I WILL PROBABLY end up with a sore mouth and gasping for breath by the time I’m through. But if the Super Falcons allow me, I feel like kissing all the girls on the team! (Apologies to their husbands and/or boy friends; and to my wife, too!).
Last Sunday at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroun, the Falcons retained their African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) title by beating the host team, Indomnitable Lionesses, 1-0 in the final. Considering the fact that they (Falcons) beat the same team in the 2014 final in Namibia, an ordinary observer could think there was nothing special about the Falcons’ latest triumph. How extremely wrong that observer would be!
For Nigeria, any sort of victory over Cameroun in any competition at any level, any day, anywhere, any time is a BIG deal. Cameroun have inflicted so much pain on Nigerians, particularly me, that I can never get bored of exerting revenge. So, whenever any of our teams triumph over this eternal rival, it’s party time for me.
Several factors made last Sunday’s Falcons’ victory extra special. One, it happened on Cameroun soil. Two, right in front of their countrymen and women. Three, at the 40,000-capacity stadium with their President Paul Biya and his wife in attendance. Four, before the very korokoroeyes of Cameroun-born Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou. Five, in spite of all the odds faced by the Falcons before and during the tournament.
I want to kiss each Falcon twice for each factor, bringing the total to ten kisses for each player. I find it hard to describe the joy and satisfaction that I derived from last Sunday’s win over the Camerounians.
The reader may wonder if I have a personal score to settle with Cameroun. The answer is yes! Here’s why…
Cameroun are responsible for Nigeria’s meager three men’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) titles when our pedigree and performances over the years clearly deserves more. Three times we have met them in the final (in 1984, 1988 and 2000) and on all three occasions, we lost.
I could tolerate the 1984 loss in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire because their team led by the powerful Emmanuel Kunde, Theophilie Abega and Roger Milla were simply too strong and too experienced for our young team captained then by a young Stephen Keshi. But in the 1988 final in Casablanca, Morocco and the 2000 final in Lagos, Nigeria, I thought Super Eagles were robbed of victory by refereeing errors and I have never forgiven Cameroun for being the beneficiaries either wittingly or unwittingly.
In fact, I was so upset by the 2000 final loss when Victor Ikpeba’s penalty during a shoot-out was wrongly disallowed, that I wrote a petition to FIFA. I was at the National Stadium, Surulere on that day and you could hear a pin drop in the 60,000 capacity-filled mainbowl when Rigobert Song scored the final penalty kick that won the trophy for Cameroun.
For me personally, it was the saddest day in Nigerian football history, and Cameroun had inflicted it. Since then, I have always prayed for every opportunity for Nigeria to exert any form of revenge.
I wrote on one occasion that if Nigerian ants defeated Cameroun ants in a tug-of-war, I would celebrate it as if we had won the FIFA World Cup! That is the background to my dislike of Cameroun. Call it rivalry, jealousy, envy or misplaced aggression, I don’t care. The enmity is real.
So, you can imagine my elation when the Falcons inflicted that painful defeat on the Lionesses last Sunday. The fact that Cameroun dominated most of the game but still lost made the victory sweeter in my reckoning.
Desire Oparanozie’s lone goal for Nigeria in the 84th minute was a late, late killer punch from which the Cameroun girls could never recover. It must have been a night of national mourning in their country the way it was for Nigeria in the year 2000. Served them right!
…But Falcons Have More Work To Do
MY JOY at the Falcons eighth victory at the African Women’s Cup of Nations (10th overall as African champions) has not blinded me from the glaring weaknesses in the team, however.
Tournament top scorer Asisat Oshoala and her mates ran riot against minnows Mali and Kenya. But when they came up against stronger oppositions in Ghana, South Africa and Cameroun, the Nigerian girls struggled to find their range.
Ghana actually neutralized the Falcons in the second half of their group game which ended 1-1 and they (the Black Queens) could have sneaked a victory.
In the semi-final, South Africa had better organization and tactical approach to their game, despite Nigerian winning the game 1-0 via an unstoppable free-kick by Oparanozie.
In the final, Cameroun created the better chances all day before Oparanozie (again) seized on a defensive error to steal the game for Nigeria.
In all three games, the Falcons survived mainly because of their mental strength and stamina, coupled with the wastefulness of their opponents. While their performance may be enough to win titles on the African continent, it definitely will not be adequate on the world stage.
I have previously expressed my sentiment in this column in favour coach Florence Omagbemi and how badly I wanted her to become the first woman to win the AWCON as player and coach. I am very happy for her that she now holds that distinction. But clearly, she needs help to take the Falcons to the world stage.
