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World Cup

Prayers for Finidi George

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BY CORNELIUS EHIMIAGHE (A supporter of Bendel Insurance FC).

 The fact that Finidi George is now the Super Eagles coach is no longer news. What will be news is how long is he going to last on this hot seat. Is he going to be kicked out after two matches? Are his players going to play to his instructions? Are the fans going to be singing: “all we are saying, no more indigenous coach?” Will the NFF be able to pay his salary?Decades ago, millions of Nigerians used to be inspired by the gallant performances of the Super Eagles. Recent inconsistent display by Super Eagles has led to the average Nigerian football followers diverting their attention to other diversionary activities in order to survive the current economic hardship. Gone are the days when Nigerians put all their hopes on the Super Eagles using the “never say die Naija spirit” to win a losing match. With two international matches experience under his belt, can Finidi George become the lucky general that Napoleon Bonaparte talked about, or is he going to be the field marshal that failed to deliver the World Cup ticket to millions of Nigerians?As the Super Eagles start their bid to revive their 2026 World Cup hopes, can a tree make a forest? Mind you, Finidi did not lay the shaky foundation of Nigeria’s quest for a 2026 World Cup ticket. The NFF has just bestowed on him the herculean task of awakening the Super in the Eagles. Finidi needs all the best wishes and prayers of Nigerians and the intercessions of our ancestors. Let us pray:· May your assistant coaches not back stab you. Ise (Amen).· May your star strikers not hit the post during time added on. Ise (Amen).· May the spirit of “Odiye” not enter the body of any Super Eagles players, during your tenure. Ise.· Under your watch, may no Super Eagles player die on the football field or in hospital after a football or training match. Ise.· May you and your players not be invited by state security officials to be tongue lashed and frog marched for not being able to sing the Nigerian national anthem (Nigeria we hail thee). Ise.· Under your watch, may no Super Eagles supporter at home or abroad be stabbed, shot at by trigger happy police officers, soldiers, or rival football supporters. Ise.· May you not be sacked because the kit man of the Super Eagles forgot the jerseys of the Super Eagle players in the hotel room. Ise.· The day football match fixers are looking for someone to collaborate with them, may they not find your telephone number or email address. Ise.· May you or your assistant coaches not collect money or undeclared gift items, aid, or abet the collection of money to invite any player to the Super Eagles camp. Ise.· May the NFF not owe you salary arears beyond one month. Ise.· May the irresponsible actions of an over zealot football fan or ball boy not lead to the abandonment of a Super Eagles match. Ise.· May the “oga of the oga at the top” not change your team selection of the Super Eagles in a crucial World Cup match. Ise.· Under your watch, may no referee or VAR conspire against the Super Eagles. Ise.· May members of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) not write your professional obituary. Ise.· May you not be held hostage by football fans, football administrators, kidnappers or unknown gunmen. Ise.· May the “ladies of pleasure” not twist the waist or reduce the pace of acceleration of any Super Eagles player. Ise.· Under your watch, may FIFA or CAF not deduct any point of the Super Eagles. Ise.  · May you not qualify the Super Eagles for the 2026 World Cup, and be relieved of your duty before the commencement of the tournament. Ise.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

World Cup

It’s 28 years since Super Eagles’ worst competitive defeat

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Denmark unexpectedly beat Nigeria 4-1

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Denmark face Germany on Saturday hoping to recreate their famous victory at the Euro 92 when they secured their first title, although they were the underdogs.

 This day 28 June, a day before their Round of 16 Euro 2024 clash with Germany also brings the memory of their famous Round of 16 win over Nigeria at the France ‘98 World Cup.

Their 4-1 defeat of the Super Eagles remains the biggest defeat that the Nigerians have gotten in a competitive duel in nearly 30 years.

 It was an unexpected result considering that the Super Eagles contributed to the elimination of one of the tournaments favourites, Spain.

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A goal down under two minutes and two down under 12 minutes presented a huge mountain for the Super Eagles to climb.

 What a twist of an event most had thought the Nigerian team would be the dominant side.

The world was awaiting a match-up of Nigeria and Brazil in the quarter-finals.

It was to rekindle the memorable encounter of both countries’ Olympic teams two years earlier when Nigeria famously defeated Brazil 4-3 in a golden goal decider at the semi-finals.

     A rematch at the quarter finals of France ’98 would have brought up a novel match-up of reigning Olympic gold medallists and reigning World Cup holders. It turned out a mere dream.

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 Nigeria’s manager, Bora Milutinović fielded a starting line-up with seven midfielders and no attacker.

Could that had been a new tactical formation in football in a knockout game Nigeria had to score and win? Call it the 3-7-0. Call it overconfidence.

      Even Nigeria’s manager was reportedly half-kiddingly remarked before the match: “We’ve got a very important match coming up in Nantes” – a reference to a possible quarter-final meeting  with Brazil.

  Member of the team, Mutiu Adepoju told Sports Village Square that poor tactical approach cost Nigeria the match.     “The game was taken as a routine one and hence, no special preparation for it.

  “The coaches did not even border to get insight into the Denmark team”, said Adepoju who was called ‘Headmaster’  for his heading skill. It was with an header that he scored Nigeria’s first goal that put scores at 1-1 in a 3-2 defeat of Spain in the opening match.

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  He dismissed a well publicised claim by teammate, Taribo West that the players had busy nights with women prior to the match.

  He however admitted that there was discontentment in camp and that the coaching crew lost control of the team.

  It came light that the players did not sleep all night as the now very familiar agitations for enhanced match bonuses came up.

As published in the on-line version of Al-Jazeera in 2014, Sunday Oliseh was quoted as saying: “We wasted too much energy on the eve of our game haggling over bonus, something like that should not be the focus at a big tournament like the World Cup. “We lost that game off the pitch and not on the pitch.”           

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World Cup

FIFA awards win to Niger after Congo no-show in World Cup qualifier

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FIFA has awarded Niger a win and the full three points in a 2026 World Cup soccer qualifier with Congo that was postponed this month, the world governing body said on Wednesday.

Congo had refused to travel to Kinshasa, capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, for their home game after their stadium in Brazzaville was deemed not to have met hosting requirements.

Niger did travel, and were awarded the game 3-0, which leaves them second in Group E on six points, three behind leaders Morocco. Congo are stuck on zero points from their three matches.

Only the top team in each of the nine pools is guaranteed a place at the expanded World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has decided to declare the match lost by forfeit 3-0 by the representative team of Congo,” FIFA said in a statement.

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It said the Alphonse Massemba-Debat Stadium in Brazzaville could not have been used until renovations, including the laying of a new pitch, were completed

Congolese Sports Minister Hughes Nguilondile declared the stadium ready in late May, but it was deemed too late to move the fixture. FIFA ordered it to go ahead in Kinshasa as originally planned, leading to Congo’s withdrawal in protest.

-Reuters

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World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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