Nigeria, Tahiti played like schoolboys
I needed to watch a few games before making any analytical comments about the ongoing Confederations Cup. In particular, I needed to watch Nigeria and Tahiti play each other for the first time in their histories.
I had never heard of Tahiti in relation to football. I had to actually check it up in my old Atlas map of the world to confirm that it is the same one I read about decades ago in my geography and literature classes in secondary school.
My ‘fears’ were confirmed – it is the same place and people.
The population of the island country lying deep in the heart of the widest and largest water mass in the world is about 170 000 people in all. Nigeria has a population of about 170 million people.
No one I asked knew anything about Tahiti and its football other than that the country could not possibly have a professional football league and is unlikely to have any number of professional players in major leagues in the world. Where would the players that could face the current African champions, with awesome records, and a well-established global football reputation, come from?
I did not want to start analysing anything from such depth of ignorance. Now that I finally watched their match against Nigeria I can breathe easy and say something about...the Super Eagles. That’s the contradiction.
To analyse the match is to write about the Nigerian team. The Tahitian team must have been a mistake. I don’t know how they did it (I mean qualifying for the tournament), with a team so poor in all aspects of the game that they reminded me of football when I was in primary school on the streets of Jos (check it out on the Internet) eons ago!
Forgive me but that was one of the poorest displays of football at an international level I have ever seen. The love shown to them through massive support of spectators on the night was really a celebration of the underdog. The difference between Tahiti and the rest of the world represented in Rio is a gulf that stretches from the earth to Pluto.
So, let me look at Nigeria and how they handled the Tahitians’ entry into international football at the highest level. It was a baptism of six goals that could have been double that number if the Nigerian team had not also played like school boys.
The Eagles may still pay for their relaxed attitude to the match. Instead of focusing and hammering Tahiti without pardon, they dropped their game, lost concentration and let in a goal that could now become significant if goal-difference becomes a decisive factor. The group does include two other world superpowers in Uruguay and Spain after all.
I also needed to watch the Nigerian team play their first match in order to make any meaningful assessment of how far the team can go in this short tournament. The matches involved are so few that before a team actually settles down to find its rhythm the competition is over. So every team at this tournament must come fully prepared, as every match is critical and important.
The preparation of the Super Eagles could not have been better. The team played two World Cup qualifying matches one week apart, plus a top-rate international football friendly against one of the big teams at the tournament - Mexico. To top its preparation the team went into its crisis mode.
No one should laugh but the most successful national teams in Nigeria’s history have been the teams put together in the midst of circumstances that could destroy any other team but Nigeria. Nigeria are a different species. The country thrives best in the midst of chaos and confusion.
Ask every Nigerian who knows anything about Nigerian football and they will tell you that whenever there is peace in the team; when everyone is happy; when bonuses and allowances have been paid; when the players are promised heaven and earth and pampered before any match or tournament, they disappoint and crumble.
Clemens Westerhof would swear to this theorem. He was first a victim before he used this knowledge to become the most successful coach in the history of Nigerian football. Once, Clemens even engineered a crisis within the team when he saw that life was too easy and calm for the Nigerian players and their psyche.
Stephen Keshi is a first-class disciple of the Westerhof school of football philosophy. It is no surprise his team is succeeding in spite of the crisis all around it.
No one should be surprised that the Eagles arrived at the venue straight from an unbelievable level of crisis. The team was actually not going to attend as a result of petty, avoidable squabbles that should not be publicly told for the shame it could bring to this nation of abundant players and talent.
Let me, therefore, just summarise what I saw of the Eagles.
The team played poorly. I guess the team could not have done better considering that they arrived at the venue of the match only a few hours before the game and without any inkling what kind of opposition the Tahitians would present.
So, for 90 minutes, the team put up a show that had a very mechanical game of 10 athletes running at the Tahitian defense at will, gifted endless goal-scoring chances, then scoring just six goals and conceding one.
Just as I wrote some time ago, this Nigerian team has its strength in the combination of the power, physique, speed, and athleticism of the players assembled. I could not make out one truly outstanding player in the entire team, yet they won so easily.
Despite this, into the rest of the tournament, I see 11 super athletes that will give every team they meet nightmares.