“The players did their best in this game but the technical glitches cost us a second round ticket. How we couldn’t hold the ball for the last 5 mins is still a shock to us.”
That is one of the two paragraphs I extracted from the embarrassing comments from Nigeria’s Minister for Sports, Mr Solomon Dalung in the wake of Nigeria’s sorrowful loss to Argentina in St Petersburg on Tuesday night.
Mr Dalung’s over analysis to paralysis can best be described as one from a hurting fan who was speaking in the heat of the moment, something shocking, as the game had been decided close to twenty four hours to when Mr Dalung’s statement was released.
If all the Minister would do was to apportion blames, then how convenient was it to absolve the players of any blames, on that night, and heap everything on the manager? What if the players had scored some of the chances they created before Mr Dalung’s “last 5mins”?
“I have interacted with Nigerians here in Russia and it appears the technical crew could not manage the 1-1 draw with just 5 minutes left.
“It is time to go back to the technical committee and technical department for future assignments. The Super Eagles technical crew cannot work independent of the Nigeria Football Federation’s technical committee and department.”
As if the Minister’s acts of unsettling the Football Federation (and the already unsettled Basketball Federation) before the tournament were not enough, these comments from him were watery and too pedestrian to come from someone in charge of Sports. Interacted with Nigerians? Those pained by betting tickets, or those feeling neglected in how professional this Nigerian team have looked? Shocking!
Mr Dalung needs to be educated that there was no Technical Committee in 1994 when Nigeria had the best of years in football, and there was this same Committee in 2010, a shambolic tournament for Nigeria in spite of the billions pumped into it.
Make no mistake about it, aside from the fact that a manager normally is responsible for his team’s performances, Gernot Rohr clearly made some mistakes during the course of the tournament in Russia, like most other managers in the tournament.
His game-management approach could be questioned in the latter stages of the game against Argentina, but that looked to have evaporated his ingenious substitutions in the half time of the same game against Argentina and the previous one against Iceland where he brought on Odion Ighalo and Tyronne Ebuehi respectively at half time.
Both changes significantly helped Nigeria’s play in the second half but against Argentina, a marked failure to finish and then reluctance to react in the closing stages from the bench did Nigeria in.
The signs are there. Mr Rohr has to a large extent picked a squad of players that are Nigeria’s best anywhere in the world. He showed that he could hear from Nigerians too by changing approach, dropping players from the starting team or including a player much craved for in the team when the requests come, however slow it is.
Gernot Rohr assembled a truly young team which if kept together under the right guardianship will ruffle feathers with top African teams and prepare them for Qatar 2022. It is hard to see any other guardian to tutor these ones because, typically, a new manager will definitely distort the current settings and order.
Rohr’s failing in Russia was not unexpected for me, due to his largely inexperienced profile in major competitions – his only previous attempt was in 2012 when Gabon lost on penalties to Mali at the quarter final stage of the Africa Cup of Nations.
He is expected to have learnt a great deal from the tournament and it would be great for Nigeria if he gets to use his lesson for Nigeria, and not another country which might come for him if the Football Federation dances to the tune of the Minister, which I don’t expect in anyway.
Nigeria’s participation in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia require a proper post-mortem and not some politically inclined haphazard review which are best attributed to road-side or newspaper stand analysts. As it is, Nigeria are not the only ‘big’ nation (as we like to deceive ourselves) to exit the tournament at the group stage but what differentiates each country is what they do and/or where they go from Russia