By Babajide Alaka
When Nigeria lost to Peru on Thursday morning with a core bunch of players from the Nigeria Premier League, there was more than one coincidence and these were confirmed in the top of the table clash between Enyimba and Rangers International on Sunday.
Against the sometimes sleek Peruvians, the Nigerian players appeared uncouth especially in their approach to tackling their opponents.
Where the Peruvians tried to get the ball off the Nigerians, the Super Eagles players tried to force the ball off their opponents. Where the Peruvians sought for intelligent ways to mark at set pieces, there was always a kerfuffle in the Nigerian area whenever the Peruvians had a kick at goal.
So we need to ask ourselves, why that apparent discord between the home-based Super Eagles and the foreign based?
Hard tackles | The Nigerian league is filled with indiscrimate fouls
First, let us look closely at the league game between Enyimba and Rangers. These are currently the best two teams in the league and even though they are neighbours and attrition is normally expected, the spectacle did not live up to its billing though you will have to admit that it was gripping and eventful and thank God, there were no penalties for the home side to win the game.
Moving on, I will fault the approach of Sani Mohammed, the referee for the game, who allowed too many wayward tackles to go unpunished.
A case in point is the kick to the head administered by Rangers’ right Haliru Umar, which got only a yellow card plus the blatant push by James Okwuosa on Enyimba striker Ndukwe Uche when he was already on a yellow card – that action should have seen him punished with another yellow card. That is the rule of the law but in both cases, the referee took a more lenient approach.
Now move on to the two yellow cards that Enyimba left-back Uwadiegwu Ugwu collected within the space of ten minutes in the second half – the referee applied the letter of the law – a first yellow for apparent time wasting and a second for pulling off his shirt while celebrating a quite spectacular free kick.
You will say well done to the referee but the wrong assertion is that he applied the law when it suited him. Enyimba were already leading 2-0 and he believed he could get away with it even though the first yellow could be questioned.
To the letter | Referees must help Nigerian football by not overlooking indiscipline
So Rangers got away with ‘murder’ in their aggressive tackling but the referee took a lenient view maybe so as not to spoil the spectacle. If the match were played anywhere in Europe, most probably, Rangers would have been left with no defenders on the pitch by the end of the match.
Now back to how this impinges on the national side – the aggressive nature and blatant fouls by defenders is not cautioned in our league so this is replicated in international matches where these fouls get duly punished.
Too much of intimidating tactics are employed in our league so much so that the technical and tactical aspects are lost. There is often over enthusiasm on the part of strikers to score the wonder goal instead of doing the simple thing - shooting intelligently.
Finally, the referees on the local scene need to know that their job is to interpret the law and to do it always and not when it suits them.