Few weeks after the Super Eagles lost to their arch rivals Bafana Bafana of South Africa for the first time in a competitive game in an African Cup of Nations qualifier, Nigerians are yet to come to terms with that defeat. To make matters worse, our senior national team lost not at a neutral ground or at an away tie, but at home, especially at a time we all thought our football has taken an upward trajectory.
Few days to that encounter, ex-Super Eagles goalkeeper and football pundit Peterside Idah seemed to have a premonition of that impending defeat hence his tweeter post: “The match on Sat is a global war I hope the Super Eagles players understand this. Those of us Nigerians here in South Africa need it more.”
Well in my patriotic disposition I was so confident that the Eagles will emerge victorious that I replied Pastor Peterside Idah: “Eagles have no choice, they just have to win. Can’t wait to see TK’s face when Bafana lose to Eagles. Lol!”
Many Nigerians were also optimistic that our senior national team will win, owing to the renewed confidence they have in Gernot Rohr’s technical ability to deliver — having lost no game so far with the Eagles which tends to strengthen that optimism.
Despite being in Uyo on the day of the match, I could not go to support the Super Eagles at the magnificent Godswill Akpabio international stadium, no thanks to malaria that struck me down.
Sadly though, the Super Eagles went on to lose the encounter 2-0. A shocking result that has left many to conclude that Nigeria will not be in the next Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by Cameroon in 2019, and to be honest, it has kept us in precarious position.
My friend the former Super Eagles and Wolfsburg and Osasuna centre-back Emeka Ifejiagwa, who missed the game due to his tight schedule, called me to get a summary of the game and even told me he heard the game was a disaster. I had no choice but to agree with South Africa head coach Stuart Baxter that the scoreline flattered Nigeria.
If the result was not shocking enough, the reports in some sections of the media that the Super Eagles were not happy with Uyo fans for not supporting them during the encounter was the more shocking. I even hear that Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is contemplating moving the Eagles’ subsequent games to Port Harcourt. So, Uyo fans are now to blame for the Eagles’ awful display against Bafana Bafana? To add salt to injury, Daniel Akpeyi the Super Eagles goalkeeper had the effrontery to tell Nigerians they are too quick to condemn. I wonder if he understands the incendiary nature of his comments. Meanwhile, he and the Eagles forgot how Uyo fans cheered them to victory against Algeria during the World Cup qualifier they won 3-1 in that same stadium. A piece of advice for Daniel Akpeyi though, he should learn to be more diplomatic with his utterances in the face of criticisms or shut his mouth completely. After all, his presence in goal for the national team never exudes confidence on Nigerians; the teeming home fans can’t wait to see the return of our first choice keeper Carl Ikeme, who is sidelined due to injury. Playing for the senior national team is never an easy task. It comes with praises and accolades when the going is good. The moment there is a dismal performance it comes with greater condemnation. And that is when Akpeyi and his colleagues must show maturity. I am sure if it were to be England national team or any other European giant that lost the way the Eagles did against South Africa, apologies will be tendered by the collective team and individual players and of course, a promise to better performance in their next games.
Anyway, the defeat and the blame game got me really thinking. Before that encounter, the Super Eagles played two friendly games. And more friendly games will be organised for them in order to put them in good stead to challenge favourably for the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations spots in our group. Also, the Amaju Pinnick led NFF has ensured that their match bonuses are paid. More so, they have a good coach in German born Gernot Rohr, and of course the superlative support of Nigerians whenever they play any game; but what about our darling Super Falcons?
After the Super Eagles defeat I wrote on my facebook page that the Super Falcons will never play woefully let alone lose at home to any African opposition like the Super Eagles did on Saturday.
My belief is not based on sheer patriotism or over confidence but on established facts. We all know that our senior national women’s team have never had the best of preparations in the build up to any major tournament, yet they manage to make us proud. As at the last time I checked, they have won a record ten Africa Women Cup of Nations and qualified for every FIFA Women’s World Cup since inception. They have only missed out in only one Olympic participation since women’s football made its Olympic debut in 1996.
