In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles lost a friendly international to Mexico in what was a heavily one-sided defeat for Nigeria at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the USA.
According to the match statistics, the Mexicans utterly dominated the game, forcing seven saves of the Nigerian goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili even as he conceded four goals. One can only imagine what the scoreline would have been if the Mexicans had been a wee bit more clinical in front of goal.
The defeat is the heaviest since a home-based team coached by Imama Amapakabo lost 4-0 to Morocco in the 2018 CHAN final. Put in perspective, the last time Nigeria lost a game by more than two goals was in the 3-0 loss to Spain at the Confederations Cup in 2013 in Brazil!
Now, back to this morning’s game, there’s enough blame to go round but before we crucify the ‘local’ players, there are some other parties who deserve more of the blame.
1. The Nigerian Football Federation.
From the moment this game was announced, pundits had complained about the convenience of having the match at a time the first team, off a gruelling season in Europe, would not be available for selection. If the players who will play the World Cup qualifiers as well as the AFCON in Cameroon are not available, then there was no justification for having the game at all. It will be double jeopardy for NPFL clubsides who will be deprived of the services of their players at a time the league is entering the home-stretch. The NFF had its way and we are left wondering what the gains of the misadventure in the USA are.
2. Gernot Rohr.
Once again, the German tactician has given fodder to those who see nothing good about him with his attitude to the game. He showed a sickening nonchalance to the team, attending training sessions like a spectator without making any noticeable impact and even accompanied the team to the USA where he sat on the bench without a defined role. In his defence, it is said that he’s not in charge of the home-based Eagles but Nigeria must rank as one of the very few countries in the world where players are expected to transmute from the domestic league to the national team but where the man in charge of the national team is not concerned about their scouting, selection and development. Rohr’s involvement (or lack of it) in this team is a slap on the faces of all Nigerians and the blame for this lacuna in his contract should be placed at the feet of his employers.
3. Austin Eguavoen.
As substantive head of the Technical Department of the NFF, ex-international Austin ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen is theoretically the boss of Gernot Rohr who’s supposed to work in collaboration with Eguavoen’s department but it was a crying shame to see Eguavoen labouring to gather the players, prune down the team to a more manageable number and getting ready to lead them to the USA for the game before he was denied entry visa. I’m not convinced that the result would have been different if Eguavoen had been allowed to lead the team but he’s not dignified his office and status as ex-captain and coach of the Super Eagles by allowing the NFF ‘issue him directives’ to prepare the team while the man whose job it is to oversee the Super Eagles (whether home-based or foreign-based) was attending training sessions like a VIP guest. I’m not sure there’s any other country in the world where such absurdity is normalized.
4. Paul Aigbogun.
Coach on the night, no close observer of Nigerian football will be surprised by the outcome of the game, no disrespects intended. The last national assignment undertaken by Aigbogun was with the 2019 Flying Eagles which huffed and puffed before being eliminated by Senegal in the Round of 16 in one of the Flying Eagles most mediocre performances since they first qualified for the U-20 World Cup in 1983. At clubside with Enyimba, he didn’t fare better before he was asked to step aside. To be fair to him, he got to lead this team to the USA because Eguavoen was denied visa but one is forced to ask on what basis did he get the job of deputy head of the NFF’s Technical Department?
Finally, as usual, the home-based players will be the fall guys, used as scapegoats to cover up the faults and misdemeanours of others. They will be condemned by those who have not seen a domestic league game in the last decade and know next to nothing about the players and their abilities.