By Kayode Ogundare:
News broke late Tuesday that the Federation of International Football federation (FIFA) had wielded the big stick to sanction Nigeria by voiding the Super Eagles’ hard-earned one point from the last 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying game against Algeria in Constantine last October.
FIFA’s grouse was that Nigeria fielded an ineligible Shehu Abdulahi who had copped two yellow cards in the games against Swaziland away in November 2015 and in Uyo against Zambia last October. By FIFA rules he was supposed to have missed the game against Algeria but through the negligence of some officials who should have spotted and alerted the coaching crew, he went on to play the full 90 minutes in the ultimately meaningless tie against Algeria, a 1-1 draw that has now been awarded as a 3-0 win to the North Africans.
Completesportsnigeria.com trails and presents five other times that the negligence of the NFF had caused Nigeria embarrassment and, in some cases, lengthy bans from the game of football.
1. South African Matchballs debacle 2017
The opening day AFCON 2019 qualification game against South Africa in Uyo last June resulted in a 2-0 defeat for the Super Eagles against all expectations. However, the news out of the home loss was the information that filtered out after the game that the matchday balls used for the game actually belonged to the South Africans as the NFF could not provide the balls to be used for the game.
Apparently, the players had been training with the wrong set of balls which were different from the FIFA-approved ones for the game as the NFF were said to be too broke to take delivery of the balls sent by FIFA.
Whether this was enough excuse to have lost the game to South Africa or not, the fact remained that somebody neglected to do his job and it cost Nigeria not just three points but also caused us international embarrassment.
2. Golden Eaglets passport scandal 1997
After failing to go beyond the quarter-final stages at the 1995 FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1995, the NFF mandated coach Fanny Amu to put together a crack squad for the 1997 edition which would be capable of redeeming Nigeria’s image in age-grade competition and win again the cadet cup which we had won twice previously in 1985 and 1993.
However, in the team’s first competitive African Youth Championship qualifier against Benin Republic at the Liberty Stadium (now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium) Ibadan in 1996, it was discovered that the NFF had forgotten the players’ passport in Lagos!
The Beninoise, sensing a backyard victory over their more illustrious neighbours, refused to start the game despite assurances that somebody would be dispatched to Lagos to bring the passports before the end of the game. They protested to CAF which upheld their protest and kicked out the Golden Eaglets from the qualifiers without kicking a ball.
A glimpse of how good that generation of young players which included Ejike Izuagha, Muyiwa Lawal, Hashimu Garba etal was seen at the 1997 UEFA-CAF Meridian Cup where they beat Spain 3-2 in the final of the friendly invitational tournament in Portugal.
Again, we would never know if that squad would have won the World U-17 title in Egypt which Brazil won after a 2-1 victory over Ghana.
3. Forgotten shorts 1991
On July 27th, 1991, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were billed to play the Stallions of Burkina Faso in the last game of the qualification race to the 1992 AFCON. The national stadium Surulere was already packed to the rafters with enthusiastic fans who’d come to witness how the Burkinabes would be slaughtered.
Both set of players were in their respective dressing rooms and Nigeria manager was rounding off a quick last-minute strategy session when somebody raised the alarm that the Super Eagles kits were missing. Somebody forgot to bring them from the team’s camp in Otta, some 25-minutes drive away from Lagos. It was just five minutes to kick-off and nothing was going to stop the match referee, Guinea’s Karim Camara from going ahead with the game. Except, probably, a walk-over for the home team.
According to former Super Eagles defender Rueben Agboola who was on the starting line-up, the referee was about to call the game off when someone suggested that they cut off the tracksuit bottoms and use as shorts. A scissors was quickly found and the players emerged from the dug-out with knee-length shorts.
It was an amusing sight seeing the Super Eagles players chasing down balls in ridiculous-looking shorts but, fortunately, that didn’t stop the players from winning handsomely with a 7-1 annihilation of their opponents.
4. Banned from age-grade competitions 1989
In 1989, FIFA placed a two year ban on Nigeria from participating in FIFA age-grade tournaments and also withdrew the country’s right to host the 1991 World Youth Championship.
The infraction for which Nigeria was banned was the alleged falsification of the ages of three players, Andrew Uwe, Samson Siasia and Dahiru Sadi.
The trio had featured for Nigeria in the U-20 World Cups of Mexico ’83 and Moscow ’85 and had altered their ages to participate in the Seoul ’88 Olympics.
FIFA had condemned this negligence on the part of the then NFA but the two-year ban of 1989 ensured a 10-year absence for the Flying Eagles at the FIFA U-20 World Cup as they couldn’t qualify until Nigeria hosted the world in 1999.
5. Obafemi Martins’ age mix-up 2005
In 2005, in the heat of the qualification race to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the NFA put itself, and Nigeria, up for public ridicule by feeding false information to the world which threatened the career of striker Obafemi Martins, then playing for Italian giants Inter Milan.
Through its website, www.nigeriafa.com, the NFA put Obafemi Martins at the centre of an age dispute by stating falsely, on the website, that the player was born on May 1, 1978 instead of the authentic date of October 28, 1984.
This negligence embarrassed Martins who was branded an age cheat and affirmed the stereotype about Nigeria being a country of criminals. The player was so infuriated that he vowed never to play for the country again. While he rescinded his decision, Nigeria ultimately failed to make it to the World Cup of that year.
On the same website, since yanked off, the NFA claimed that former midfielder Seyi Olofinjana made his national team debut on June 12, 1980, two years before he was born on November 15, 1982!
Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief that this latest sanction did not cost the nation more than international embarrassment but hope that the NFF president Amaju Pinick will live up to his promise to fish out and punish the negligent staff responsible for this international ridicule.