- Post 12 February 2013
- Last Updated on 14 February 2013
- By Levi Obijiofor
There are times when you feel proud to identify yourself as a Nigerian. Last Sunday was one such day. And it’s all because of the victory of the Super Eagles in the final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. This is a trophy that has eluded the nation for nearly 20 years, indeed since Nigeria lifted the cup in 1994. In Johannesburg four days ago, the Super Eagles showed the nation has abundant soccer talents to re-establish itself as a pre-eminent soccer nation in Africa. That performance was superlative and proof of our return to the long established style of playing soccer.
Hallelujah! Nigeria, the sleeping giant of African soccer, has risen. For many years, there was little or nothing to cheer about the performance of the Super Eagles. All that has changed! Through sheer grit, the Super Eagles, comprising a mix of local and overseas-based players, conjured exceptional skills in ball control and accurate passes to overwhelm the Stallions of Burkina Faso. That display has earned them the respect and admiration of soccer fans across the continent.
At home, the atmosphere was electric. The Super Eagles have given everyone a shot in the arm to celebrate. This was a team that started the competition with two uninspiring draws in their group matches. No one, not even obstinate supporters of the Super Eagles, expected the players to go beyond the group stage. In fact, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the overseer of domestic and international football in Nigeria, was reported to have bought flight tickets to take the Super Eagles back to their homeland after their quarter-final match against Cote d’Ivoire. This was a clear confirmation that, prior to their victory last weekend, the Super Eagles did not enjoy the confidence of soccer administrators in the country.
Nevertheless, by winning the cup in the manner they did, the Super Eagles have silenced all those who doubted their abilities. Regardless of public sentiments, the Super Eagles are now the most celebrated team in African football.
Victory by the Super Eagles in the Africa Cup of Nations has underlined two key accomplishments. First, they magically scaled all hurdles and catapulted themselves to the top of African soccer. Second, and perhaps more significant, the remarkable feat achieved by the Super Eagles has helped to restore pride and faith in a nation whose citizens have long looked for national redemption through soccer but failed to find a way to rescue themselves from all kinds of scandals and criminality associated with Nigeria. Unsurprisingly, success in soccer now serves as an effective magnet that binds the disparate people of Nigeria.
To overcome top soccer nations in Africa in a contest staged in a foreign land has made the victory by the Super Eagles all the more remarkable and worthy of a carnival. This is an odd departure from the norm – a country in which the citizens have not experienced good news other than the regular diet of bad news about kidnapping, bomb explosions by Boko Haram advocates, widespread corruption among political leaders, inexplicably fatal road accidents, poor state of federal and state roads, mass unemployment, a weak economy, poor medical facilities, deplorable quality of teaching, learning and research in universities, general feelings of disappointment and misery by the population, and the decadent state of infrastructure in the country.
As we celebrate, let us not forget too quickly. Success by the Super Eagles was preceded for many years by undistinguished performances. It pays to be patient and persistent.
Long before now, long before the Super Eagles overwhelmed the Stallions of Burkina Faso in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, Nigerian footballers especially overseas-based players were seen to be exceptionally grumpy, cocky and extremely ill-tempered. At home we saw them as footballers with attitude. They were arrogant, garrulous, pretentious, impolite, and overconfident. Outside the field of play, they walked with the swagger and the exaggerated air of self-importance you would associate with highly accomplished sportsmen. Worst still, they achieved nothing of national value.
What national coach Stephen Keshi underlined in his team selection and strategic use of players during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament is that home-based players can be as good as, if not better than, overseas-based players. Local players require exposure. Keshi gave them the opportunity to excel or be outclassed in South Africa. They did not disappoint. They grabbed the opportunity in their hands. Keshi has done very well. He took a ragtag collection of players to South Africa and transformed them into instant success. That was a commendable feat. Coaches are appointed to train players to win matches and to raise the standard of soccer. The Super Eagles have made Nigerians proud.
