African champions, World Cup flops

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By Segun Agbede

There are two distinctly different definitions of hunger. One definition, according to the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary, is the feeling you have, when you need to eat. But the definition pertinent to this article is: a strong wish/desire, or to want something very much. The latter form of hunger is what drives sportsmen to excel.
This hunger has been sorely lacking in our national team of late , although I saw glimpses of it at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna last Saturday.
The fates have conspired to give us a veritable feast of football this summer. From the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand to the Women’s World Cup in Canada to the Copa America in Chile. Mixed in with Asian World Cup, European Championship and the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and the Glo Premier League, the whole world is still playing football.
Unfortunately, and in spite of the pre-tournament hyperbole, the Flying Eagles flattered to deceive at yet another Under-20 World Cup. One of our best ever squads and African champions to boot were found to be tactically and technically inferior on the biggest stage. There’s no point dominating Africa and then being exposed as technically deficient when it matters most. I have said many times that I have no interest in the Flying Eagles ever winning the competition. As it is really just a developmental tournament meant to discover the stars of tomorrow. I hope the boys come back, join clubs at home or abroad, hone their talents, gain the requisite experience and graduate to the Super Eagles.
The same tactical deficiencies only infinitely worse were on display in Canada. The Super Falcons thrilled the world with their stirring fight back against Sweden but things went progressively downhill from there. The manager of the team Edwin Okon is apparently a very religious man and seems to have suffered some form of full blown, identity crisis in Canada. He wasn’t sure whether he was the Falcons coach or their pastor/ spiritual advisor. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with holding deep-seated religious beliefs, but when these beliefs interfere or detract from your competence as a coach, alarm bells start ringing. Incredible rumours emerged of a vigil in the Falcons’ camp the night before the game against Australia. Holding a vigil before a game where a victory was the minimum requirement, is beyond ridiculous. Okon also proudly admitted to the complete astonishment of the world’s press to never having watched any videos of Sweden and the United States. If the allegations of the vigil are true, Okon should be relieved of his post the moment the Falcons return to Nigeria. It’s a crying shame that as seven-time African champions, the Falcons,   are yet to make an appreciable impact at the World Cup. Consistently failing to get out of the group stages. I’m not one to kick a man when he’s down but with coaches of such limited ability as Okon in charge, the future is bleak for the Falcons. The girls themselves gave it all they had but when their coach apparently spends more time seeing visions, than scouting his opponents, the results are predictable.
The Super Eagles’ 2-0 victory over a resilient Chad was hugely significant. Anything less would have been a disaster, as we can’t afford to play catch-up to Egypt. You would have thought that a victory for Nigeria, ranked 43rd in the world, over Chad, ranked a lowly 172nd, would have been a foregone conclusion. It was anything but that. The new look Eagles struggled in the first half, but thankfully coach Stephen Keshi made the appropriate substitutions in the second half. The inclusion of Odion Ighalo and Rabiu Ibrahim swung the game in our favour.
I was particularly impressed with debutants William Troost Ekong and Kingsley Madu. They all showed the latter kind of hunger I referred to above. As much as I have held Keshi responsible for our failure to qualify for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, some of his players were equally culpable. The crisis of success management is defined as complacency, arrogance and greed. A crisis that affected the Eagles in excess. A lot of them lost their way and allowed a small measure of success to go to their heads. A typical example of this is Ogenyi Onazi, whose sending off in the game,   was an exercise in lunacy. A player who is a benchwarmer in his club Lazio but a regular in the national team, regardless of form. Onazi has been poor for quite some time but always seems to start for the Super Eagles. His sending off was stupid, reckless and could easily have cost us the three points. The upside of Onazi’s red card though is he’ll be ineligible for the next two AFCON qualifiers against Tanzania and Egypt. Onazi won’t be missed. Hopefully he’ll be replaced by someone more disciplined and effective. (Punch)

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