There’s talent and ability in the team, but there’s great work to be done in the area of organization, tactics and cohesive play. Putting sentiment aside, I’m not confident that Omagbemi has the coaching skills yet to lead the Falcons to the World Cup. She still needs a lot of coaching herself.
NFF’s Controversial Chartered Flight
TRUST the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to get themselves into a controversy even when they should be celebrating the Falcons victory.
While the President, Amaju Pinnick repeatedly tells us that the NFF cannot meet several of its obligations due to lack of funds, he found the money somehow to charter a flight to Cameroun for the AWCON final. And guess who was on the flight with him: Activist sports minister Solomon Dalung!
Sports administrators usually accuse sports journalists of being the trouble-makers in Nigeria sports. They accuse us of giving sports a bad name and reporting it negatively which drives sponsors away from sponsorship. But they do not scrutinize their own actions which sometimes make it difficult for journalists to be positive in their reports.
How do you explain a situation where coaches and players are owed money, but the administrators are flying about in chartered flights? Frankly speaking, it would have been better for Pinnick to save the money on that charter to pay the coaches and players. In fact, it would have been better if he didn’t go to Cameroun at all “because NFF is broke.” Nigerians would have understood.
But the story is that the NFF paid N42million for the chartered flight despite claims that it is broke. How do we reconcile that?
I hope Pinnick will clear the air on what actually transpired. Did the NFF truly pay for the flight? Or, is it one of Pinnick’s friends who offered them a free ride on his private jet and they decided to take Dalung along? We need to know. Over to you, Mr. President.
Soccertalk’s F1 Fans.
I WAS pleasantly surprised by the reactions to my last week’s commentary on Formula One (See Feedback below). I didn’t realize that car-racing had caught on so much among Nigerian sports fans. I am encouraged by the response and will write more regularly about the sport next season.
Meanwhile, 2016 champion Nico Rosberg shocked the entire sport when he announced his sudden retirement with “immediate effect.”
Having won his first title, most of us racing fans expected that he would be motivated to seek a second or even a third world championship, so we were caught completely by surprise.
Rosberg said winning the driver’s championship was a life-time dream and having won it, he had no desire to race again and he wanted to concentrate on his family. The BBC described his manner of quitting at the top as a “class act from a classy man.”
The talk now in motorsport is on who will replace Rosberg at Mercedez Benz. Hamilton has said he will welcome any driver, provided he will help the team.
Personally, I would love a strong personality to replace Rosberg to give Hamilton a bigger fight in the Mercedez garage next season. Rosberg was too much of a gentleman which allowed Hamiltyon to dominate the ego battles. It would be interesting if Sebastian Vettel (4-time world champion) moves from Red Bull to Mercedez but I guess the Mercedez bosses will not want to start a fire in their own garage!
· Mumini, thank you for the expose on F1. You have practically won me over for the sport. Understanding engenders interest. From your narrative of Hamiton vs Rosberg rivalry, the days of Hamilton driving for Mercedez Benz are numbered despite the reported retirement of Rosberg. Be kind to update us on this in your next piece. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
· Good day Mumini. On Hamilton’s behavior, I can guess your view. My take is that he was being competitive, when the team asked him to speed up, he simply replied, “let us race”. He did nothing illegal. He simply wanted to win it. He was in a similar position in 2008 when he won his maiden F1 title. He needed at least a 5th place finish to win the title and though not team mates, Felipe Massa who won the race and whom he edged by one point to clinch it did him no favours. – 0701327****
· Just read your comment on the conduct of Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. If Toto Wolf, the team boss did not see anything wrong with it, I also do not. The general attitude of the law to sports is that the rules of sports determine what is lawful or not. What he has done may be unfair but not unlawful. Remember Maradona’s hand of God? These things happen. – Pat Okupa, author, LAW & SPORTS
· I have been meaning to write you for three weeks now to laud your continuation of the Solomon Dalung campaign. I am a F1 fan and I saw not much wrong with Hamilton’s effort as it was all he could do. His experiences at Mercedez this season were questionable and one wonders if Rosberg were not German, would they have happened? – 0810299****
· Your write up on Mikel before the news of Manchester United’s reported interest is prophetic. Life has so many lessons. Kudos sir. – Bar. Jibote Akanike.
· Truly, no condition is permanent in life. For me personally, I’m actually surprised at the meteoric rise and eye catching performance of Victor Moses this season. I strongly know Mikel too will bounce back and shine brightly again. However, he should leave Chelsea for a brighter future. – Jide Abayomi, Igando, Lagos.