By Segun Odegbami
I was half way through writing this week’s article titled ‘the Reality and the Fallacy in Nigerian Sports’ when I paused to watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying group match between Nigeria and Central African Republic, CAR, played in Lagos, Nigeria, on Thursday night.
I should have known better and stuck to my writing. Instead, I relaxed and waited to see how Gernot Rohr, the German handler of the Nigerian team, would finally prove everyone (and that includes me) that has declared he was not good enough to handle the Super Eagles of Nigeria wrong!
High expectations by Nigerians at this time were not unfounded.
This start of season, many of the Nigerian players in various clubs all over Europe have been performing well.
At the same time, Nigeria had never been more patient with a coach (foreign or local) as they have been with Gernot Rohr.
READ ALSO: Central African Republic humble Nigeria in World Cup Qualifiers
He is into his fifth year virtually coaching the Super Eagles, because I don’t see how else he could have been impacting them with his style and tactics from his home in Europe.
At the same time, no coach had given Nigerians the sort of heart breaks at crucial times as has Gernot. No coach has also earned more money and done so little to justify it by impacting the domestic game.
Through the decades of my experiences in Nigerian football, no coach has been more vigorously defended by his Nigerian employers for work not-done with results as Gernot Rohr. Come to think of it, he has been a good scout but a poor coach.
In short, coming into last Thursday’s match, and understanding the evolution of this national team under the German, everyone seemed willing to give in to the conclusion that Rohr was finally on a lucky cruise to Qatar 2022.
Last week, in previewing the match, I wrote only two paragraphs about it in my column because there was little to write about the overwhelming advantage and superiority of the megastars of the Nigerian team over their lowly rivals, a team of ordinary players playing in a country without any football pedigree.
So, I wrote off the Central Africans as if they did not even exist, and predicted that Nigeria’s firepower upfront would be too much for the African football minnows to handle.
CAR are a national team that stood NO chance against any middle-level national team in African football. The country is almost one hundred places below Nigeria in the world rankings, and thirty below her in Africa.
The two teams do not belong to the same planet. CAR do not have any number of professional players in Europe, and don’t have any record of substance or significance against any African national team in their history.
In short, CAR do not exist in the psyche of Africans as a football threat. In any competition since African football began to be documented and followed by me, I cannot recall a single match played (not even won) by CAR that created even the gentlest of ripples in African football.
I am struggling very hard not to be disrespectful to the country (because I should not be) considering that I should know that in sport anything is possible, except that CAR would come to the hallowed ground in Nigeria and defeat the ‘giant’.
It is one of the worst results ever by the national team of Nigeria. It will go down in the history books.
The story of last Thursday is that an ordinary team without any class, but full of determination and fighting spirit, came to Lagos, the slaughter-house of big African teams, to humble, to disgrace and to remove the ‘Super’ from the appellation of the Nigerian national team. I am still surprised that the moon did not come crashing down on the planet in protest of sacrilege.
Just so that it does not appear I am disrespectful to the Central African country, let me tell you a bit more about CAR and its football.
At a time in the history of African football, European national teams never played friendly matches against African national teams.
The standards were so far apart that it was considered disrespectful to them to come down to Africa’s low level. The best African national teams were not considered good enough even to play against top European Clubs. So, the best that happened were friendlies against 2nd, 3rd or even 4th division European clubs in Europe.
In Africa, the national football team of the Central African Republic were to Africa what Africa’s national teams were to Europe. Even African countries never sought them out for international friendlies except when they needed morale-boosting easy matches. They were only considered good enough to play against African clubs. That’s how I had my own experience.
Incidentally, in 1973, I played my first international football match against the national football team of CAR at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan.
It was one of the friendly matches lined up to boost the confidence and morale of the Western Lions, the Western State Festival football team, preparing for the first National Sports Festival. I scored my very first international goal in that match.
Our assembly of local players in the region trounced CAR by 4 clear goals. That’s how I got to know about the country and followed their football story since then.
CAR’s place and ranking in African football have hardly changed in almost 50 years. With this victory other African teams shall start to take them more seriously and appreciate the new threat they may now pose.
CAR were supposed to come to Nigeria, to be ‘chopped to pieces’ by the Eagles and the colourful and vociferous Lagos crowd, and the points used to shore up Nigeria’s leadership on the table and to secure her a place in Qatar 2022.
Then the totally unexpected happened. Needless to go into the match details because most Nigerians watched it and can tell their own experience and story.
I am still in a state of shock and unbelief.
The hottest shots and front-runners with dazzling performances in their European club championships and leagues could not create a single goal-scoring chance in 96 minutes. The Super Eagles did not ‘fire’ a single clear shot at the goal of CAR, not even once.
The end was an ugly sight to behold. The Eagles abandoned any traces of a tactic they never had to start with, began passing unhurriedly, side-ways and even backwards, followed by long, high balls searching for Osimhen’s head in the crowded CAR defense that was well organized to disorganize the hapless Nigerian forwards.
With that singular tactic the match could have lasted a whole week and the Super Eagles would not have had one clear sight of the CAR goal, talk less of scoring a goal.
Throughout the entire match, the CAR players did not string together more than 3 passes at any one time. They came with a local coach with a simple but crude strategy that worked against a team coached by a German ‘expert’ coach that had been working on, and with, the largest collection of African professional players in Europe, and succeeded.
CAR were presented two-half chances throughout the match. They scored one giving rise to one of the saddest results in Nigeria’s football history.
It was a poor match and a bad advertisement for Nigerian football.
The Super Eagles were without spine and purpose. They looked disjointed, playing without a discernible pattern or style.
This defeat is unacceptable. It is a dent on Nigeria’s reputation in football. It is disgraceful and unacceptable. Nigeria can lose to any team in the world, but not in the shambolic manner this one happened. It is only in Nigeria that a coach with abysmal records at critical times would still be calling the shots in one hand and giving Nigerians nightmares in the other.
If the Super Eagles had fought like proper eagles by raiding the CAR defense endlessly and failed to score or win, it would be understandable. But to play and crumble the way they did is a nightmare that will live with those of us that have entrenched interests in Nigerian football for a long time to come.
If this is a dream, can someone, please, wake me up.
Newspot News Nigeria