Flying Without Wings
When the Nigeria’s Flying Eagles left the shores of the country for an eight-nation invitational tournament hosted by South Africa, expectations were high.
The reason was that as African champions, it was expected that the under-20 team would not come home disgraced. But the outcome of the tournament was better imagined than what transpired in the Rainbow nation. Three defeats in three matches were enough to show the stuff the team was made of. The result was certainly not a good testimony for Nigeria football.
Ghana was first to tame the Eagles. The West African rivals handed Nigeria a 3-2 defeat in their first game. Argentina borrowed a leaf from the Ghanaians. The Coach John Obuh-tutored side fell the second time, losing 2-0 to Argentina. As if that was not enough, South Africa compounded the Flying Eagles’ misery with a lone goal defeat. Apart from Nigeria, Ghana, Argentina, and host, South Africa, which played in Group A, Brazil, Cameroon, Kenya and Japan competed for honours in Group B.
Substitute, Jerry Mxabo, who threatened for most of the day, finally grabbed the match winner on the 85th minute for South Africa.
For Coach Obuh, it was the time to apportion blame. Obuh blamed their loss on poor officiating by Lesotho referee, Koto. According to the coach, the game was not supposed to be won at all cost. “The South African player was clearly offside and the goal should not have stood, South Africa pressed us but they did not need the assistance of the referee to win this game,” said a disappointed Obuh.
Obuh’s opinion of the referee may have drawn attention. It was believed that the coach wanted a soft landing to wade off criticism from the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. It was alleged that none signing of contract with the NFF affected Obuh’s state of mind at the tournament. Soccer analysts claimed that the non-contract of the coach might be responsible for the below performance considering his pedigree.
Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles chief coach and Kadiri Ikhana, coach of the female national coach, have signed mega contracts with the football house. The contracts signing were followed with an unveiling ceremony.
This magazine gathered that the coaches of the Golden Eaglets were not unveiled, but the trio of Garba Manu, Emmanuel Amunike and Nduka Ugbade were contracted. Findings show that the 2011 African Youth Championship winning coach was not contracted; instead he was given the go-ahead to take charge of the team based on trust. No agreement or salary package was reached.
It was also believed that the non-availability of players who graduated from the Under 17 (Golden Eaglets) team to the Flying Eagles also contributed to the disgraceful performance. Most of the boys for the last Flying Eagles, which he took to win the AYC in South Africa and also got to the quarter-final stage of the World Cup graduated from U-17 to the U-20 team.
It was also gathered that Obuh assembled the team about five weeks to the tournament, which took place between May 24 and June 3. The boys did not play any friendly match before embarking on the trip to South Africa.
The South Africa Football Association, SAFA Cape Town President, Norman Arendse, said they were using the tournament to prepare for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey but the NFF did not see it that way. Rather they have frowned at the dismal performance. The Cape Town International Challenge was the Flying Eagles first exposure.
A reliable source in the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, who travelled with the team told Newsworld that the boys played very well despite the losses. He revealed that the boys lost to stage fright. “They developed cold feet during the matches. They were also unable to acclimatise with the weather in South Africa on time.”
Investigations revealed that majority of the boys are players in the Nigeria Premier League, NPL, while others play in the nationwide league. Only four are unattached. Investigation has shown that a player within 20 years cannot play in the nationwide let alone in the premier league. For instance, Nura Mohammed, Uche Agbo and Ola Taye play for Enyimba; Bolaji Sakiri Simon (Kwara United); Obomate Fedricks (Sharks); Olumakinde Talabi (Shooting Stars F.C.); Abdullahi Shehu (Kano Pillars F.C.); Kingsley Patrick (Sharks F.C.).
Daniel Etor Essien, (Niger Tornadoes); Simon Innocent (Niger Tornadoes); Ugonna Ezenwaka (Ocean Boys F.C.); Azuka Ebinum (Warri Wolves F.C.); Ndubuisi Ekwuibe, (Enyimba); Nzube Aniezemba (Enyimba); Abubakar Umar (Wikki Tourists); Aminu Umar (Wikki Tourists); Samson James Yohanna (Jigawa Golden Stars); Barry Legbara (Sharks); Ijike Churchill Sidney (Akwa United). The quartet of Victor Ndubuisi, Suleman Ahmed, Nwechuofor Clifford and Aaron Samuel are unattached.
Analysts said the boys played very well in their first match against Ghana but were not lucky to carry the day. Ghana coach attested to that, “The boys have given us hope especially after what they showed in the second half. I congratulate them because they surprised me by the remarkable manner they fought back after the first half in which we were lucky not to concede a goal. I believe they would have conquered some of their fears after their first international game.”
The game against South Africa, however, exposed the weakness of the team as the Amajita of South Africa dominated from the blast of the whistle, until Jerry Mxabo put one away at the end. The Flying Eagles looked exposed with aerial balls from out wide. They wasted all their scoring chances only for the Amajita to capitalise on it, and Mxabo finally got his finishing right, volleying home after Kgosietsile Ntlhe’s excellent back-post ball.
The woeful performance was Nigeria’s first especially for Coach John Obuh. The Flying Eagles have never lost all three matches in a roll. What would have been the first was the competition in Saudi-Arabia 1985, when they lost by 0-4 before coming from behind to win the game on penalty shoot-out against the Soviet Union, USSR.
What surprised most soccer followers is that the John Obuh’s team were the defending champions of the international invitational competition in South Africa, having won the inaugural edition two years ago before they went to the AYC and beat their Cameroonian counterparts 3-2 in the final to lift the trophy.
The gallant performance of the team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia cannot also be forgotten in a hurry. They were eliminated by France 2-3. In 2005, the Samson Siasia-tutored side also won the AYC in Benin Republic before getting to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Netherlands. The team was also responsible for the elimination of the host in the quarter-final. The cup was eventually won by Argentina, which paraded Lionel Messi.