Nigeria’s Elimination from 2006 World Cup: We Got What We Deserved
Without sounding unpatriotic in any way, I make bold to say that I felt happy Nigeria was eliminated from the 2006 World Cup – we really got what we deserved. My friends nearly “lynched” me when I told them that Nigeria may win its match against Zimbabwe by as many as ten goals to nil Angola was sure to qualify ahead of Nigeria as they will defeat Rwanda away. This they did not because they are better than our team, but simply because they love their country and were determined to be in Germany. I did not blame them. Football is about the only consolation Nigerians have of relieving the difficult times that have been with us since May 1999 – what our politicians and their sycophant technocrats like to refer to as “Dividend of Reforms”. I felt happy for two simple reasons: our battered international image will be saved another bashing through the scandals that will surely follow and our foreign exchange that would have been wasted in sponsoring the players, paying for match bonuses, the sponsoring of ministerial, national assembly, governors, houses of assembly and presidential entourages will be saved even if it will be siphoned through another means. At least any government official that decides to go to Germany and watch the matches live will be expected to sponsor his trip himself, and not rely on government sponsorship.
In Nigeria, we are not serious about anything. Our ineptitude manifests itself in all human endeavors. We make a mess of anything – from running our government machinery to football administration. It is only in a country like Nigeria where the game of football has been about the only unifying factor and yet we do not get its administration right. Coaching staff of our teams are changed at the whims and caprices of the NFA chairman, the sports minister, or even the President, or both. This explains the high turnover of coaches since the first outing of the country in 1994. Sometimes team lists are sent to the minister for endorsement before they are called to camp! “Marginalization” manifests itself even in selecting the national team. If we cannot get the so-called “quota system” in team selection, how can we get it right in the federal civil service! Money voted for camping and the payment of bonuses is more often than not, misappropriated among the staff of the sports ministry and the football body, NFA.
The scandal the nation faced when the super falcons were abandoned in South Africa for almost two weeks due to lack of bonuses is still fresh in the minds of the teeming football lovers in the country. Some of the girls spoke of sexual harassment among other things. When asked why they refused to go back, some of them said if previous experience was anything to go by, their bonuses will not be paid as promised by the NFA officials once they got back to Nigeria. I did not blame them. There is no tournament that was free of one scandal or other in the past. The South African Government footed their bills throughout face-off after the tournament despite the fact that it was the super falcons that won the cup.
Football administration in Nigeria has for a long time been characterized with scandals year in, year out. It is either the minister is interfering with the coach, NFA officials are short changing the players or making accommodation deals, or allowing the so-called “big boys” to influence the running of the team. The only reason why our teams have performed well in the past is the exposure the players get by playing in Europe. Nigeria cannot boast of any pitch that is up to the standard of even the poorest in Europe. Even the National stadium is only a monumental waste as the pitch is already bad due to poor maintenance. Did you see how the ball was bubbling on the pitch and running away from the player’s foot at the slightest touch? How it bubbles in front of the goalkeeper before he struggles to hold it?
The so-called professionals have not helped matters either. Most of them are from a humble beginning but when they find themselves in Europe earning mind-boggling weekly wages they lose their heads, forget their street-playing days and become difficult to manage. They feel they are more important than their Nation, and therefore not worth the trouble. Most of these type of players are always the last to report to camp, offering one flimsy reason or the other. There was a case of one of the professional players requesting for a confirmed return ticket before he could report to camp! Do not forget that the cost of that ticket is only a day’s wage to him. That has always been the main reason the supporters of a foreign coach for the national team give – that the players earn so much money that they can place an indigenous coach on their payroll and therefore will find it difficult to manage them. So we should hire a “foreign coach” and pay him in dollars so that he can earn the respect of the so-called professionals! What a joke!
It is a known fact that our players do not have respect for their fatherland. This is clear from their utterances and even the way they play when they put on the national colors – at home or away. During one of the qualifying matches the captain, J J Okocha almost held the nation to ransom by not coming simply because his money was trapped in the distressed Societe Generale Bank. He appealed to the powers that be to persuade the chairman of the bank, Bukola Saraki, to pay him his money which he described as “his only savings” before he could report to camp. And he is supposed to be the captain of the team. Football fans in the country could recall that Okocha was the last person to report to camp and when he did there was a big sigh of relief across the country! And nobody questioned this unpatriotic behavior! How then do we expect to be among the best in Germany come 2006?