One may argue that the Super Falcons have not done well in the global arena, but I tend to disagree because to have an above average performance in a world cup goes beyond having talent. It requires adequate preparations, a long term plan, a sound technical crew, and support from government and the Football Association. Our darling Super Falcons are African champions at the moment, not because they had the best of preparations or support from government and NFF, it was more out of determination, individual skills and experience that got them through.
Prior to the 2016 AWCON, Super Falcons played a friendly game against a local under aged men’s team and won the encounter and people were impressed. In fact, the Falcons have always played against a local under aged male team when preparing for a major tournament. They did the same in the build-up to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. On the periphery, it looks okay, but when analysed critically it does not help our girls.
The Super Falcons go to major tournaments to play against women opposition. They don’t go there to play against men. Playing against a women’s team in a World Cup comes with an entirely different challenge which the local under aged male opposition cannot offer. Football Associations of countries like USA, England, Germany, Australia, France etc. make sure their women’s national teams play against some teams that will participate in the same tournament and are not in the same group with them for preparations.
Despite the little or no preparations at all and the issue of match bonuses, our Super Falcons I must confess, have displayed a spirited performance in every game. When they wear that green and white jersey, the only thing that runs through their mind is to win. And they will prove it with their fighting spirit, determination and character on the field of play. Even when they are not at their best like we witnessed in the last AWCON they are still unrivalled in Africa. They are simply a delight to behold when playing. And this is not to disparage our men or to compare them with our women, let’s be clear on this: the Super Falcons play more entertaining game than our Super Eagles. Surprisingly, I have a supporter to this attestation in the person of Reverend Dr. Uma Ukpai, the renowned Evangelist. Sometime ago in one of his preachings, the great Evangelist digressed a little to buttress a point when he said that our boys (referring to the Eagles) don’t really play well and that our girls play better than the boys. What! Of course, I was in the congregation that time and trust our women, a lot of them concurred even when we all know that greater percentage of them rarely watch football or don’t even watch a football game at all.
A lesson or two could be drawn from the Super Falcons and that is the more reason I tend to love them dearly. Despite unfavourable conditions, they fight on as champions and would refuse to make excuses when they under-perform, but would rather prefer to look forward to the next challenge. Meet any Super Falcons player any day, one will discover that she is motivated by patriotism and the desire to succeed and not the inconsequential allowances and match bonuses they are paid when compared with the ones their male counterparts earn.
In 2014 AWCON in Namibia, people did not know that the Super Falcons were not paid their entitlements during the continental tourney and instead of being distracted by that uninspiring development they focused on winning, and they went on to win all their games to emerge African champions. When they came back to Nigeria, they quietly engaged the NFF in a dialogue for the payment of their entitlements, and kudos to the NFF for doing the needful that time.
In 2016, after winning the AWCON, the issue of entitlements reared its ugly head again, but this time the NFF failed to handle it well prompting the Falcons to protest and demand for their rights. I supported them 100% for taking such drastic action because champions are not to be neglected and taken for granted, besides, the team they beat in the final, the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon were given a Presidential reception for coming second. To tell our girls there is no money to pay their entitlements is arrant nonsense and clear demonstration of managerial ineptitude on the part of the football authority and must be condemned in its entirety. When those girls qualified for the 2016 AWCON they were decamped with a paltry $50 each, yet the girls did not protest and left quietly. This is in contrast with the senior men’s team that get paid $4000 for a draw and $5000 for a win. Ironically, the men failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for a second consecutive time — 2015 & 2017 editions. In as much as the NFF has its own fair share of blame, the greater blame must be laid at the feet of the Minister for Youth & Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung for failing to release funds to the NFF for the competition. The Sports Minister angered Nigerians the more when he said he did not know the girls will win the trophy, therefore he did not make preparations for the release of funds. Imagine! If it were to be in an organised society, believe me in less than 24 hours, he will be sacked.
On the field of play, never has the world seen any African women’s team move across the pitch with such grace, such panache, such elegance like the Super Falcons. United States goalkeeper Hope Solo had to admit that playing against the Super Falcons in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was not easy. Yet, they put in such performances without adequate preparations and total lack of government support. Why should I not love them?