NFF pay the price for hubris, misplaced priorities in Super Eagles' World Cup exit to Ghana

Nigeria suffered a crushing blow, both to their ego and footballing ecosystem, in World Cup elimination at the hands of Ghana, and a purge of the football leadership is required.

NFF President Amaju Pinnick

When the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF reached the decision to part ways with erstwhile Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr back in December, the Delta State native explained it was in the interest of preempting "disaster".

Well, as that wizened tortoise Master Oogway – echoing the wisdom of Jean De La Fontaine – pithily observed in 'Kung Fu Panda', one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.

This kernel of wisdom is also one of the themes of the Greek play 'Oedipus Tyrannus', apt in the sense that, having fulfilled their own prophecy by failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, the present NFF leadership should now gouge out their own eyes in penance and walk into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

What unfolded inside the Moshood Abiola Stadium on Tuesday night was a tragedy in the finest Hellenic traditions, the culmination of a hubristic decision that need not have been terminal. However, he whom the gods wish to kill, they first drive to madness; in bizarrely electing to replace Rohr with Augustine Eguavoen, the NFF sealed their own fate.

The result was predictable, complete with catharsis at the end as an artificially inflated home support poured onto the pitch at full-time to register its displeasure, leaving pillage in its wake.

As on the pitch, so in the stands. Over the course of 95 minutes, a sense of frustration had steadily built as the Super Eagles failed to recover from an early setback. That feeling was palpable among the players as well, especially as it became clear there was little guidance coming from the bench as to how to get around the formidable, well-drilled block visitors Ghana had erected.

Instead, it was the Black Stars who played the role of protagonists, dictating the tempo and intensity of the proceedings – this time without the ball as opposed to with it as in the reverse fixture – and executing a dynamic game plan.

Nevertheless, Nigeria were just about able to shade the game on these terms in the first half, aided by a rejigged shape that provided a greater presence in the middle of the pitch and allowed for direct attacks into the channels.

While there was little that could have been done about Thomas Partey's speculative snapshot, perhaps beyond Emmanuel Dennis closing down quicker and goalkeeper Francis Uzoho actually doing what his job title says on the tin, it was the Super Eagles creating the better openings in that opening period, often by working combinations and overlaps on the left flank. In that zone, Calvin Bassey overlapped eagerly to drill in low crosses and Joe Aribo had a decent effort saved with feet. For all their aggression, Ghana were barely an attacking threat.

However, when the two teams emerged for the restart, Ghana coach Otto Addo altered his team's shape, going to a back five to blanket the space that Nigeria had revelled in finding in the first half while adding an extra centre-back to deal with the lively, bustling Victor Osimhen, who had proven a handful in the first half.

The gauntlet was thrown down, the challenge set.

Eguavoen, as has become typical, failed to react. The inability of his teams to attack in more than one way is now a feature, like a familiar interlude between acts. This speaks to a lack of complexity: failing to anticipate and prepare for the possibility of a counter-move rendered his Super Eagles utterly ineffective when it mattered at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon, and the unfolding of these two legs against the Black Stars have driven the lesson home with cruel, cold finality.

Addo, in his first senior coaching role, with far less time to prepare and starting from a lower base, is already the superior coach.

Nigeria have only failed to reach the World Cup twice since debuting in 1994. On both occasions, Eguavoen was in charge during the qualification process. However, while in 2006, he could rightly claim it was no fault of his, while pointing to the fact his appointment was a breath of fresh air that brought two big wins, this time there is nowhere to hide. Given time, even the new broom gets old and frayed too.

For all his faults though, Eguavoen is merely a symptom, a manifestation of a wider cultural malaise within Nigerian football. What he is –and what he has been at every turn – is well known. A man cannot deny his nature, and in the case of the 56-year-old, that nature, at least in coaching terms, has been defined by unrelenting underperformance.

All that said, it was not he who appointed himself, evincing pride and complacency in doing so while seeking to fulfil a vendetta. It is not he who has treated the hallowed position at the head of a nation's footballing establishment as merely a means to satisfy a personal political ambition. It is not he who should bear the bulk of the censure for this debacle.

That dishonour should be the preserve of Pinnick, a man so wrapped up in his own self-image and consumed by his lust for relevance that he has brought a plague upon Nigerian football. Make no mistake: this failure is one that will reverberate, its shockwaves pulsing through Nigeria's footballing ecosystem at all levels.

The honourable solution at this time would be to step away at first convenience, and perhaps in doing so the muck and grime of this sordid era can begin to be washed away.

More from category