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Lesson from the Mexico friendly for the NFF, Rohr

On July 4, Nigeria was a guest of the Mexico Football Federation in the 2021 MexTour Series decided at the 77,500- capacity LA Coliseum in the United States of America. Interestingly, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) decided to parade home-based players for the encounter. As expected, it was a rout as Mexico, with their star-studded A-team, defeated Nigeria 4-0. We recall Hector Hererra gave Mexico the lead from his team’s first corner kick barely two minutes into the game.

The dust was yet to settle after the opener as the fast-paced Latin Americans came calling again, opening up the Eagles’ defence before Rogelio Funes Mori blasted home from close range to make it 2-0 for Mexico. Despite the brilliance of keeper Stanley Nwabili, the Eagles conceded two more goals in the second half. Overall, we believe it was a good attempt by the homebased lads even though Ibrahim Sanusi, who featured in the right back position, is not based in Nigeria but Canada. The players were naturally jittery due to their inexperienced.

We acknowledge the gallantry of the domestic league players because they played against a team rated ninth in the world by FIFA. Most of the players before then were yet to play international football before and their first experience was thus way too high. The motive of the federation was unknown until the President, Amaju Pinnick, addressed the players shortly before the match in USA and pledged to stop the players from moving to unknown clubs abroad, rather, he prefers they move straight to top clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, PSG, Juventus and Manchester United.

A former international, Emmanuel Amuneke, argued that it was better for the homebased players to take the first step and be focused before hitting it big with the top teams. “Our domestic league is not the very best in Africa and we now aspire to transfer players straight to the big teams? That won’t happen easily. It has to be one step at a time before we get it right to join a big team,” Amuneke said. Aside from the controversy of where the players go from here, there was the issue of Gernot Rohr, the head coach, who refused to take responsibility because the home-based players were on parade. It is clear the NFF board cannot control Rohr – a coach the federation employed. We make bold to say the development of Nigerian football can best be measured from the standard in the domestic league.

And so if Rohr is not interested in the NPFL, it means he is not interested in the development of the game in the country. T he NFF should have arranged a friendly against the CHAN team of Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa and DR Congo, if really the target was for development and not for respective personal issues. For now, the A-team players of the Eagles are on break and some of them would be willing to feature in friendly games. Rather than play a friendly that is of no consequence like the Eagles did on July 4, games of immense value could be arranged for the Eagles’ A-team players who are expected to be on duty in September in the Qatar 2002 World Cup Qualifiers. We call on the NFF to be firm in dealing with Rohr and the body should be more focused on the development of the game rather than play to the gallery on crucial national issues. That Mexico defeated Nigeria in a friendly is not a big deal but the fact that the country had little or nothing to take away from the game is the main issue.

The players who were in USA against Mexico will not be together in another two years when CHAN event comes up again. Sadly, the A-team is also not yet the finished product and so efforts should be made to get the main team to win honours in Africa and be among the best in the world. We commend the NFF for making friendly games a reality in the country. Before the current board of the federation, friendly matches were being played on the pages of newspapers. The then federation would just name the encounter and few weeks to the game, it would be cancelled. The friendlies were never played but the Amaju Pinnick board has changed all of that to make friendlies a reality. Many have been played home, away to opposing teams and also in neutral venues.

The importance of the friendly matches is to give the team cohesion and better understanding for competitive games like the Africa Nations Cup qualifiers, Olympic football event elimination games and the World Cup qualifiers. However, to achieve cohesion and better understanding in the Eagles’ A-team, more top-grade friendlies should be arranged for them because they are the ones representing the country in the competitive games. The federation should be worried about how to make the head coach think more about development and how he could raise a solid team good enough to rule Africa at the next AFCON and reach at least the semis of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.




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