When Angola held the Eagles to a draw in Kano all sorts of reasons were given from poor pitch, poor attendance (the stadium recorded over 100% attendance, mark you), to high tempreture! They recommended that all other qualifying matches be moved to the National Stadium in Abuja. Such critiques will look back and say that was what cost us the World Cup ticket and nothing else curtsey of the new “head-to-head” rule from FIFA when they ended up with the same number of points. We simply lost the ticket because we do not deserve to be in Germany!
At the beginning of the last weekend of the qualifying rounds no team among the African countries qualified for the finals in Germany. This explains how dicey and fluid the situation was across the continent. The so-called football power house of the continent, Nigeria and Cameroon were also not sure of their fates as the minnows were determined to edge them out.
At the end of the last day of the qualifying rounds, a simple and clear message was sent across the continent that such dominance is about to change as the minnows have emerged from nowhere to book tickets to Germany.
Who would have thought Togo would qualify for Germany 2006 at the expense of Senegal, Ivory Coast at the expense of Cameroon, Angola at the expense of Nigeria, or Ghana at the expense of South Africa? Who would have bet a dime that Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa would not make it to Germany in 2006? And that Togo, Ivory Coast and Ghana, who will be at the Football Mundial in Germany in 2006 for the first time, would emerge as winners from their groups?
I am sure Stephen Keshi, the former Nigerian captain who was among the Super Eagles indigenous coaching staff in 2001, was having the last laugh! Having been maligned as an indigenous coach that has nothing to offer, he took up the challenge and single-handedly orchestrated the elimination of Senegal, the surprise team of the 2002 Mundial in Korea and Japan, and ensuring Togo’s qualification to Germany 2006. Before you say “NFA”, some shameless administrators will soon be calling for the Nation to employ Stephen Keshi as the national coach after Germany 2006! That shows you how serious we are as a Nation.
There is no doubt next year’s World Cup will spring more surprises than did the 2002 edition. As it is, very few countries are tipped to make a credible impact by competing to lift the cup. Countries like Brazil, Argentina, Netherlands, and the host country, Germany, are the most likely candidates. If countries like England, France, and Spain will have to literally struggle before qualifying then shockers are looming in the horizon in Germany come 2006. France and Spain are not sure of their fates yet, while England just scaled through by the skin of their teeth, if you know what I mean.
Yet our football administrators took things for granted by handling the whole qualifying matches lackadaisically without any sense of patriotism at all; always having at the back of their minds how much hard currency are they going to make by end of the tournament in Germany. Thin what you can get out of Nigeria, not what you can offer Nigeria!
As a football fan I felt sad that my nation’s flag will not be among the ones to be hoisted in Germany in 2006, but I console myself that it is better to loose the ticket rather than suffer an unprecedented embarrassment in Germany. This is because the team we would have paraded would have suffered a worst fate than the Zaireans did in Germany in 1974.
Many people have wondered what happened to Nigerian football. The fact of the mater is that we never had a national team since 1994. Added to poor administration, undue government interference, inadequate funding, poor facilities, indiscipline, the unpatriotic attitude of our players, are some of the reasons why we have not been able to reenact another national team to match the one that first took us to the Football Mundial in USA. We may waste our money to hire the best coach in Europe, if the problems enumerated above are not tackled decisively we will continue to live with the illusion that we have a national team that can match those of other countries in Europe, while in actual fact what we parade is a “rag-team”.
This elimination should be a wake-up call to us to go back to the drawing board and get things right. We know what is wrong with the nation’s team and football administration in general but what we lack is the positive attitude to do things right for the good image of our country. Football is much more than a past time game now. It is big business and an international relations tool that any nation that has the opportunity can use to draw the attention of the international community. With the political crises it recently had, Togo will definitely use its qualification to full advantage both internally and internationally. And I will not be surprised if their president offers Stephen Keshi a Togolese citizenship and make him their permanent coach.
There is no doubt the elimination of Nigeria from the World Cup in Germany will only further heat up the socio-political system. Nigeria is a well-known football-loving country. Some people claim it is about the only thing that unifies us as a nation. Whatever it is, the fact remains that Nigerians are passionate about football and are interested in the quality of the national team.
Unless we get our act together and very soon too, our team’s performance at the Nations Cup tournament in Egypt next January may be the worst ever.
We must not allow this to happen because football in much more than a game now.