Friday 18 June 2010

Nigeria: Cast as the football prophets of Baal

Showing up ourselves
The Nigeria-Greece World Cup match was being played as I made my journey to Berlin yesterday, I inadvertently and rightly missed the sorry case of red mist that flung in football terms the always promising country into ignominy – the game yesterday was a clear reflection of the country in its 50th year of independence.
We had such high expectations of ourselves but very little in preparation and confidence to meet those expectations – the haphazard management of the football association that in times does need political interference for the fact that left to their devices and the leadership of FIFA is a joke through to the selection of a coach to plan our strategy to fail catastrophically.
If anyone thought just because the World Cup was being hosted in Africa African teams must perform, they would now realise that football is a game of two halves of skill and ability not one of wishful thinking celebrating sentiment.
The prophets of Baal
I was so amused on Saturday when I read a tweet that talked about prayer warriors praying up Nigeria’s ability to run Argentina off the field – for a team and people who did not appear to have the kind of faith and resolve that snatched the Olympic Gold Medal off Argentina in 1996 – the prayers were in vain.
For a country so steeped in religious genuflection to the point of self-harming flagellation it all looked like the battle of gods on Mount Carmel between the prophets of Baal and the Elijah only that Nigerians were re-enacting the part of the prophets of Baal who appeared to be doing everything humanly possible and got nothing.
In response to that tweet, I said the time for praying was over and the time for demonstrating our skill at playing was now - it was time we believed we could do it. By the game with Greece, people even dared think it was possible.
The prophets of false hopes failed to foresee that red card but were offering prophecies of a semi-final berth, who pays these purveyors of dishonesty and why do we ever give them a hearing at all?
Playing for I
As I arrived in Berlin, I was told that Nigeria was out of the World Cup, the next match would be playing for consolation and maybe pride but really I am glad that I do not have to watch performances with my heart always in my mouth wondering when 90 minutes would end as if it were a minute just to spare me a worse fate.
The advantage the country gained was given up by a selfish, ill-thought, ill-judged and bad-tempered act of one person and that has always been the issue in football and the country. A team carrying the hopes of 150 million people has the members playing as individuals hoping for personal praise and ending up doing the irresponsible.
Once again, we must return to the fundamentals of selecting a viable national team that has the ability to surprise, very much that the team that won the Under-17 World Cup in 1985 – no prima-donnas, no corrupt influences and in faraway China they brought the goods home to the chagrin of the great sponsors who expected the cup to go anyplace but a third-world country.
Preparations 2014
That was 25 years ago, since then whilst we have taken the spoils in junior World Cups with the disputing about age deflation those amazing whippersnappers do not seem to be able to take it to the top.
In my opinion, we need hungry-for-success home-grown players, indigenous coaches with some international exposure and a better commitment to developing football for Nigeria rather for the talent pool of foreign countries.
As Nigeria prepares for 2014, I would now concentrate on the activities of the other interesting but sometimes unfortunate prospects of my country of birth, England and the amazingly promising prospects of my country of residence, Holland.
Did I feel so proud wearing an orange tie on Monday when Holland showed the world they were coming – This World Cup will surprise and it will be so unpredictable but some of the known names are shining too.
Bring on Wimbledon, I need some excitement.

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