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Odegbami: Russia – Where Prayers Are (Not) Answered?

Odegbami: Russia – Where Prayers Are (Not) Answered?

Nigerians believe strongly in the efficacy of prayers to impact and even alter fate. So, they love to pray. Confronted with every conceivable challenge they pray and pray and pray. Last Tuesday, they prayed to defeat Argentina.

Only Nigerians believed it could happen that their national team of mostly good (not exceptional) players would upset the form books, defy statistics, damn the betting odds, prove expert analysis faulty, and make nonsense of history by defeating Argentina, the team projected by experts (except Nigerians) on the eve of the championship as one of the favoured teams to win the 2018 World Cup. For some inexplicable reason, last Tuesday was not a good day for granting wishful prayers.

Nigeria was 10 minutes away from what would have been the country’s greatest moment in football at the highest level when the elements decided to ditch sentiments. Argentina must have been praying fervently too. They too had run into storms in their first two games and needed to win this match to escape what would be an incomparable disaster – to be ousted by an African team in the first round of a championship they were tipped to win. To demonstrate their faith in their mission, they had come to Russia with an unprecedented army of some 40,000 fans.

Compare this to their Nigerian opponents. With all the ‘noise’ of loving the game like a religion, Nigeria went to Russia with a brigade of supporters 500-strong, with many of them joining the team to escape the country and become economic refugees. Add to that number another 500 officials and foreigners supporting the team. That is their own demonstration of faith in their team to win the World Cup.

On the night, their combined voices could not rise above the deafening roar of the Argentinian supporters. Their beautiful stylish new green, black and white colours were like a speck of paint in an overwhelming ocean of the sky blue and white colours of Argentina. What was at stake for both teams?

For Nigeria, there was nothing but the ambition to upset the applecart, halt the tide of defeat at this level by same Argentina, get to the second round of the World Cup, and achieve these mostly through prayers for the elements to smile on their Super Eagles.

For Argentina, what was at stake were monumental burdens – they had never lost to Nigeria in five previous meetings at the World Cup; they were so good historically that they were considered one of the favourites to win it; they had in their team celebrated and exceptionally gifted players including the best player in the history of the game; and finally, they had come in faith with, probably, the single largest travelling army to a World Cup final. So, under such conditions, what would the elements do? Which team would they favour? Obviously, they would not be partial and work against the grain of the divine order of things. So, it makes sense to assume that the elements decided to take sentimental, and wishful prayers out of the equation allowing nature to take its course. If the elements took sides, how does one explain the two easy goal-scoring chances lost by Nigeria? Or the role of the VAR? Or the poor strategy Nigeria adopted with 10 minutes left of a game they could have wrapped up applying any one of several known simple strategies of running down and ‘killing’ off a game with five minutes to go?

The Super Eagles took their foot off the throttle when they needed to do the opposite. They gave the Argentines the gas the South Americans needed badly to rev up their ‘coughing’ engines. And the Nigerians paid the ultimate price of their inexperience and lack of technical depth on the bench. When you add up all these, it becomes clear that the prayers of Nigerians were drowned by the experience, the desire and the passion (and prayers too) of the fanatical Argentine followers that had travelled halfway around the world to pack the 64,000 capacity, retractable-roofed, magnificent Zenit Stadium in St. Petersburg, like sardines in a can. Such steps are the demonstration of faith that moves mountains. It worked against Nigeria last Tuesday night.

Had Nigeria won that match, with the sort of passion and emotions I saw at the end, many Argentines would have ‘died’ in the agony, pain, shame and humiliation of being halted by Nigeria. It would have been the greatest disaster since their defeat at the Falklands War! As a Nigerian, it was cruel and painful to have lost in the manner the Eagles did. The reality, however, is that we were simply not hungry enough. At least, in the last 10 minutes of that match, we did not demonstrate on the field that we wanted to win badly enough. Nigeria must take away useful lessons from this Russian experience, particularly that a country doesn’t win the World Cup through prayers alone but through a combination of passion, hard work, planning and performance on the field of play. The prayers follow only as the icing on the cake.

