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Super Eagles: Learning not to despair in defeat

By Tony Afejuku
28 January 2022   |   3:10 am
Is it easy for anyone to de-populate the pains or series of pains he or she nurses or carries inside him or her anytime one is confronted with the concert of forces by which one’s engendered hope

Nigeria’s players huddle prior to the Group D Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 football match between Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 19, 2022. (Photo by Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP)

Is it easy for anyone to de-populate the pains or series of pains he or she nurses or carries inside him or her anytime one is confronted with the concert of forces by which one’s engendered hope is despaired and dispersed? Let me answer the question: It is not easy at all but it is not impossible. We can always depopulate the discordant discordances of pains any or all disappointments or seemingly hopeless states engender in us anytime anywhere.

Once we are aware of this we can always overcome any difficulty, any difficult situation, and extricate ourselves from the clutch and tentacles of the desperado. Any untoward thing can turn one into a desperado. And the desperado often falters.

Where is my destination here?
It is no longer news, good or bad, bad or good, that our mighty Super Eagles have crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 last Sunday in Garoua, Cameroon. The loss, which is bad news to many of our compatriots has despaired them. Clearly, they did not see what was coming. The three over three wins the famed Super Eagles clinched immaculately in the group stages compelled positive attention from spectators and from their followers and supporters. And where are the Super Eagles not going to meet Tunisia, one of the lucky third-best losers in the group stages, in the Round of 16? And where the Super Eagles, not the only team that secured three victories in the group stages? Who born dog? This question that many Nigerians in my part of the country clipped to their tongues and hearts embraced tightly their patriotism. Of course, they did not care to take Daniel Amokachi’s advice, to wit: “Tunisia is like the British weather.”

Amokachi, a high-flying eagle in his Super Eagles heydays and hey years, played in the English Premier League season in season out until he terminated his glorious soccer career. His likening the unpredictability of the Tunisian team to the unpredictability of the British weather fell on the deaf ears of our Super Eagles and their handlers. Or did they not know that Amokachi the former Everton of Liverpool star player said what he said and which I have just quoted on television (DSTV Channel 202 beamed in many parts of the world)? If they did, they were certainly too, too over-confident of devouring their fellow Eagles from Tunisia for dinner. After all, a very sizeable number and key members of the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia as well as their coach were already down and out of the match courtesy of COVID-19. This also explains why they did not listen to Jay-Jay Okocha who similarly admonished them to be wary of Tunisia. Both Okocha (a former skipper of the Super Eagles) and Amokachi played against Tunisia in their delicious soccer years of patriotic value they gave to your country my country our country.

Before their last encounter, on the head-to-head comparison, Nigeria had led Tunisia four to one of five past AFCON meetings on a knock out basis. In my recollections, in 1978 Nigeria got the better of Tunisia at the 11th AFCON in Egypt. It won the bronze medal for the third-best team when Tunisia abandoned the match between both countries after our right winger Baba Otu Mohammed’s equalizer in the 42nd or so minute. The Tunisians stoutly and hotly contested Nigeria’s goal and discontinued play. Nigeria, in accordance with the rules, was awarded the match with a 2-0 score margin. In 2000 Nigeria beat Tunisia 4-2 in AFCON group stage.

In 2004 AFCON semi-final in Tunisia between the two rivals Tunisia defeated Nigeria 5-3 on a penalty shoot-out. In 2016 AFCON/African Nations Championship (sportingly called CHAN 2016) Nigeria beat Tunisia in the quarter-finals 6-5 on a penalty shootout.

In 2019, that is, three years ago Nigeria won the bronze medal encounter at the expense of Tunisia in Egypt at the 32nd AFCON. Aside from their AFCON contests, the Carthage Eagles and our dear Eagles either as Green Eagles or as Super Eagles had met at different times in FIFA World Cup fixtures. The matches were often and always ding-dong battles between both sides. Our Eagles always gave the Carthage Eagles delirium tremens. In Australian slang, our Eagles would be said to always give the Carthage Eagles the dingbats no matter how our Eagles fared in the FIFA World Cup fixtures against them.

In 1978 Tunisia triumphed over Nigeria in Lagos to get to the final round of the FIFA World Cup African Series. A painful own goal by our ever-reliable defensive midfielder Godwin Odiye after our patriotic lads made mince-meat of the Carthage Eagles that did not soar on that day will always be told and re-told in our soccer lore. That November 12th 1977 when Godwin, the master-class defender, scored against himself and his and our great squad will remain evergreen in my football memory. In 1980 our Eagles beat the Carthage Eagles in another FIFA World Cup qualifying fixture to partake in FIFA Espana ‘82. After a 2-2 aggregate score, Nigeria’s lads were through to Spain after a penalty shoot-out which our gems won.

I have gone far back into our encounters with Tunisia to show that despite our series of defeats of Tunisia the Tunisians never allowed the failures against us to cause them despair. We should learn from them. Their recent defeat of the Super Eagles that almost everybody (that, however, excluded yours sincerely) banked on to win the AFCON 2022 trophy should teach us a lesson on how not to be un-critically hopeful and on how not be downcast in defeat.

On the Nigeria-Tunisia match, I will briefly state as follows: Our boys and their handlers were disappointingly naïve throughout the time the game lasted. They essentially played gidigidi football thinking erroneously that the Tunisians would be intimidated and tired out of contention. They piled pedestrian pressure in their brainless, luckless play-less play. And everything plus everything minus nothing conspired against them and their officials and Buhari their famed telephoner before the ungracious match. All the corner kicks we had especially in the early period came to nothing. The Tunisians played a simple game that enabled them to contain our boys and keep them at bay. They simply played tactically simple football that was not devoid of sophistication. In other words, they taught our team that there is sophistication in simplicity. Their solitary goal was a sophisticated goal from a long distance of distance. It was from a simple play couched in a seemingly innocuous sophistication. Our goal-keeper did not know the bang that hit him. It was more than a simple shot with a bang that was a bang.

I don’t want to grade each player on our side. But Kelechi Iheanacho had no business staying that long before he was benched. Despite his massive experience, the young chap is bereft of the niceties of how to trap and control a ball. And Alexander Iwobi, who substituted him, what came over him? What bad football spirit charmed him to do what he did that earned him a RED barely five minutes when he entered the field? And Moses Simeon, our pearl in the absence of Victor Osimen – why did the coach, Augustine Eguavoen, not compel him to alter his style and pattern in that match? Why was his play or position not switched ceaselessly since at least three Tunisians were always at him at the same time? And why did our lads not compel the obviously biased centre referee to do a VAR check when there was a clear penalty in the early minutes of the match when a goal-bound shot was obviously palmed? And .… And…. And… I won’t go on and on. Our defeat should teach us how to lose spiritually, physically and gallantly. Perhaps it should teach us, more importantly, not to despair in defeat. We will rise again. We will.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.