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Whither Nigeria’s Football?

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On a day like this, it is vital to recall glorious days when every Nigerian looked forward to a day, the senior National football team, the Super Eagles would file out in its traditional green white green colours for one continental encounter or another. Such moments used to be climes of positive expectation and ample fora to celebrate sure victories.

Such days indeed provoked a sense of national pride, unity and confidence among Nigerians, certain that the Eagles would lord it over their opponents.

Those were the days, when the likes of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Felix Owolabi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Rashidi Yekini, Austin Okocha, Finidi George et al held sway. When the Super Eagles were ranked among the five best teams in the world.

Also, those were moments when the national youth teams inspired confidence among Nigerians and international admirers and instilled fear in the minds of opponents.

Those were the golden days of Flying Eagles’ domination of Africa, and the Golden Eaglets conquests of the world in China 1985, Japan 1993 and South Korea 2007. They were indeed the days when the Olympic football team, the Under 23 team bestrode the world as gold medalist at the Atlanta games of 1996. When Nigeran teams qualified for African and world competitions as of right.

And like their male counterparts, Nigeria’s women team, the Super Falcons dominated the continent and were considered African Champions even before the commencement of any African Championships.

Regrettably, those days seem far gone in history. From the top echelon of world and African football, Nigeria has progressively tumbled to abysmal depths.

Currently, Nigeria occupies the number 63 position in the world from the fifth we once relished and 12th in Africa from the first we once were, according to recent ranking by the world football body, FIFA and while hitherto little accomplished countries like Cote d’Ivore, Ghana, Algeria and Mali today occupy the top four positions in the continent, we are left to rub shoulders with less footballing nations like Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and the rest, too disgraceful to list.

These days, it has become increasingly difficult for the country to qualify for global or continental competitions, not to dream of going far in such contests.

Expectedly, Nigeria failed to make it to the last African Cup of nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, neither is the country going to participate in the male and female football events of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games, as both our Flying and Golden Eaglets have continued to stumble from one embarrassing disappointment to another.

So, where and when did the country get it wrong? Unfortunately, the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan signalled the start off  weakness in the Eagles’ fire power and their abysmal decline.

Since then, their performances have hardly justified the Super in their sobriquet, so much so, that the national team has been variously tagged ‘Super Chicken, ‘Papa Eagles’ etc.

Most potential opponents now look at Nigeria with disdain and with no more dread as was in the days gone by. They now see a country with potentials and tough look but on the field of play, a very soft underbelly. They see how ‘ordinary’ teams have even dared to beat Nigeria at her own backyard.

One nowadays hears that Nigeria is dead as a football nation, that the myth of Nigeria’s invincibility has been shattered. That was perhaps why Guinea had the courage and will-power to come to Abuja and halted the Super Eagles’ j ourney to AFCON 2012.

A lot of reasons have been advanced as responsible for Nigeria’s decline, chief among which are the state of the domestic league and lousy administrators of the game in the country.

The inability of the League to produce the next generation of  replacements for the likes  of Rashidi Yekini, Okey Isima, Daniel Amokachi, Austin Okocha, Etim Esin, Nwankwo Kanu, Richard Owubokiri, Finidi George, Henry Nwosu and so on has cost the national team dearly.

No member of that successful generation of Eagles left Nigeria for foreign clubs as immature teenagers. They had imbibed the local football culture well before going abroad, only to add some European flavour to their game. This made the players more adept and lethal as many opponents found out.

Indeed, the administrators of the game, at the levels of the League and Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, have failed to build on the successes of previous generations, as they are today  known for resorting to short cuts for  temporary glories.

For instance, when Nigeria conquered the world severally at the Under – 17 Competitions and dominated Africa with the Flying Eagles, it was expected that those crops of players would successfully graduate into  the senior level.

Unfortunately, the fact that most of them fizzled out even before being ‘eligible’ for the Super Eagles raises more questions than answers about the system that threw them up.

