Coca-cola World Cup Special (3) The End!

Nigerians do not appreciate how the rest of the World respects their country in football until they go out and listen to the global football stakeholders. Sepp Blatter has joined others here in lamenting Nigeria’s premature exit. Issa Hayatou is reportedly distraught with the fall of Nigeria. Heinz Marotzske is hugely disappointed and angry. Everyone here just cannot understand how Nigeria could have let slip from their hands what fate had so graciously presented them on a platter. Till now it is still confounding, bizarre and baffling how a country that lost its first two group matches could still have qualified by winning the third and last match with any scoreline. That was the situation the Eagles found themselves in last Tuesday night with the 61,800 spectators at the stadium, 150 million Nigerians, and the entire continent rooting for them to win and save Africa the  almost certain humiliation that would follow should none of the continent’s 6 representatives goes beyond the first round!

The Super Eagles played fairly well but very determinedly. Right back, Chid Odiah, was easily and surprisingly the best player on the night. Lars Lagerbeck, in an apparent display of insufficient knowledge of the Nigerian players, put Rabiu Afolabi, a right-footed player whose left foot is only good for standing on, at left back. It turned out a poor decision as Nigeria conceded the first goal as a result of his poor marking from a set piece.  In a match that the Eagles could have easily won, they handed back to fate what it had so generously and undeservedly presented to them. Aiyegbeni’s miss, one metre from an open goal, may find a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the greatest misses of any World Cup. Some analyst said that it was easier to score the gaol than to miss it! Incredulous! It is bound to haunt him forever. Obafemi Martin’s late chip that went also wide and denied Nigeria a possible third goal that would have made all the difference is another failed attempt that would haunt the country for sometime to come. The conversation amongst Nigerians here of all walks of life is that there is an urgent need for reforms in Nigerian football. The reforms should include a new leadership for the football association, a permanent coach for the national team, a new generation of players for the national team, and a return to football development as a focus of Nigerian football for some years to come. What is not in dispute is that the present NFF must not return to continue the ‘legacy’ they are bequeathing to Nigerians as they depart the World Cup on the eve of the end of their tenures! The challenge is how to effect that change, without interfering with the statutes of the federation and attracting the ire of FIFA that have been desperately but cleverly drawn into the matter by the NFF.

As Nigerians return home to face the pain of their loss the football house would have lots of questions to answer.

Bye bye to King Kanu

At last Kanu Nwankwo must now bid his international career as an Eagle good bye. I am not so sure if he is not taking the decision a little too late. Would it not have been better for history to record his role that could have been rather than a poor role as was the case in South Africa? The big question is that would the space he occupied not have been better filled by a younger, faster and perhaps more productive player like the dropped Anichebe whose power and speed could have been a great asset in a team without many options upfront? Now, we will never know.  But going to represent one’s country when one is at the weakest in a person’s career does not appear to be a wise decision in retrospect. Surely, in the last match he tried his best to add some organisation to the Nigerian team with his deft touches and passes, but he looked fitfully slow and an obvious shadow of the real Kanu the world watched in the first 14 of the 17 years that he has been on the international scene. Having said that, Kanu has served his country well and is the most accomplished and most rewarded football player in our country’s history. We thank him for his contributions and look forward to receiving him into the fold of retired footballers very soon. Well done Papillo.

Life continues at the World Cup

Nothing has stopped. The wheel of the 2010 World Cup continues to turn. The men are gradually been separated from the boys. It is as if Nigeria was never here to start with. the Green and White shirts and flags and mufflers that once flooded the streets of Johannesburg have all disappeared. It is amazing that even when the so-called giants of African football faltered and most of them fell like a pack of wood it did not take more than the evening and the following morning before their ‘calamitous’ exits started to recede in the minds of all those here at the championship and to start to fade into history whilst the true giants continue with their competition for the priciest trophy in World football. For the Cameroon, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria and even hosts South Africa it is back to the drawing board. After a similar experience in Korea/Japan 2002, it  has become quite easy to follow and understand better what it takes for a national team to get close to the top of world football. Have you observed how Ghana and the United States scaled through the ‘impossible’ situations in the last group matches they had to play? Those are miracles that come about as a result of diligence and ceaseless handwork as exemplified by the two teams that have now deservedly qualified for the second round.   

Nigeria is not mourned here in South Africa. The defeat of the Super Eagles even before the championship started was predicted by most football analysts except Nigerians who were torn between patriotism and professionalism, between their hearts and their heads. People here just feel sorry not that Nigeria lost but that the Super Eagles have been dwindling in performance and reputation in the past 10 years or so. It is Ghana that is now been celebrated even after losing to Germany in their group match. Ghana has now become the toast of all Africans here. The support they received in the last match against Germany and that which they shall receive when they play against surprise Group C leader, USA, whose dramatic 92nd minute, injury-time goal against Algeria took them from zero to zenith! If the final result had remained scoreless, the USA would not even have qualified for the second round. That goal and the victory took them straight to the top of the group where they will now face Ghana. Now, Africa can start to seriously contemplate going to the quarter-final stage. The USA is a fighting machine, but so also are Ghana. Between them on Saturday, June 26, anything can happen including the real possibility of Ghana still holding aloft the flag of an African country into the quarter-finals.

 African Football Legends Meet  

There is life outside of the football stadia in South Africa. One that is exciting and very fulfilling for those involved. Outside of the football games, South Africa 2010 has been an unforgettable experience for several African football legends. Those that are in South Africa seem to have unanimity on that. Even I can readily admit, even as I do not fit in completely because of the generational gap between several of the players and myself, that it has been absolutely great fun, to say the least. The matches are heating up and becoming more exciting and more unpredictable. The stadia are magnificent edifices with the one in Durban being easily one of the most modern and most beautiful in the world.  The television facilities and coverage have also been fantastic. No previous World Cup event, since I started being a part of the four-yearly fiesta, has been quite like this one – very intimate and homely.

For the unprecedented number of international former footballers that are here life outside the football matches have been a blast. The two major television networks in South Africa, SABC and Supersports, in competing for television audiences in Africa, have invited many famous international footballers, including several African superstars, as expert analysts during the football matches. This must be the highest assembly of such a group in World Cup history. This is a demonstration of the recognition of the integrity and competency of football players to understand the technical intricacies of the game, and a great way to make them relevant after their playing careers are over.

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