My humble take

It is not easy to manage the logistics of a complex event like the World Cup. The present NFF lacks the depth and experienced staff to succeed without hitches. Beyond that, there will always be complaints by many of those familiar or not with these things. Have we stopped being Nigerians? The arrangements for the last match against Argentina did not go particularly well for reasons even I cannot fathom. The defeat exacerbated the pain and hurt that people felt.

Many stakeholders in the Nigerian football family came with agenda not unconnected with the elections into the NFF board coming up in September 2018. An inevitable political game has begun. Competing groups and camps were playing out scripts that will credit or discredit the present regime. The Super Eagles team was my principal focus and concern. From my observation, the team could not have been better treated. Morale was high and all needs were met. The players had a great relationship with the NFF leadership.

Technically, with what I saw during the matches in Russia, it is my humble submission that the Super Eagles were just not good enough yet for the goals and high expectations hung around their young shoulders. They are a team of the future. I am not so sure any more if Gernot Rohr is the right man to take the team to the next level. His earlier claims cannot be taken as gospel anymore. The evidence before me questions his suitability even though it cannot be conclusive. At the most crucial time in Russia, he did not do what everyone expected him to do.

Pinnick Amaju did his best for the Nigerian team. The players matter the most and in that regard, he scores very highly. No previous Chairman that I know of has been as meticulous and clinical in the small details and attention paid to the welfare of the players. As a young, experienced and ambitious man riding on the crest of African football administration, he has a lot to learn as well as to give to Nigerian football from his vintage positions in CAF and FIFA.

Meanwhile, I am still here in Russia thinking how best to serve out my role here now as the Ambassador and eyes of all clients and patrons of Bet9ja for the rest of the World Cup.

MY DIARY

It is Thursday morning.

I have just had a very long night. All my friends have left. There is little to do now except wait for match time to feed the eyes. There are still a few persons around Park Inn Hotel waiting in the lounge to sort out their departures from St. Petersburg, and eventually from Russia in a few days’ time. Many people had booked their return flights believing that Nigeria would get to the second round of the World Cup at least. Now they are stuck and would have to manage this lonely and expensive period.

The master of romantic prose and poetic literature Mitchell Obi, called me up early today. He is in Moscow. He will be around till the end of the World Cup by virtue of his very privileged position as head of the IAP (International Press Association) in Africa. No one is certain about the state of members of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club. I have not met them during this entire period but heard tales of their horrendous experiences. I can’t wait to meet with Dr. Rafiu Ladipo to hear the stories; how their members could not access some venues; how several could not connect flights because of escalating costs that rise and fall within minutes; how some members were tricked and ‘detained’ by security agencies for disturbance at the airport in Volgograd, driven several kilometres to an unknown destination and dropped in the middle of nowhere to find their way home; how several members disappeared into Europe; and so on and so forth. I have read conflicting reports on social media of people’s reaction here about the performance of the Nigeria Football Federation as hosts.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 15
  • Presh 5 months ago

    Mr Segun you have said it all, I ask i saw celebrities all going to watch the world cup,where they really the people we want to see,we needed die hard supporters club in thousands to support the Super Eagles, all the celebrities that went there weren’t justified. Yes the Eagles were naive,I believe in them for the future, Coach need to wake up,he had quality bench,Igahlo in? No, why not give the tall striker you took a chance,why is Joel Obi there?maybe,maybe his experience may help,when others were tired,why not being Alex iwobi in maybe,maybe things maybe different. It’s in the past now,these team is for the future.

