city, its weather conditions and the pitch, going into the match with a huge advantage due to their superior planning and organisation.
That was why the commentators and the rest of the world expected the physically and mentally drained Nigerians to be beaten by the Japanese, who were in peak condition.
Obviously, these people did not know the Nigerian way.
The U-23s on Friday displayed the Nigerian spirit to the fullest before the entire world.
The average Nigerian thrives on adversity; he is his own government, providing his own electricity, water and sometimes roads. Nigerians have stayed strong for decades under terrible government after terrible government.
The Nigerian spirit remains unbroken despite probably the world’s worst electricity, roads, general infrastructure and corruption in high places.
So, while the ones in charge keep messing things up, the regular Nigerian goes about his hustle determined to succeed despite the odds.
The Olympic Eagles on Friday typified the average Nigerian who braves horribly low wages and the absence of infrastructure to continue to excel in life, take care of his family and keep things ticking over.
The narrative to most non-Nigerians might be that Nigeria is full of fraudsters and conmen, the reality is that we are mostly hardworking people who do not let the system wear us down.
The typical Nigerian is the banker, businessman, lawyer, journalist, teacher, trader , doctor, engineer who wakes up at 4am, sets out for work at 5am, spends four hours in traffic and returns home at 11pm only to repeat the cycle the following day.
The Olympic Eagles were simply being true Nigerians on Friday, beating the odds stacked against them and shocking the world.
They didn’t shock too many Nigerians though. Because it is what we do.
We don’t let our heads drop.
It would have been quite easy for the Eagles to let the situation beat them, play rubbish and then blame the Nigeria Football Federation, the Nigeria Olympic Committee and the sports ministry who all combined to make life difficult for them.
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