Tuesday, March 29 will remain a nightmare for most Nigerian football fans for it was the day that their darling Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Had the Eagles soared over the Black Stars of Ghana to reach Qatar, it would have been their seventh appearance at the FIFA World Cup and their fourth consecutive appearance.
Unfortunately, the three-time African champions failed to lift their game when it mattered most, thereby leaving their teeming fans with a bitter pill to swallow.
Indeed, the pill was so bitter that some angry fans vented their anger and disappointment immediately as they invaded the MKO Abiola stadium pitch and vandalised properties when they failed to lay their hands on the players who had just caused them unbearable pain.
The misadventure on March 29 makes it the second time since 1994 that Nigeria has failed to qualify for the senior World Cup. The first mishap happened in 20006 when the Super Eagles lost the ticket to Germany 2006 to Angola in Kano on the away goal rule.
The current failure by the Super Eagles is a rude shock to many Nigerians because in recent times, the senior national team had not enjoyed the kind of overwhelming support that it got ahead of the must-win clash with the Black Stars of Ghana.
Considering the fact that the first leg of the CAF third round qualifiers in Kumasi had ended 0-0, and the Ghanaians going into the return leg in a more advantageous position, the federal government and the Nigeria Football Federation took it upon themselves to mobilise Nigerians to come out en masse to cheer the Super Eagles in the second leg of the fixture.
Consequently, after CAF approved Nigeria’s request to have the over 60,000 capacity MKO Abiola stadium filled up, the ministry of sports and the NFF immediately went to work in a bid to mobilise Nigerians to fill all the available seats.
In order to woo the fans to the stadium, the government provided over 100 buses to give free rides to fans in Abuja and neighbouring states. In addition, the NFF secured 20,000 match tickets which were distributed to the fans. Other philanthropic Nigerians like Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and Chief Donatus Agu-Ejidike also purchased thousands of tickets which were distributed to fans. And on the day of the match, the government declared a half working day for public servants to close in time to attend the crucial match.
Interestingly, the strategy adopted by the ministry of sports and the NFF yielded positive results as for the second time since it was inaugurated in 2003, the mainbowl of the MKO Abiola national stadium was filled to capacity.
It was, therefore, the right setting for the team to soar to Qatar. Unfortunately, that was not to be as the Super Eagles repeated the same mistakes in Kumasi that denied them at least an away goal that would have made the return leg less dicey for them.
Eguavoen failed to prepare his team to attack in more than one way and the Black Stars exploited this technical deficiency to maximum advantage. The Super Eagles remained predictable so there was nothing to surprise their arch-rivals.
Napoli youngster, Victor Osimhen did his best to save Super Eagles World Cup ambition but as they say, a tree can’t make a forest so all his huffing and puffing at the MKO Abiola stadium came to naught as the Black Stars shone to their fourth World Cup.
For Eguavoen, it is nothing but an ignominious record because he was part of the technical crew that failed to qualify Nigeria for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Therefore, 2022 offered him a rare opportunity to make amends but he was outsmarted by his opposite number in Ghana’s dug out, Otto Ado, whose tactical tweak at half-time completely confounded the former Super Eagles captain.
Speaking to journalists, the Ghanaian coach said his players adapted very well in the second half of the second-leg tie in Abuja.
And during a post-match analysis, former Super Eagles forward, Daniel Amokachi, said the team’s poor attitude and lack of urgency cost them a place in the finals in Qatar.
According to him, they didn’t deserve to be in Qatar as their attitude was not the best as he reiterated angrily that the players were nonchalant in their play.
He further questioned the rationale behind Eguavoen’s reluctance to take off Calvin Bassey who appeared exhausted as he was seen holding his waist on several occasions.
NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, regretted that the team failed to qualify despite the enormous support of the government and Nigerians, who turned out in their numbers to fill up the gigantic stadium.
“There was nothing the team needed that was lacking. The Government provided necessary support; the NFF put all logistics in place with the active support of the sports ministry and Nigerians turned out en masse to support the team. The truth is that we left nothing to chance. It is sad that things turned out the way they did,” he said in a statement.
NFF’s stance was re-echoed when the minister of sports, Sunday Dare rued the opportunity lost despite putting everything humanly possible for the team to win.
“On our part, the Federal Government gave every support necessary. We got the stadium ready in all its glory. We mobilised Nigerians and other football lovers to fill up the stadium. The NFF called up a solid cast of players.
“60,000 voices sang the National anthem in what must have been one of the most uplifting moments one could imagine. The fans gave their vocal support till the very end,” he said.
He, however, said there was a need to restore the DNA of Nigerian football while returning to the grassroots.
“We will move quickly because we still have a lot of work to do to give Nigerians the calibre of senior team it deserves. We will review all that we did leading to the game, take tough steps to redirect the development of our football and restore the DNA of Nigerian football. Whatever is necessary will be done quietly, firmly and determinedly.
“We need to rebrand our football and return to the grassroots and youth football culture of the past. Nigeria is a football-loving Nation and it deserves the best,” he concluded.
The first casualty of the recent failure of the Super Eagles is the team’s technical crew which was sacked on Thursday by the NFF.
The football federation in a statement said a new coaching crew that will lead the team in its future engagements would be announced soon.
“The NFF has in the meantime withdrawn the two-and-half years contract offered the coaches and terminated the appointment of the entire technical crew of the team with immediate effect.
“A new crew will be announced after a proper review to lead the new charge of reinvigorating the Super Eagles to face future challenges appropriately.
“We thank the coaches and team officials for their service to the nation and wish them success in their future endeavours,” said NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi.
The players are also not spared as most Nigerians have demanded the disbandment of the present Super Eagles for selection of more committed and patriotic ones.
A football coach, Austin Tyowua said “Most Nigerians have lost confidence in the Super Eagles but I advise against throwing away the baby with the bath water.
“I want the players who showed sufficient ability and commitment during the just concluded World Cup qualifiers to be allowed to form the nucleus of the new Super Eagles.
“So I support overhauling of the team but it must be done with utmost caution else it will backfire,” he admonished.