  • Abdulrazak 5 months ago

    At the Afcon in Algiers 1990, the then Golden Eagles as they were called lost their opening match scandalously 1-5 the host nation Algeria. Clemens Westerhof was described in all manner of adjectives and called all sorts of names. But for the tremendous support of the then Chief of General Staff, Augustus Aikhomu, he would have been sacked. Fast forward to four years after, Super Eagles, still coached by Clemens Westerhof had not only qualified to play at mundial in USA, but also won the Afcon and was the 5th best team by FIFA ranking.
    When Oscars Tabarez took over as coach of Uruguay in 2005, they failed to qualify for the 2006 world cup in Germany having lost to Australia on penalties in the play offs. 12 years after, he has taken them to three world cups, including the infamous win over Ghana in 2010.
    Joachim Loew took over the German team in 2006, twelve years after he seen the highest and the loest of moments. Despite the unprecedented first round exit in Russia, majority in Germany want changes in the national team but no one has asked for Loew to be sacked. Here in Nigeria we want instant results. No one has the stomach for the long haul. No! All we want is a coach that is like instant coffee. No one wants to build.
    The first time Mr Odegbami played for the then Golden Eagles at the Nations cup in 1976, at Addis Ababa, they lost out in the first round. Again in Accra, Ghana, in 1978, they lost to the cranes of Uganda in the semis. They however, won the nations cup on home soil in 1980, after having played together with the same coach for four years!
    All that history is now conveniently forgotten because Gernot Rohr, who has been in charge for two years, failed to beat Argentina, despite qualifying the national team to the world cup from a very difficult group with a game to spare.
    With such ‘expert analysis from t

    • PeePee 5 months ago

      God bless you. When you meet people that understand football, you can’t help but appreciate

    • Prince 5 months ago

      My brother your write up Is too long and there was nothing like golden eagles in Algiers 90,

    • Olumide 4 months ago

      Well said. I concur totally.

  • Chuddyl 5 months ago

    Truth be told, Nigeria simply lacked the basic spine needed in a World Cup championship. Our goal keeper is inexperienced -a 19 year old! Brilliant but not experienced, our defense? Solid but inexperienced. We only had Omeruo (2013 ANC, 2014 WC) who was not that fast and he lost Messi for a moment that gifted Messi the chance to have a goal in this world cup. Our middlefield was full of power, but Mikel (2006,08, 10 & 13 ANC and 2014 WC) could not make his experience count when it mattered most. It makes me question myself if he was not the same player that Stephen Keshi always used in the past to run down the clock. Mikel simply forgot himself when it mattered most. He couldn’t marshal the defence from the DM position that he operated from. And the attack? Ighalo should not have been there in the first instance. We had a tall more athletic striker in Simmy on the bench, knowing fully well that the Argentine defence is peopled with old and spent players and the coach couldn’t deploy Musa in a more central role to run them ragged especially in the second half when they were looking for the winner, thereby exposing their tired back line which was waiting for the taking. So, in all, the coach had most of the blame and our players too in the person of Ighalo majorly and Mikel for not deploying the experience that he had amassed over the years in the super eagles. The way forward is for the National team to start in earnest to replace spent legs in the team and immediately blood the young exciting players we saw in the friendly against Athletico Madrid so that come 2022, we won’t be in the same ‘we are building a young team’ mode.

  • Abdulrazak 5 months ago

    Reading Mr Segun Odegbami’s (MON ) piece reminds me of the expert analysis of Sunday Oliseh’s on Supersport TV during the 2014 world cup. We all know what happened when he was given the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is!

    • @Abdurazak, you are not as objective as you think. You could castigate Oliseh if he received just 20% of the support given to Rohr. NFF treats the local coaches as shits and leak the boots of the foreign ones. Go and read Oliseh’s tales of woes with the NFF as well as Keshi’s and compare that with near perfect support given to Rohr. Furthermore, you were giving an example of Westerhoff in your previous post… tell me ANY indefinous coach that has received the kind of support given to Westerhoff.

      Odegbami’s submission on this matyer is spot on. Sometimes the way Nigerians throw history around without objectivity like you are doing now amazes me. Inasmuch as I am against destructive criticisms like many people do on this forum, we should not also keep explaining constructive criticisms away. There are certain approaches Rohr employed that must be questioned otherwise it will be a long journey to freedom for us. Rohr did not demonstrate enough technical common sense in the last 15 minutes of our match against Argentina and his stupid loyalty for Ighalo calls for scrutiny. If a country in abject poverty like Nigeria spends so much on football while average citizens cannot afford three square meals, it is very reasonable tobquestion Rohr if he goofed badly with some very obvious errors that were evidently avoidable.

