‘NFF killing women football silently’
• Izilien Says Flamingos’ Failure To Qualify For 2018 World Cup Could Have Been Avoided
Four years ago, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) placed the national female U-17 team, The Flamingos, under the care of coach Bala Nikyu in the build up to the FIFA World Cup at Costa Rica 2014. At that championship, the Nigerians wobbled and fumbled to the quarterfinal, where they were eliminated by Spain. Two years later (2016), the NFF Technical department kept faith with coach Nikyu by retaining him for the World Cup in Jordan despite protests by some Nigerians who felt that the coach was not in tune with modern football.
The result was scandalous, as the Flamingos, which were captained by Rasheedat Ajibade (now with the Super Falcons at the WAFU competition in Ghana), failed to score a goal in their three matches and managed only a goalless draw with England to finish on a solitary point. They were trounced 3-0 by North Korea in their final Group C match.
Rather than listen to the voice of Nigerians, who were clamouring for a change in the technical crew of the Flamingos, the NFF, again re-appointed coach Nikyu to lead the team in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay. And despite the financial and morale support from Nigerians, particularly the government and people of Edo State, coach Nikyu and his army failed, dashing the hope of millions of Nigerians, who were already looking forward to the team’s participation in Uruguay from November 13 to December 1.
“It was a big setback for Nigerian women football,” former Super Falcons coach Godwin Izilien told The Guardian yesterday. “I watched the Flamingos during their qualifiers in Benin City, and I was not impressed by their approach to matches. Even before their last match against Cameroun, I told some of my friends sitting by my side at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium that it would be difficult for the girls to qualify for the World Cup. I wonder how the NFF technical department came about the choice of the coach in the first place when he had failed with the team twice. They are building a weak foundation for Nigerian women football. It is sad,” Izilien stated.
The Flamingos had featured in all past editions of the World Cup, from the inaugural party in New Zealand in 2008, Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, Azerbaijan in 2012, Costa Rica in 2014 and Jordan 2016 edition.
This time, the NFF preferred candidate (coach Nikyu), added salt to injury, as his team failed to impress in all the qualifying matches.
To reach the last round of qualifiers, the Flamingos drew 1-1 with Ethiopia in Addis Ababa and both teams finished the return leg 0-0 in Benin. The away goal earned Nigeria passage at the expense of the East Africans.
Even before Cameroun arrived Benin City for the first leg of their qualifier, many Nigerians had written off the chances of the Flamingos making it to the World Cup. They struggled to end the encounter 2-2, their third draw in the campaign.
The Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City was a slaughter ground for the U-20 girls, Falconets, who easily qualified for the 9th FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, after a 6-0 pounding of South Africa’s Basetsana.
But the Flamingos could not sustain the momentum with their third draw in as many matches in the qualifying campaign.
After a 2-2 scoreline in Benin City, the Flamingos promised to win in Yaoundé in the return leg, or secure a high score draw from 3-3. It didn’t happen, as the tie ended 1-1 for the Nigerians to wave goodbye to the World Cup.
To coach Izilien, the NFF technical department should be blamed for the failure of the Flamingos to qualify for Uruguay 2018. “It appears the NFF is no longer on top of its game. At the end of our disastrous outing at Jordan 2016 World Cup, I expected that a new coach would take over the Flamingos. But that didn’t happen. What have been the track records of coach Nikyu to warrant being retained for three World Cup?
“Look at coach Florence Omagbemi, who led the Super Falcons to win the last African Nations Cup title in Cameroun. She was removed despite appeals from some of us to the NFF not to drop her. Don’t be surprised to see this same Nikyu in the national team tomorrow. That is the football we are running in Nigeria at the moment. I watched the NFF award ceremony and I wept. What informed the decision to name Ann Chiejine as female coach of the Year? What happened to the head coach (Omagbemi) and her first assistant (Perpetua Nkwocha)? I don’t have anything against Ann Chiejine. She worked with me as Welfare Officer of the Super Falcons some years back. But we must not shy away from the truth. People should stand up and speak the truth for our football to grow. What has happened to the Flamingos is an indirect way of killing women football in Nigeria. It is not enough for the football house to secure sponsorship everywhere. Those running the NFF must be fair in taking certain decisions, including the appointment of coaches for the various national teams,” Izilien stated.
China-based Super Falcons star striker, Asisat Oshoala, was also disappointed with the failure of the Flamingos to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Uruguay. “No U-17 World Cup For us,” Oshoala wrote on Twitter shortly after the team was eliminated by Cameroun.
This will be Cameroun’s second appearance at the U-17 Women’s World Cup after qualifying for the 2016 edition in Jordan.
At the 2010 edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, the Flamingos made it to the quarterfinal. They were also quarterfinalist at Azerbaijan 2012, as well as Costa Rica 2014.
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