Posted by Nelson Dafe | 20 February 2015 | 2,960 times
The look of profound disappointment in the face of Akwa Ibom Governor Godswill Akpabio as the crucuial final game between the Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana of South Africa during the AFCON 2015 qualifiers in Uyo petered to an end is one that would remain in my memory for a long time.
There was a man who had done his utmost to motivate the Eagles by providing them state-of-the-art facilities that the new stadium offered – complete with a playing surface comparable to the best in Europe, and yet the Eagles failed to fly, letting him and millions of Nigerians down. Nigeria ended up drawing 2-2 in a match they were condemned to win after a stuttering run earlier in the qualifiers.
The postmortem of this disaster will continue for years, but hardly anything new would be said. Daybreak will come and the sun shall set, and we will still have our everyday affairs to take care of.
But those who truly love Nigeria and its football progress would do the right thing and continue to call for the proper restructuring of our sports and, in particular, football industry.
From this disappointment they would continue to grapple for the positives that would lead us to the light at the end of this pitch dark tunnel that our national football has just been thrown into.
Where do we go from here? The question is as timeworn as it is sobering. But we must search for answers.
Our failure to qualify for the AFCON for the second time in three years has showed us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can be taken for granted in African football and that the much-vaunted special desire of CAF to see Nigeria participate in tournaments organised by the African football governing body is a hoax.
The erroneous belief long held has been that without Nigeria participating in a major football competition it would lose much of its interest from the organisers. Nigeria, for many, always plays the best and most entertaining football.
The lesson is clear: Prepare well and you will qualify, no matter how much of a minnow you are taken to be. Prepare poorly and you will fail, and nobody significant in football running in the country would put his job on the line by playing hanky panky for you.
After the victory in Pointe Noire against Congo, when the Eagles raised hopes of qualifying for the 2015 AFCON, many Nigerians would have bought into the belief that the Eagles could somehow buy their way to victory against South Africa without breaking too much of a sweat. Such is the belief in the power of corruption that many must have held the conviction that the referee could be compromised to hand victory to Nigeria. Or that an offering of isiewu and some of Calabar’s hottest damsels to an already qualified South African team would make them make nice with us and allow the Eagles an easy ride. But it was not to be!
There’s a certain kind of calmness and clarity that comes with the realisation now that your level of hard work, and nothing else, determined your level of success.
There would be light at the end of the tunnel, I’m sure. But, firstly, the present coaching crew has to be improved. The feeling I get is that Stephen Keshi has peaked and now a sounder foreign technical adviser has to take over with a long-term mandate to return our national team’s football to the Clemence Westerhof heights of years gone by.
It is embarrassing that after a monumental failure of this magnitude Keshi is still clinging on (or Nigeria’s ‘connected’ men are still clinging on to Keshi.)
As head coach of the senior national team, the minimal requirement should be to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. If as a coach you fail to do that for a giant football-playing nation then off you should go.
I don’t buy the argument about Keshi being sabotaged, hence the failure to qualify for the AFCON. Something has to give. Whoever sabotaged the coach and therefore the country should be named, shamed, and sacked. But to foist a coach on the very same people he couldn’t work with is an invitation for more chaos and failure.
It’s really a shame that for months after the AFCON qualifying debacle Nigeria has still not settled the issue of a substantive coach for the Super Eagles. It is instructive to note that Burkina Faso (not a country one, with all due respect to that nation, can call a big African football powerhouse) has actively begun a search for a new coach (they have shortlisted Keshi) after their disappointing outing in the just-ended AFCON in EquatorialGuinea. They recognise at least the importance of early preparations for subsequent tournaments. Nigeria must borrow a leaf from this and leave, for once, politics and give us a good Super Eagles coach NOW.
Akpabio’s utter dejection on the day we failed to beat South Africa in Uyo mirrored that of millions of Nigerians. But today that dejection has segued into some kind of apathy, and seemingly, we are still not doing enough to avoid a repeat of that disaster
•Nelson Dafe, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is News Express Correspondent in Benin City.
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