Forty-eight hours after, Nigerian football fans are still carrying the disappointment that the Super Eagles will not be playing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. And they should be prepared to carry the pain until even after the tournament in November.
As expected, though not unblemished, the team qualified from the group that had Cape Verde, Central African Republic and Liberia.
When the playoff draws were made and Nigeria paired with their perennial arch-rivals, Ghana, Nigerians rejoiced that the country would at least win the jollof war off the pitch this time, judging by the Black Stars’ inglorious performance at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), of which was so unacceptable that the Ghanaian parliament summoned the players to explain why they disgraced the country at the competition.
Fastward to Nigeria’s preparation for the two-legged playoff against the West African neighbours, the former interim technical adviser, Austin Eguavoen, who has now formally stepped down from his position, released a 32-man list on March 4, consisting of 25 players and seven on a standby list.
Nigeria lost the tie right from that point. While defending the list at the time due to some shocking inclusions, Eguavoen said some players were included to “pacify some people”, playing politics with whoever to the detriment of national interest.
When it was confirmed that Wilfred Ndidi would not be part of the double-headerin Kumasi and Abuja, it was expected that a player will replace him from the standby list. But the coach sent a late call up to Lorient midfielder, Innocent Bonke.
Many Nigerians expected a tactical upgrade from Eguavoen, different from what he presented at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Predictably, the first leg ended 0-0, and Ghanaian coach, Otto Addo, who was appointed last month, perfectly plucked the Nigerian’s popular wing play.
The return leg in Abuja was also not different, and the coach’s tactical ineptitude, linear attack approach cost the Eagles seventh appearance at the competition, at least for now.
Nigerian football under Amaju Pinnick as president has underacheieved since he came into office in 2014. The Eagles who are the major brand of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) failed to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 AFCON, and the only medal won by the team was the 2019 third-place finish in the competition in Egypt.
The only World Cup the Eagles qualified for was the 2018 tournament in Russia, as he only came into office in September of 2014, after the mundial in Brazil had been concluded.
Gernot Rohr, who was in charge of the Eagles for over five years before his sack last December, had no major achievement with the team. That was how Eguavoen, NFF’s technical adviser, danced into the scene.
The federation attempted to remedy Rohr’s error by committing a greater error with planned Jose Paseiro’s recruitment, but was vehemently opposed by football stakeholders.
In spite the assurances to Nigerians, the players appeared not to be mentally ready for the game against Ghana in Abuja. Their attitude on the pitch showed they were not as desperate as the Black Stars, even when presented with the chance to write their names in gold forever.
The unjustifiable destruction of facilities at the Moshood Abiola national stadium after the game by fans was the reaction to the huge disappointment by Eguavoen, NFF and the players.
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Ashaolu Olufemi is a graduate of mass communication from Kaduna Polytechnic, and also a member of NIPR. His love for media and writing has become stronger with experience over the years.