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The continent’s most populated country will not be at the Nations Cup in January, but that will not mean the end of the world, simply the start of a rebuilding process

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BY Lolade Adewuyi

Apart from crude oil, football is perhaps the strongest chord that keeps Nigeria united as a nation. However, that thread has really been stretched these past few weeks since the country failed to qualify for the biennial continental football championships, the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

Instead of uniting in anticipation of victory at Gabon-Equatorial Guinea next January, Nigerians have found a common voice in the condemnation of the heart-breaking Super Eagles, the technical team and the officials of the Nigeria Football Federation.

Nigeria failed to top Group B in the Afcon qualifying, ending second behind Guinea, three points away from grabbing the golden ticket. On the final matchday the Super Eagles stumbled to a 2-2 draw at home in Abuja, while a win in that game would have sent the team to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

With such a brilliant pedigree at the Afcon (twice winners and third place finishers in four of the last five tournaments), the Super Eagles have committed the greatest crime of any national team against its own people.

The fans have since been crying out on various platforms for someone to pay the price for the team’s failure. Once hailed as the peoples’ coach, Samson Siasia is now expected to be the fall guy. The coach has been criticised for his tough, unforgiving attitude to players and the fact that his technical decisions in the game against Guinea ensured that the team lacked bite in the final third of the pitch against their opponents.

Since the 1990s, when Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof took charge of the national team, Nigeria have never had it this bad. The failure of the team at the World Cup in South Africa last year has been toppled by this one.

FINAL GROUP B STANDINGS

COUNTRY PLD GF GA PTS STATUS
GUINEA  6  13  5  14 Qualified
NIGERIA  6  12  5  11 Eliminated
ETHIOPIA  6  8  12  7 Eliminated
MADAGASCAR  6  4  14  1 Eliminated

Nigerian football lies at a crossroads and whatever solution that must be found will definitely entail the sacrifice of players, coaches and administrators. They are all to blame for the present downfall of the national team.

In other climes, a failure of such magnitude would have been followed by the resignation of important officials in the federation as well as the coach. Even older players in the team would have honourably called time on their international careers in order to focus on club commitments.

No one has since shown penitence through their actions except on the pages of newspapers and on radio and television shows, screaming needless apologies to increasingly weary fans.

Meanwhile the leadership of the NFF that is supposed to have taken the lead in turning in its resignation memos has been playing hide and seek with the coaching job. Will they fire Siasia or let him continue his work? Will they hire a new coach (the 12th in 10 years) and commence a new rebuilding process?

Samson Siasia | Will he remain as Nigeria head coach?

Confusion reigns in the corridors of Nigerian football at the moment. A useful piece of advice for any Nigerian who needs to maintain their blood pressure levels: stop reading the sports pages. That’s the only way to live longer.

On a brighter note, let us look to other countries that have been through even worse conditions than Nigeria. After their glorious quarter-final finish at the 2002 World Cup, Senegalese football steadily declined until the Teranga Lions even failed to qualify for the 2010 Afcon in Angola.

The players and the federation came upon so much money and fame with their feat in Asia eight years before that they forgot to plan for the future. After spending time in ignominy, the Lions are back in contention for next year’s Afcon and have a team that will be one of the major challengers in January.

Bad times do not last forever, even though they may linger for some time. Nigeria will get through this bad patch like many other countries before them. But will lessons be learned from it in order to make better decisions in future? The time to begin planning is now.

Nevertheless, while you will not be able to watch Nigerian football at the biggest stage next January, you can always look forward to Nollywood’s upcoming blockbuster, “How The Super Eagles Missed The Afcon.” If anybody takes my cue, it should be on sale in Gabonese and Equatoguinean video shops when the continent’s showpiece commences in the new year. Grab your copy now!

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