By Pat Muo
Nigerians are mourning. Although they are not wearing mourning clothes, their hearts are bleeding. One of the most cherished diadems one can present to a Nigerian is a football trophy especially one from an international competition.Nigerians so cherish victory in football that they can forgo their business to get victory. Before last July, Nigerians were full of hope that between the Flying Eagles and the Super Falcons, a FIFA trophy was imminent to land on their shores.
The Flying Eagles appeared to bestow a larger hope. The boys of Manu Garba were individually and collectively good. They represented Nigeria’s best at that moment. The coaches heightened that hope with rave interviews that assured the football-loving nation that 2015 was Nigeria’s year of lifting the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
The expectations of Nigerians were electrified. Every attention was centred on the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.The fact that Nigeria’s opening game in that tournament was against almighty Brazil did not help matters. Since they were sure of their team, it now became a matter of watching their team demolish Brazil.
On July 6th when that great game was played, Nigerians really cut more than they could chew. First, they were compelled to keep late night as the game commenced at 2am. Secondly, they watched Brazil dash their aspirations as the South Americans demolished the Flying Eagles 4-2.
That was the beginning of the sad story that extended into a colossal failure for Nigeria and the Flying Eagles in this edition of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup tournament just concluded in New Zealand.
The long and short of the matter was that Nigeria’s Flying Eagles were demobilized at the knock-out stages, with Germany showing them the way out with a 19th minute strike.
If the Flying Eagles and their coaches disappointed Nigerians, then, the case of Nigeria’s Super Falcons was unparadonable. The senior female team was in Canada for the FIFA World Cup tournament which, hopefully, will be concluded this Wednesday.
In our coaches’ usual style, Edwin Okon, head coach of the Super Falcons, promised Nigerians heaven on earth. Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Okon’s employers, took a queue behind him. All that Okon and his ladies required to get that FIFA trophy would be supplied, they chorused.
To support her stand, the NFF said the Super Falcons had matured into world beaters and with the moral and financial support of the federation, would easily wrestle the trophy out of the grip of the rest of their opponents in Canada. Nigerians stood up for that assertion.
Today, the final match of the Canada 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament will be played in Canada. The Nigerian female team will be no-where close to the final contestants! Infact, the Super Falcons did not go beyond the group stages in the group in which it vied for the two appropriated slots with Australia, Sweden and the United States of America (USA).
A 3-3 opening game against Sweden gave Nigerians a false hope of a swell outing. But the Super Falcons dashed that hope with a 0-2 crash versus Australia in the second match. Biggest contenders, USA, finally put Super Falcons’ further advance in the competition beyond their reach with a 1-0 defeat that saw the Nigerian team leave Canada the following day!
The crash of Nigeria’s two teams to these FIFA tournaments within a space of 40 days is instructive. The NFF is yet to tell itself the real truth. Three months to the FIFA female World Cup in Canada, the Super Falcons were yet to move into camp to prepare for the tournament. Members of the executive board of the Nigeria Football Federation were aware that the Super Falcons were billed to play in the same group with the USA, Sweden and Australia, all of these world beaters in female soccer!
They were aware that Australia, having assessed this group, hurriedly scrambled her team into camp much earlier to ensure that their ladies qualified into the knock-out stages. That, we can call planning.
Those who plan hardly fail. Australia knew well enough that USA was likely to take the first ticket of that group considering their credential in female football. So, the position to vie for was the second slot. The fight was to be between Sweden, Nigeria and their humble country. So, they started early. While Nigerians were asleep, the female socceroos and their handlers retired to a quiet camp in their country putting their strategies at work.
At the instance of the Australia Football Federation, the ladies procured all matches played by the Nigeria ladies and Sweden in their qualifying series including friendly matches. With these, they sit down to work, picking up their opponents’ playing styles, lethal and dangerous players, stubborn defenders and goalkeepers’ weaknesses.
While these were on, Nigeria’s NFF had not even remembered that the Super Falcons had a World Cup tournament to honour! Super Falcons players were still busy playing in their various local clubs. It was not until Edwin Okon, their head coach, raised dust three months to the tournament that the NFF woke from their slumber.
“Was it a surprise therefore, that Australia took the second ticket in that group? Was it not proper that Nigeria, faulty planners among the rest of the countries in that group, took the last position?
The NFF can do better if the members of the executive of that board so wish. The players to finish the hard work are available.
What the players need is guidance, proper guidance. Those to guide them are in the NFF. Members of that board were not coerced into running Nigerian football. They felt they could do it and physically made themselves available.
Now is the time to work. And work must be done.