International football is struggling to get back to full swing. Indeed, all the major leagues across the globe are back but the Covid 19 pandemic is still preventing them from getting back to 100%. Most games are still played without fans and travel restrictions are affecting the scheduling of continental club competitions.
Africa has had a much better deal with the pandemic than most of the other continents as it concerns international matches. Already this year, we have had two major international football tournaments, the first set of competitions globally since the novel virus sneaked into the world’s consciousness in late 2019.
The Confederation of African Football(CAF) have successfully superintended over the African Nations Championship(CHAN) in Cameroon and the CAF U20 Cup of Nations in Mauritania. There may have been issues around some CAF club competitions and the cancelled CAF U17 Cup of Nations but generally things have gone well. The final rounds of matches for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON) started on Wednesday and there have been no embarrassing moments or petty conflicts to sort out….and I hope there will not be.
South America have not been as lucky, their World Cup qualifiers scheduled for this international football window have been put on hold. Definitely, this is more complication for their already congested football calendar. You do not want to envy them.
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No such worries for Europe as their 2022 World Cup qualifiers are already underway.
With the conclusion of the 2021 AFCON qualifiers next week, we can look forward to the continental showpiece in Cameroon next year while shifting our immediate focus to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers starting in June.
Right now, the excitement is not just about the Super Eagles routinely picking up another ticket to the AFCON finals but about the return to Lagos for a competitive game of the Super Eagles A team after a 20 year hiatus.
Let me set some records straight.
The Super Eagles played a friendly in Lagos against Sierra Leone in February 2011 and the Home based team played a CHAN qualifier against Togo in October 2019 but these games do not compare with the main team in an AFCON qualifier.
The Lagos State Sports Commission(LSSC) have been counting down to the game, which will be against Lesotho on the 30th of March, 2021. The message is that the Super Eagles are back home(in Lagos) like they have been playing away from home for the past two decades.
In Nigeria’s football history, many cities have hosted the senior men’s national team’s competitive games.
Calabar, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Asaba, Warri, Uyo, Benin, Enugu, Ibadan, Abeokuta and of course, Lagos are some of the cities that readily come to mind in recent times. Lagos has, however, hosted more matches than all the other cities put together hence it is called home.
(The Super Eagles have made every region of this country their ‘home’ at one point in time or the other and this is commendable).
It is noteworthy that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is fixing the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja and other Federal Government owned stadia across the country with the expectation that these rehabilitated edifices will offer more options for the Nigeria Football Federation(NFF) in picking venues for the Super Eagles matches.
While keeping my love and admiration for the Super Eagles as a truly pan Nigerian brand, I have been impressed with the build up and frenzy that the Lagos State Government, through its Sports Commission, has generated around the March 30 game.
I must admit that I am still a little uncomfortable that this game is almost overshadowing an equally important game on Saturday, March 27, 2021 in Porto Novo, Benin Republic against a dangerous side.
A good result on the 27th gives the game on the 30th a more celebratory outlook, while a bad outing builds up tension and sets everyone on edge. These days the absence of fans(or full capacity stadiums) has levelled the playing field for the so called lesser teams.
We do not want to go into next Tuesday’s game with apprehension or fear that anything could go wrong.
I have no fears. I am sure the Super Eagles of Nigeria will be at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon. There is no way the team will not pick at least a point from the last two games.
With that settled, the more important issues are the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Where will the Super Eagles pick as their base? In essence, Lagos should be using next Tuesday’s game to push for the bigger pie.
What do you need to host the Super Eagles?
- Good facilities – pitches, hotels and hospitals, good road network.
These are mainly very good natural grass main and training pitches. The lush green, beautiful Teslim Balogun Stadium main pitch needs to be complimented with good training pitches of same standard. The closer these training pitches are to the team’s camp the better. This reduces travel time between the camp and the training pitch.
Hotels and hospitals.
There is no need to dwell on these two…Lagos is the home of world class, luxury hotels. There are so many top class hospitals there as well. The Lagos State Government’s investment in healthcare service delivery should stand her in good stead here.
Transport and logistics.
Most players usually have logistical challenges with their travels. Arriving from their bases, connecting local flights to the cities where the team is camped is not always easy. A lot of time is wasted and that comes at a high cost within an already choked international football window. Lagos easily solves this problem…it is just a flight into Nigeria and you should be in Lagos.
- Zero distraction.
When around for crucial games, the Super Eagles need zero distraction. Pressure, visits from family and friends will have to be controlled and probably kept at the minimum.
Lagos does not hold the advantage in this area because most of the players have their friends and families in that city than any where else.
The other side to this is the motivation to get your family and friends to watch you fulfil a life long dream of playing for your country.
- Loyal fans.
Fans who will keep supporting and motivating the team when the goals have delayed in coming or when they are playing under the cosh. There will be times when the team will need the fans to be their 12th player. When the songs of support, the chants that inspire, the cheers and applause make the difference between victory and defeat.
Hopefully more fans are able to get into the stadiums to see matches live and create a wonderful atmosphere for the team to excel by June when the World Cup qualifiers begin.
No doubt, Lagos fans are among the most sophisticated around. They respond to good football and may not mind cheering the opposition but to host the Super Eagles they have to learn to mix their sophistication with patriotism.
The words of the late ace commentator Ernest Okonkwo come to mind.
“When you cheer, sing or shout only when a goal is scored, you are merely reacting to an impulse. The real supporting and cheering is done long before the goal comes.”
- Corporate Support/Motivation.
This is a very important factor in hosting the Super Eagles. The team needs to be motivated. On Wednesday, the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwoolu hosted the team to a banquet at the State House, Marina. This kind of reception goes a long way in boosting the morale of the team.
Motivation should not only be financial, it should also be psychological.
Most of the sponsors of the national team have their corporate headquarters in Lagos. This should count for something.
However, it is important to point out here that promises made to the team be fulfilled on time.
For sure, the biggest motivation for our players should remain the opportunity to don the green and white jersey of Nigeria and help her win trophies.