Were we guilty of cheating at age group competitions by using over-aged players as kids? Only a sincere self examination would provide the right answer.

Again, the football administrators have been accused of poor planning and policy summersaults, especially, as it concerns schools and grassroots competitions.

Need it be said, that National team materials in the past were not products of instant scouting but a systematic planning, selection, training and supervision from the grassroots. Other countries still enjoy the benefits of such catch them young initiative.

Current World player of the year, Lionel Messi’s selection and unveiling is an example, so is Spain’s Youth team at Nigeria’s World Youth Championship of 1999, where today’s football greats like Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Andreas, Iniesta and others played prominent roles.

But its no longer so in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the sidelining of the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON, which hitherto-laid the foundation for the country’s initial successes at age group competitions, has affected us negatively. But it shouldn’t be so.

That’s why the youth federation should be re-engineered along with other existing academies’ template for success and effectively utilised.

 Also, while the effective development of coaches, especially, from the grassroots is important, there should be a kind of identity or brand for the game in Nigeria, so that youngsters begin to imbibe the national character very early in life.

The NFF, must begin now to purge itself of the usual in-fighting, ego trips and clash of interests that have stagnated the federation and rubbed off negatively on the game itself. Surely, personal interests must give way for national goals for the game to thrive.

However, the harvest of disappointments for followers of the Nigerian game in recent past notwithstanding, some revolution seems to be evolving with the appointment of former Eagles Captain, Stephen Keshi as Super Eagles coach, and that seems to give cause for some optimism. But all hands need to be on deck to ensure that the game which once united the country in victory after victory is rescued and put on the path of greatness.

 Happily, Nigeria has the manpower, talent and passion to re-emerge as leading player of the game of soccer that almost, turned all citizens at once into coaches during every international encounter.

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NFF Blames Covid-19 For Salary Delay

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The Nigeria Football Federation has blamed the delay in the payment of players and coaches bonuses of the national teams on the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic brought sporting activities and other businesses around the world to a halt last year, which affected the federation in terms of sponsorship and funds availability.
Super Eagles defender, Leon Balogun, in a recent interview with newsmen,  revealed that players and coaches were owed match bonuses.
“About the bonuses, it’s not even a secret, I’ve read something recently where people in charge contradict themselves saying they’ve been paid then they admit they haven’t been paid,” Balogun said.
“And as I said I’m always quite outspoken, probably I know if some people hear that they might come after me but I don’t care because that’s just how it is,” he added.
In a reply to the player’s outburst, NFF General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, said the challenges caused by the pandemic were still being felt by government’s institutions and businesses globally.
“The NFF derives no joy in owing players and coaches their entitlements. The same players and coaches have been well-taken care of and provided the necessary facilities when things were normal. And as we work assiduously towards conquering the present challenges and seeing sunlight again, we expect the players, coaches and administrative staff to show the same level of understanding that they have been showing over the past 18 months,” Sanusi said in a statement by the federation’s media office.
“Of course, we are pragmatists and we realise that these things can be frustrating and some people will boil over and talk about them. It is normal. Last month, during the friendlies in Austria, we were able to pay some of the (Super Falcons) outstanding bonuses and allowances. We are working at a pace presently to clear what is remaining.
“As I speak, we owe the team bonuses and allowances from only the last two matches, and payments for these two games have been sent to the Central Bank some weeks ago. They will receive the monies shortly. We are equally working to pay the coaches what they are being owed as salaries.”   Sanusi added.

