A disastrous weekend as the Super Falcons will again not take part in the Summer Games, Goal looks into what led to the team's shameful crash in Bata
COMMENT By Samuel Ahmadu Follow on Twitter
Nigeria's women team will miss the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics for the second time in a row after they became the biggest casualties of the third qualifying round, alongside the Black Queens of Ghana. Why did it go wrong for the Super Falcons, and should their latest failure heap added scrutiny onto the NFF’s management of the ladies’ team?
This latest ignominious disappointment comes as the reigning African champions suffered a 3-2 aggregate loss to two-time continental winners Equatorial Guinea.
Nearly four weeks ago, Goal asked if the NFF were right to sack Edwin Okon as the Super Falcons head coach, and without meaning to pat ourselves on the back, we had predicted the team's exit from the Olympic chase.
This was due to the unhealthy internal politics in the federation and associated with the team, and the untimely change of guard with regards to the coaching position.
Considering the Super Falcons' overwhelming strength on the African continent, it is embarrassing that Nigeria fell to a country dominated by naturalised players, many of whom are Nigerians themselves.
Okon was dismissed after the country’s failure to escape their opening pool—the group of death—at the recent 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup in Canada. He was dismissed despite qualifying the nation for the All African Games.
The decision itself was questionable, the timing is hard to justify.
Analysts and stakeholders had advised the nation's football body to keep hold of coach Okon and allow him to learn his lessons and come back stronger. Perhaps taking an example from Cameroon’s coach Enow Ngachu, who was allowed time to overcome his mistakes and build a formidable outfit, might have led to greater stability down the road.
Unknown to many, the NFF claimed to have sacked the Rivers Angels gaffer largely on technical grounds but it is obvious now that they eased him out for political and sentimental reasons.
Goal had exclusively reported Okon's embarrassing outcry over being owed more than two years pay, which gutted his employers but it seemed they could not lay their hands on him at that time as the team’s positive results meant he could not be accused of any wrongdoing.
However, they waited for him and it was only time before he got his just recompense for opening the can of worms.
Leading the Super Falcons to Canada was a miraculous achievement for Okon, who was even handed a query letter on the eve of departure for claims such as fielding more players from Rivers Angels than other clubs and not allowing other clubs access to their players during the season.
There is also the case of his supposed alliance with the opponents of the chairperson of the Women League Board, Dilichukwu Onyedinma, who is seeking re-election in November, despite perceived poor management.
Edwin Okon | His sacking brought disequilibrium
Unfortunately, since taking office almost a year ago, NFF president Amaju Pinnick has not done much to support the women national teams.
The Falcons would have done better at the World Cup in Canada if Okon's pleas for top grade friendly games, early camping and technical backup were adequately acknowledged by Pinnick’s administration.
They claimed lack of funds and limited time to adequately prepare the girls, but they had resources to sponsor the Flying Eagles on a two weeks tour of Germany.
It is shameful to note that in just nine months under Pinnick's watch, Nigeria have failed to qualify for two major tournaments – the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and now the 2016 Olympic Games Women Football Event.
This raises questions about the seriousness of Pinnick's intention for women's football, even in the face of his recent tours of the United Kingdom meeting investors and building football relations for Nigeria.
On the part of interim coach Christopher Danjuma, his decision to alter the starters from the World Cup squad, by bringing in fresh legs due to fears of sabotage with just a few days to the first leg qualifier in Abuja, led to the 1-1 draw.
It is speculated that his role in the sacking of his former principal, Okon, did not go down well with many of the former’s trusted players who are largely from the influential Rivers Angels.
Amaju Pinnick | Needs to show more commitment to women's football
On the players' part, Goal learnt that key players, mainly overseas-based ones intentionally failed to turn up for the Olympic qualifiers on personal grounds owing largely to discomfort playing under Danjuma.
It is needful to find out why some regulars like Onome Ebi, Esther Sunday, Francesca Ordega, Josephine Chukwunonye and reigning African Women’s Player of the Year Asisat Oshoala (before her injury) failed to honour his call-up.
Though many players claimed to have stayed away due to club engagements, it is surprising that they never stayed away in the preparatory camping for All Africa Games qualifiers in March under Okon.
What happens next as regards the future of coach Danjuma and the awaited naming of a substantive coach remains to be known, but the Falcons’ failure to qualify for the second time in a row for the Olympics is an unforgivable disaster.
Nigerians would hope Pinnick gets more serious with women’s football ahead of the All Africa Games in Congo as well as wish to see stability as more valuable than his hiring and firing regime.