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ANOTHER DISASTER LOOMS FOR NIGERIAN FOOTBALL

ANOTHER DISASTER LOOMS FOR NIGERIAN FOOTBALL

By PAT MUO

Another cloud of disaster is gathering over the future of Nigerian football and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is deeply snoring!

In less than 134 days, Nigeria’s biggest female football team, the Super Falcons, will be in Canada to participate in the FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament.

Like other competitions, FIFA always sets out the date for this world cup finals for senior female national teams which qualify from its confederations to determine who wins the female version of the world cup.   In doing this, the world football governing body ensures that adequate time is  earmarked  between  the time of qualification and the tournament proper to assist countries to embark on full preparations towards competing in the tournament.

This year’s edition is not different.  Neither did FIFA make it impromptu.  All nations including Nigeria, participated in the qualifying series of the tournament in their respective continents.  In fact, the Super Falcons of Nigeria, playing as Nigeria’s representatives, won Africa’s version of the qualifying tournament organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in Namibia last year.   CAF called it the African Women’s soccer championships.  Nigeria did not just win. She virtually hauled majority of the individual awards attached to the tournament.  Citizens of the Southern African nation called Namibia which hosted the championship, watched in utter disbelief as two Nigerian female strikers, Assisat Oshoala and Ikechi Oparanozie shared almost all the individual awards between them!

As hosts, Namibia expected far less than such landmark achievement from Nigeria, a country whose citizens she heard, were at that point, being devastated by an Islamic sect called Boko Haram.

Bewildered by the smooth-flowing pattern of the Super Falcons, Dlad Koneki, Namibia’s interim sports minister, asked at the final match of the tournament: “When will our own Namibian girls play like these Nigerians?”

The minister’s comment tore open the over abundance of talents in the Super Falcons.  Unfortunately, probably because of the “commonness” of these talents in our country, the NFF does not see them as God’s blessing to Nigeria and so, should be handled as special gifts.

This is giving Edwin Okon, head coach of the Super Falcons, sleepless nights: “In six months’ time, just six months, we’ll be out there in Canada squaring it up against experienced nations in female football.” Okon lamented.

“What bothers all of us in Super Falcons is that the tournament is the female version of the FIFA men’s world cup.  It is like the one played by the Super Eagles in Brazil last year but this time, for females.  As I speak to you, nobody from the NFF has told us anything.”

Okon is crying like one bereaved, and that, very understandably. Prepared or not, Nigeria must participate in that FIFA World Cup tournament! Why, one may ask? They are the champions of Africa.  Their game in Namibia when the African championship was decided, attracted FIFA’s commendation and the body never hid its feelings.  It tagged Nigeria’s performance at the championship “clearly exemplary and commendable.” It said despite her in-house crisis at that time, Nigeria was able to produce a national female team that stunned the football world.

One can easily exhume the plight of the Super Falcons looking at FIFA’s accolade on Nigeria. Can we lift our game in Canada as we did in Namibia? For the girls and their coaches, yes. In fact, the heat is on them now to perform.   Self-imposed heat.  Their entire spirit is on how to reproduce that kind of superlative performance that saw them surmount all oppositions in Namibia last year on their way to retaining that African trophy!

Surprisingly,   the NFF is not as determined as members of the team.  At the moment, all countries going to Canada this June for the FIFA female World Cup are physically in camp in preparation for the tournament.

The Super Falcons are not!  Officials of the team claimed last week that nobody has even mentioned it to them.   The girls and their coaches are just waiting on the wings for the next line of action from the NFF.

“It’s very frustrating,” chief coach, Edwin Okon bemoaned to journalists in Abuja last week.   “We are about to burst waiting for a word from the NFF.  To say that we are worried sick is an understatement.  We don’t want to disgrace our country in Canada.”

Desire Oparanozie could not offer less: “I don’t sleep any more.  It has come to that.  I’m worried about the kind of game we are going to play in Canada in the present circumstances.”

To bring matters to a head, Nigeria is seeded among the toughest teams in the annals of female football, going by FIFA records. Her group has Australia in it.   And if you are an apostle of female football, you will easily understand the scenario.  At no point in the history of the female world cup had Australia been dismissed at the group stages! They had always reached the knock-outs.  And if you think Australia is Nigeria’s headache in this group, then consider the United States of America.   No female world cup tournament ever ended without the US surviving up to the semi-final stages. Or even winning the trophy.  Both Australia and US are   in the group where the Super Falcons are supposed to contest the two available tickets to advance to the next round.  As you read this piece, it may interest you to learn that Australian team has since been in camp, plotting on how to beat Nigeria and the USA. Their girls were skillfully scrambled into camp last June.   They will remain there watching all games played by the Falcons enroute to qualification in Namibia.    They are there evolving strategies that will make nonsense of Nigeria’s pattern.  They will remain there teaching and rehearsing those patterns until their girls master them.   Then, they will fly to Canada.  That is the consequence of long-term planning.

As soon as the Australia Football Federation sensed the tough group that was likely to emerge, it drew an effective world cup programme for their team.  It worked! Since USA and Nigeria are in their group, the weaker enemy is Nigeria.  The USA also plans.  But Nigeria does not! So, if they (Australia) must survive, Nigeria must not.

Because the Australian girls went into camp as far back as last June, it implies that their camping programme has been designed to run for a full year!  And say, is there any reason why they will not qualify for the knock-out stages? If per se, providence works against them and they incidentally fail to advance, will Australians blame their FA for laxity?  Of course not!

There lies Nigeria’s headache! Since the advent of democratic norms, when Nigeria took the fate of her football administration into her own very hands, she has practically failed to elect or even appoint, as the case may be, a genuinely conscientious football federation whose tenure was to become a focal point for successive boards to emulate.  Those who willfully attempted to achieve such feats sooner than later, discovered to their chagrin, that distractions which arose from back-biting, mudslinging and gossips; quickly brought divisions into the board and subsequently, put a wedge into their wheel of progress.

Pinnick Amaju heads the present NFF.  When he ascended the throne, one of Super News Sports candid advice to him was to strive to resist distractions from enemies, friends and sycophants. The cry by the handlers of the Super Falcons does not suggest that he heartily took that advice seriously.  For the untempth time, Amaju is reminded that he knows what to do.   If he fails, he is the architect of his own failure.  If he fails Nigerians, he, not be NFF board, will bear the responsibility.  That a national team billed for a FIFA world cup tournament in less than 200 days is not in camp is a serious matter.

It is like one pointing an arrow towards one’s self.  If by chance of accident, the bow slips off, the effect is certainly very obvious.  The greatest gift the present NFF can offer to this football-loving nation is to spare her the stress of a kangaroo and short term preparation to major soccer championships during its tenure.

That way, the board will always be absolved of all complicities to failures in major tournaments. The FIFA female world cup championships scheduled for Canada this June can be  made a starting point.

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