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WAFU B Qualifier: Angels Thrash AS Police 5-0, Book Semi’s Ticket

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Reigning Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) Premiership Champions, Rivers Angels on Tuesday evening booked their spot in the last four of the WAFU (UFOA B) Women’s Champions League qualification tournament with an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Association Sportive de la Police de Niamey.
 Maryann Ezenagu scored a brace while Oghenebrume Ikekhua and Alice Ogebe also registered their names on the score sheet.
 The Jewel of Rivers got their opening goal in the 13th minute through Ikekhua, who kept her composure to finish off a square pass by left back Rofiat Imuran, who had gone past two opponents.
 After a series of near misses by Angels’ forwards, Vivian Ikechukwu provided a superb cross from the far right for Ogebe to tap in the 36th minute to double the lead for Rivers.
 In the 45th minute, Ogebe rounded the AS Police goalkeeper to lay the ball for Ezenagu who made no mistake in making it 3-0.
 After the break, the Jewel of Rivers kept mounting pressure on the defence of the Nigeriens which eventually paid off with an own goal by Chisa Marceline Bekumaka, James who diverted Ezenagu’s low cross into her own net.
 Ezenagu herself then completed the rout in the 77th minute with a beautiful tap in after spurning an offside trap before rounding the hapless AS Police goalkeeper.
 With Tuesday’s result, Rivers Angels have finished top of Group B and will wait for today to know who comes second in Group A for a Semifinal clash which will hold on August 2.
 Coach Edwin Okon after the game said the difference between his side and their opponents is the fact that they took their chances.
 “Football is football and there are no small teams as far as you’re in this tournament,” he stated.
 “As you can see, we are actually progressing as the competition continues.
 “The difference between us and our opponents today is that we took our chances when they came. 
“So I’m really elated with the result today and commend my girls for the outstanding performance”, Okon added. 
And for the second consecutive game, Ezenagu was named Player of the Match.

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Okagbare, Amusan, 10 Other Nigerian Athletes Cleared

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The Athletics Integrity Unit of World Athletics has cleared 12 Nigerian athletes to compete in the track and field events of the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
This comes after jumper Ruth Usoro, sprinter Favour Ofili and eight other Nigerian athletes were on Wednesday disqualified from the track and field events of the Olympics.
Tidesports Source gathered that the athletes include sprinter Blessing Okagbare, who won silver at the Beijing edition of the Games in 2008; Ese Brume, Tobi Amusan, Divine Oduduru, Grace Nwokocha and Patience Okon-George.
Others are Enoch Adegoke, Imaobong Nse Uko, Itsekiri Usheoritee, Chukwuebika Enekwechi, Emmanuel Ojeli and Samson Nathaniel.
Reigning Nigerian sprint queen and 100m and 200m record holder, Okagbare, tops the list of the 12 athletes the AIU cleared to compete in the athletics event of the Games, which begins today.
Okagbare, who is making her fourth appearance at the Games, will be competing in the women’s 100m heats on the opening day of the track and field events.
Amusan, who is ranked number four in the world in the 100m hurdles; long jumper Ese Brume, who tops the world list in her event coming to the Games, and Grace Nwokocha, the home-based sensation, who clocked 11.09secs in March at the MOC Grand Prix in Lagos to seal her qualification for the Tokyo Games are seen as medal hopefuls.
Oduduru, Adegoke and Itshekiri will be competing in the men’s 100m while Oduduru will also race in the 200m, an event he holds the national record of 19.73secs, which he set two years ago in Austin, Texas in the USA to win the NCAA gold.
Shot put athlete, Enekwechi, who made it to the event’s final at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar in 2019, will also be hoping to put up a fine outing in his event.
The 4x400m mixed relay quartet of Imaobong Nse Uko, Patience Okon-George, Nataniel Samson and Ifeanyi Ojeli will be in action today in the first semi-final heat.
Secretary-General, Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Adisa Beyioku, says the athletes are in good spirits as they are determined to return Nigeria to the podium for the first time since 2008 when Okagbare and the women’s 4x100m won Nigeria’s last medals in track and field.
Beyioku assured the 12 athletes that the federation would continue to be “the goose that laid Team Nigeria’s golden eggs at the Olympics.”
Athletics accounts for 13 of the 25 medals won by the country at the Games and two of the three gold medals won since the country’s first participation at the Olympics in China.

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