By George Aluo
DOWN cast! That is the word to use in describing the mood in Nigeria’s camp after last Tuesday’s loss to the Pharaohs of Egypt in the battle of Alexandria.
The 1-0 victory the Egyptians secured at home shattered the dream of Nigeria staging a return to the “Africa’s World Cup” after failing to qualify for the 2015 edition hosted by Equatorial Guinea.
In spite of the defeat, top officials of NFF and even Egyptian fans were full of praise for the Eagles, insisting that they did put up a good fight in the double header against Egypt.
NFF officials while taking stock of the AFCON 2017 qualification laid the blame of Eagles’ failure to land in Gabon on the first game of the series against the Taifa Stars of
Tanzania in Dar Es Salam, which Nigeria failed to win under runaway coach, Sunday Oliseh. Tanzania in Dar Es Salam,
Chairman of the soccer federation’s technical committee, Chris Green, told Saturday Sunsports that Eagles got it wrong by not beating Tanzania in Dar Es Salam.
“If we had won the match in Tanzania, we wouldn’t have been in this mess. The clash against Egypt became virtually a do or die affair because we didn’t win where we were supposed to win. Unfortunately, Sunday Oliseh went to Dar Es Salam with a team that was not strong, by calling up players on sentiment.
That gave Egypt the advantage, which they capitalized on to take the group’s sole ticket. Again, the last minute withdrawal of Chad had not helped matters,” Green said.
The Rivers state born soccer buff was full of praise for interim manager, Samson Siasia and his boys for putting up a good fight against Egypt.
Green said the Eagles he saw in the two matches against Egypt showed a lot of promise.
“We may have lost to Egypt, but we have seen a team with a lot of promise. A team that played with determination and commitment. A team of young and talented players that we can move on with, as we begin the Russia 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.”
Green said what happened in the AFCON qualifiers is a big lesson, which the NFF would guard against when the crucial group stage of the World Cup qualifiers get underway later this year.
“We have learnt our lessons with this experience. We are going to do everything possible to get it right in the World Cup qualifiers. We have started repairing all that went wrong technically with the Eagles,” he said.
He stressed that the NFF gave erstwhile coach Oliseh all the support he needed to get Nigeria’s campaign off to a fine start.
“We did give Oliseh all the support he needed to start off on a good note. Our travel plans to away matches have been excellent. We make the players and the coaches very comfortable before every game and nobody interfered with the list of players he (Oliseh) wanted to use before he decided to take a walk and abandon the team.”
It would be noted that the NFF had resolved to go for a foreign manager ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
President of NFF, Amaju Pinnick said in Alexandria that there is no going back on that since he just didn’t want to see the Eagles qualifying for the 2018 soccer mundial, but going there to make impact.
“We are going to fight with everything to pick a World Cup ticket, which is the biggest stage in international football. But beyond qualification, our aspiration is to go there and make the kind of impact the world has been expecting us to make, given what we have achieved at the youth level. For us to be able to do that, we must have a sound foreign technical adviser that can bring the best out of our team. This is why we are hiring a foreign coach. We are going to look for money by all means to pay him. And the truth is that we have made a break through in that direction. When we hire the foreign coach, we will be able to pay him, courtesy of the support of our corporate partners,” Amaju said.
The NFF president while apologizing to Nigerians assured the fans that the Eagles would land in Russia.
“Our failure to qualify for AFCON was not what we bargained for. We know how passionate Nigerians are about the game. We are deeply sorry for missing AFCON back to back, we will make amend with the World Cup by the special grace of God,” he said.