  • Bomboy 5 months ago

    The Argentine team we lost to is the worst to have represented that country for years. We had no business losing to them. They beat us because they had more self belief and footballing pride. They felt it was a taboo losing to Nigeria. If out coach had instilled a similar belief into our boys, the result would have been different.

    No other coach since the Westerhof days has received this much support from the NFF Rohr did. That is why I am so disappointed.

    ROHR FAILED BECAUSE HIS MENTALITY IS THAT WE CAN BEAT OTHER AFRICAN TEAMS BUT CANNOT DO MUCH IN WORLD FOOTBALL.

    Let the old man go!

  • Abdulrazak 5 months ago

    I read a story by an “expert analyst” in Goal.com that the Super Eagles lost to Argentina because Gernot Rohr did not start the match with Igahlo. After reading such irrational comments, every other “expert analysis really should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt
    @bomboy, I guess Iceland qualifies as an African team, aye!

  • Onyeagoro Johnson Chima 5 months ago

    Mr. Segun,  I think the match was 5 minutes to go before the end and not 10 minutes as noted by you. Good treatise any way.

  • Chairmanfemi 5 months ago

    If you are still doubting the ability of the coach and the Super eagles, Kindly sroll up and read ABDULRAZAK’s earlier comment. Thumbs up Abdul. Even the so called ODEGBAMI is saying ‘He doesn’t think Coach Rohr is the right man to take Eagles to the next level’ NIGERIANS will always be NIGERIANS. All they want is Instant result. They are never ready to stick to a coach for a while to bring out the best in him. Just take a look at Uruguay-71 years old man and has been there for long

    • @chairmanfemi, I beg to differ. I believe Abdulrazak’s view you are promoting is a mere brandishing of history out of context. I do not support sacking Rohr at this point but if he does not change his approach Eagles will remain as mediocre. Rohr primarily lost the match against Argentina for us. Inasmuch as no one can take the credit that he deserves away from him, he also messed up big time and Odegbami is saying nothing but the truth.

  • @Abdurazak, you are not as objective as you think. You could castigate Oliseh if he received just 20% of the support given to Rohr. NFF treats the local coaches as shits and leak the boots of the foreign ones. Go and read Oliseh’s tales of woes with the NFF as well as Keshi’s and compare that with near perfect support given to Rohr. Furthermore, you were giving an example of Westerhoff in your previous post… tell me ANY indeginous coach that has received the kind of support given to Westerhoff.

    Odegbami’s submission on this matter is spot on. Sometimes the way Nigerians throw history around without objectivity like you are doing now amazes me. Inasmuch as I am against destructive criticisms like many people do on this forum, we should not also keep explaining constructive criticisms away. There are certain approaches Rohr employed that must be questioned otherwise it will be a long walk to freedom for us. Rohr did not demonstrate enough technical sense in the last 15 minutes of our match against Argentina and his stupid loyalty for Ighalo calls for scrutiny. If a country in abject poverty like Nigeria spends so much on football while average citizens cannot afford three square meals, it is very reasonable to question Rohr if he goofed badly with some very obvious errors that were evidently avoidable with our resources.

  • i agree with everyone that has share their views relating to this matter on this platform, all of you are right, as a human being we see issue from different perspectives, i am a very good supporter of the coach before the world cup even after losing our first match against croatia i still give him my full support but where i question his intelligence is his continue saying the team i for the future while playing in a competition like world cup, even an amateur coach will know that indirectly he is killing the morale of his players, he would have keep that to himself if he really understand game of football, i don’t know if i am the only one observing that most of these so call football nation are not living up to espectation in this world cup which average team like our super eagles suppose to capitalize on to go far in the competition just like Leicester city deed in 2016/2017 season when they see that the big teams are not living up to their standard, having say this i am not saying the coach should be relieve of his position because there is need for continuity in the system so that we can see the best of our darling team for years to come . Good bless Nigeria.