28th June, 2010
Super Eaglesâ€™ ouster in the first round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South left millions of peeved fans sulking, but a lot contributed to the shameful crash of the over-pampered Nigerian squad.
P.M.Sports, which continues with the post-mortem of Eaglesâ€™ crash in South Africa, watched in disbelief, how thousands of African fans, mostly South Africans rallied support for Nigeria throughout their Group B matches against Argentina, Greece and South Korea.
From their camp site at Richards Bay, Durban to Johannesburg and Blomfoentain, where Nigeria played her group matches, the Eagles did not lack support.
What the Nwankwo Kanu-led team lacked was their inability to optimally utilise the large supportership given to participating teams by the Vuvuzela-inspired hosts of the World Cup.
Itâ€™s no exaggeration that the Eagles virtually had no preparation before heading for South Africa. And that takes the front seat among what contributed to their failure.
Some of the players selected to represent Nigeria were not fit for the rigours of the tournament. They were recuperating from a long lay-off due to injuries but the technical crew couldnâ€™t test them enough due to time constraint.
Apart from that, the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, failed to set up an early World Cup training camp for the Eagles. The body did not just delay in approving the camping programme of Swede Technical Adviser, Lars Lagerback, it did not feature the squad in quality pre-World Cup international friendly matches that could have exposed their flaws.
To add insult to injury, the Alhaji Sani Lulu-led NFF shielded the team away from public glare, obviously to avoid criticisms from the Nigerian media, and finally settled for less than a monthâ€™s shadow camping in London.
Lagerback, who was yet to really know the strength of Nigerian players, finally announced his 23-man squad, which included some old players including Kanu and left out some young and promising youngsters like Femi Ajilore, Adefemi Olubayo and others.
In Lagerbackâ€™s squad were about 86 per cent of the players, whom former Chief Coach, Shuaibu Amodu featured at the Angola Cup of Nations in January this year.
And, when the Eagles began their last phase of training for the World Cup at the Mini Sports Complex in Richards Bay, Durban, the playersâ€™ lack of fitness came to the fore while all that the NFF swept under the carpet were blown open to the world.
At least half of the squad were battling for match fitness. John Utaka and Kanu, both of relegated Portsmouth, who were bench warmers throughout the season in the Premier League made Lagerbackâ€™s cut.
They were match-rusty. Even, Boltonâ€™s Danny Shittu, who did not kick a single ball for his club last season was handed an important role in Nigeriaâ€™s opening match against an Argentine squad, which parade world class players in Jose Mourinhoâ€™s Inter that won this yearâ€™s UEFA Champions League trophy.
Lagerback, who earlier claimed that he included Chelseaâ€™s John Mikel Obi because he â€˜was fully fitâ€™ and declared him ready for the World Cup, shyly dropped the player at the last minute and recalled Brown Ideye, the Sochaux of France player he dropped along with seven players after the London camp.
With barely 24 hours to Nigeriaâ€™s opener against the FIFA Player of the Year, Lionel Messi-led Argentina, the camp of the Eagles were in tatters.
The inclusion of some players by the technical crew caused disaffection among a few others, who knew they had no business in South Africa.
Lokomotive Moskow of Russiaâ€™s playmaker, Osaze Odemwingie was the first to be castigated for his outbursts, warning that the countryâ€™s poor preparations could lead the Eagles to destruction at the mundial.
His warning was seen as a distraction by skipper Kanu, who alongside the other old players sidelined him in camp. The young players, who shared in Osazeâ€™s assertion broke away from the â€˜Camp Kanuâ€™ and thus, things began to work against the Nigerian team.
The team took the unsettled ill feelings to the lavishly furnished stadia in Johannesburg, Blomfoentain and Durban, playing the games their own ways.
Those who followed the tactical approach to the games would recall how the Eagles put avoidable pressure on soccer-loving Nigerians. While the coaches were urging the players to come forward and struggle for goals, the players opted to retreat on several occasions, playing too deep in their rear.
The strikers were not playing for each other, they wanted to score and make names for themselves, which was why they wasted goal-scoring chances.
Osaze, the widely criticised player also had problems with Kalu Uche, whom he lambasted for missing a crucial goal that could have won the match against the Argies for Nigeria.
Obasi Ogbuke was not spared. He too fought those who blamed him for missing many goals against Nigeriaâ€™s opponents. Assistant skipper, Joseph Yobo was found wanting as he could not show enough leadership qualities. He had his own share in the discord that further battered Nigeriaâ€™s football image in South Africa.
Apart from in-fighting and on the pitch problems, the Eagles had varying psychological crisis.
There was no discipline in camp. The players sneaked out at every opportunity and were always seen at various supermarkets, The Mall and Shoprite at Richards Bay. Kanu and his colleagues were shopping as if there is no tomorrow.
The NFF, which brought about 400 persons to South Africa, was too busy with logistic problems that the officials had no enough time to address the prevailing crisis in camp.
Of the above number, well over 30 Chairmen of Football Associations from Nigeria were in South Africa to â€˜supportâ€™ the national team. Alas! They were not here for the interest of our dear country. The officials were engrossed in political campaigns, may be to finalise their act, their grand plan to ensure that the incumbents return to office when the NFF elections hold back home in August. Youâ€™ve not heard it all, the story continues. So, stay with P.M.Sports