Could success in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations be the much needed elixir that would guarantee us permanent dominance of African soccer? Before now, we needed everything, anything at all that could assist us to halt or revive our diminishing performance in soccer.
Before the Super Eagles emerged victorious in South Africa, they had remained the butt of public criticisms, indeed the object of caricature at home and abroad. Virtually every national team in Africa could boast of beating Nigeria in soccer. That was how low we had descended in soccer. A country that was dreaded for many decades in continental soccer because of the exploits of its players on the field has lost everything – fame, fortune, respect, wonderful ball control skills by delightful players – at all levels of competition.
The slide had continued without anything to shield the nation from reaching the bottom of international disgrace. Nigeria, the previous powerhouse of soccer in Africa, had suddenly become a sick child with inoperable disease that made it unable to play, unable to select its own soccer players because of ethnic politics, unable to manage its own sportsmen and women because of boardroom politics, unable to qualify for the World Cup in the African zone, unable to go beyond preliminary rounds in international competitions and therefore unable to win major competitions. That was the sad story of Nigerian soccer until respite came our way last Sunday.
For so many years, the Super Eagles, the Flying Eagles, our female soccer team and their trainers had given the nation excuses to assuage national anger whenever they lost to their opponents. For example, following the ousting of Nigeria from the qualifying rounds of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations competition, Samson Siasia, the immediate past national coach, said the team underperformed because he was sabotaged by people whom he accused of being unhappy with his appointment as the national coach. That must be regarded as a joke.
Again, when the Under-23 national soccer team failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Austin Eguavoen, the former chief coach of the team, tendered his request for forgiveness. He told a bewildered nation: “I apologise to Nigerians for our failure. We thought we can do well, but we were surprised over what happened… What happened was that the stage was too big for the boys. I have to also say that the officiating in the game against Morocco was questionable.”
But we have been fed with so many useless apologies we no longer listen because no one wants to be associated with failure. All that the nation wanted at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations was some kind of miracle transformation, an imposing performance that would impress and unify the nation. Last Sunday in Johannesburg, the Super Eagles found a way where their predecessors had encountered insurmountable obstacles. They lifted the elusive Africa Cup of Nations trophy and with it they lifted the heart of the nation.
People often say that nothing is certain in life. They are right. Last week’s rebirth of Nigerian soccer was not expected by many people.
The appalling performance of the Super Eagles at various levels of competition over the past decades has been described quite rightly as the demise of soccer in the country. When players were invited to national camp, they dictated when it suited them and when they would answer the national call. With that kind of attitude, the Super Eagles of the past failed to rise above their ego during international competitions.
How do we transform soccer in Nigeria to the point where we can reclaim and sustain our previous position as the pre-eminent soccer nation in Africa? We must start from the grassroots. We must discover young talented players, nurture and groom them to become great players of tomorrow. This will involve providing systematic and regular training to the players. We should also encourage and motivate the players with something worthwhile, a kind of incentive to bring out the best in them. Part of the reason why the standard of soccer in Nigeria has continued to slide is because funds meant for the training of players were embezzled. Also, soccer administrators and trainers never believed in sustained training of players or planning ahead of major competitions.
There is definitely reason to celebrate the achievement of the Super Eagles in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. But our goals should be how to sustain the victory, how to raise good players to replace ageing ones, and how to raise the standard of soccer to what it was in the 1980s and 1990s. African countries are improving and investing heavily in soccer. That must be seen as a threat to dominance by any one nation.
test test test test test test
soccer is part of
panem et circenses
and NO more
get reasonable agin, PLEASE!
It performs what the Gladiatorial fights did for the Emperors of ROME. Any wonder why time and expenses into the construction of the Coliseum? Substanceless euphoria and induced amnesia to the real issues which seriously helped to ward off mob power. Enough already.
All those millions spent to host the victorious Eagles couldhave been used to prepare the team for a more glorious outing in the World Cup. Iamnot jealous. Just saying.