by Ufuoma Ebgamuno
How did I manage to sleep that night?
Did I even sleep?
Tossing on the bed wondering where and why it all went wrong; like over 120 million football loving Nigerians, I just cannot seem to get over the pain.
Wouldn’t it have been a lot better not to have had our hopes raised?
Maybe a bad result in Congo on Saturday, which was widely expected, would have made more sense. Surely?
Instead, we were all led on, like a sheep supposedly with a shepherd in Stephen Keshi. And after 90 minutes in the Nest of Champions which is the Uyo International Stadium, the flock has been “abandoned”; left to wander wherever it deems fit.
The 2015 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea meant a lot more than just a competition for me. It was supposed to be avenue to join the league of international journalism. Having missed out of the 2013 AFCON and 2014 World Cup coverage, Equatorial Guinea was supposed to be the pinnacle (or should I say start?) of my budding journalism career. It was supposed to launch me into that realm that every sports journalist dream of. In fact, I’ve made lots of plans to have my own personal syndicated programme broadcast across various stations in the country. All that was left was just securing the golden ticket to Equatorial Guinea……
As I sit gloomily on my bed typing this, I’m just wondering where it all went wrong. Should Keshi had been allowed back into the team? Were the NFF squabbles responsible for this calamity? Should President Goodluck Jonathan had taken that veto stand that brought back Keshi?
I think that 99% of this debacle rests entirely on the manager’s doorsteps as much as the NFF president Amaju Pinnick has accepted responsibility. I was never in support of sacking Siasia back in 2011 because I thought back then that Siasia’s job was already compromised during Austin Eguavoen’s interim rule. I wanted continuity (which sadly is something the Nigerian football community isn’t used to except perhaps in administrative quarters). However, I was also quick to congratulate Keshi when he won the last AFCON as well as spend what I think is eternity educating callers on my radio show that the former Super Eagles captain isn’t as tactically naive or clueless as they make him out to be.
But how do you keep defending the seemingly indefensible?
How do you explain the fact that the rationale that kept Victor Moses out (just recovering from injury according to Keshi) didn’t also keep Kenneth Omeruo out of the game vs South Africa?
How do you defend the fact that Emmanuel Emenike played all 90 minutes despite having a shocker when Emem Eduok could have probably added something different in the last 20 minutes of the game?
How do you defend the fact that Efe Ambrose has consistently played right back and has only had probably one good game in that position?
How do you defend the fact that Ogenyi Onazi, Godfrey Obuabuna, Kenneth Omeruo etc are still riding on the crest of their AFCON performances when they have been utterly abject in at least their last 6 games for the country?
How do you defend the fact that Warri Wolves defender Azubuike Egwueke consistently gets invited to the national team when in my humble opinion, there are at least 3/4 centre backs in the same Nigeria Premier League who are a lot better?
How do you explain the invitations of certain names to the national team who after you’ve seen them play you still can’t rationalise how they made the cut?
Yes, Keshi has unearthed certain gems since he came on: the Sunday Mbas, Michael Babatundes and most recently Aaron Samuels of this world may stand out. But it doesn’t stop the allegations in several quarters that invitation to the national team only comes when you’ve paid for it. Because certainly, I don’t get how Chigozie Agbim gets the nod over say Enyimba’s Femi Thomas, Kano Pillars’ Theophilus Afelokhai especially last season. Or how Azubuike Egwueke is ahead of Enyimba’s Chinedu Udorji (on last season’s form not this just ended campaign) or Pillars’ Umar Zango or even Sharks and Dolphins duo of Gabriel Olalekan and Jonathan Zikiye respectively?
It just feels sad that we are now back to where we are in 2011 after the Samson Siasia debacle. More painful is the fact that all you will hear our administrators talk about now is the proverbial “going back to the drawing board”. Unfortunately, from the look of things, that board, like my dreams of making an international debut, may likely remain a shattered dream.
Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared on Nigeria Football 247.