Talents are all over the nooks and crannies of the country in various aspects of sports disciplines. The athletes are scattered in schools and grassroots but the administrators and coaches tend to favour a ‘quick fix’ rather than developmental approach in getting results. A former Eagles coach and FIFA Instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde, over the years had warned that there was danger in the football circles because the country was not adopting developmental approach to bring out talents. Those in positions of authorities failed to listen. Again, Nigeria is fast losing grip in some areas where the country enjoys complete dominance.
The U-17, U-20 and the Olympics team, the Eaglets, Flying Eagles and the Dream Team now struggle to qualify on the continent. In the last competition, the Flying Eagles failed to qualify while the Eaglets managed to do so via a favour by another country.
The Dream Team also failed to pick the Olympics ticket. In Africa today, the Super Falcons are the most consistent team in terms of trophies won on the continent and the overall results recorded. In the past few years, things are gradually changing as the gap between Falcons and other teams is being narrowed by Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa. At the last African Women Nations Cup, Banyana Banyana defeated Falcons in group stage and only lost to Nigeria on penalties in the final. The Black Queens of Ghana and Lionesses of Cameroon have at one time or the other defeated the Falcons. The just concluded Aisha Buhari Championship has exposed the Falcons in many ways. Nigeria defeated Mali 2-0 in the opener but the two goals came late in the game incidentally by home-based player Monday Gift of Robo FC. Against South Africa on Tuesday, it was a disgrace as Nigeria went down by three goals in the first half.
That had never happened to the team against African opponents. Two early goals were recorded by Nigeria in the second half by Vivian Ikechukwu, another home-based player who plays for Rivers Angels. The South Africans stood their ground with inspiration from defender Van Wyk and they dominated the game to get a deserved fourth goal to seal the win. It was a shock that happened in Lagos, Nigeria with top players like Asisat Oshoala, Rita Chikwelu and Desire Oparanozie on parade for the Falcons It is important to stress the impact of the youthful trio of Gift, Ikechuckwu and Opeyemi Sunday in the match against South Africa.
However, the deficiency of coach Randy Waldrum was evident as he had no answer to the porous midfield which failed to create chances for the strikers such that the defenders resorted to sending long balls forward to the attackers. The coach has two jobs – one with Falcons of Nigeria and another with a University in the United States of America – and such coach cannot get the players in the grassroots to join others and compete for shirts in the senior national team.
There is obviously no transition process, if any, it is poor and that is why we still had Chikwelu and Onome Ebi in the team. The current coach is not doing enough and will take the Falcons nowhere because it is crystal clear there is need for an overhaul of the team. Going forward, the youngsters should form the nucleus of the team just as one or two of the Class of 99 honoured by the Nigeria Football Federation last week can handle the team better. Mercy Akide-Udoh, Florence Omagbemi and some other are top coaches with deep knowledge of women football at global level. NFF did very well with the recognition accorded the Class of 99 but it was a surprise that coach of the team, Ismaila Mabo, was left out.
This is most UNFAIR. As we look forward to the next AWCON slated for Morocco in July 2022, there is need for the NFF to take crucial decisions on the Falcons, starting from the manager, Waldrum. There must be a plan to bring in more players from the league and the youth teams to strengthen the team. The South Africans, Ghanaians and even Cameroonians were so young during the ABC and they will get better for the AWCON next year. Banyana Banyana will see themselves as hot favourites to stop Nigeria’s quest for the 10th title and only serious responsive measures can prevent them from doing so. It is not late to salvage the situation for the Falcons to maintain their stronghold on the continent but NFF must be ready to shun sentiments and take critical decisions to help the team get better.