Daily Trust (Abuja)

29 January 2013

Nigeria/South Africa: Super Eagles and Poor Refereeing At Afcon 2013

Nigerian football enthusiasts are bemused by questionable calls by referees at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa, especially in matches involving the Super Eagles.

They are particularly dismayed that a referee could award a penalty to Zambia after a healthy contest at the edge of the box between Nigerian midfielder, Ogenyi Onazi, and Emmanuel Mayuka of Zambia.

Nevertheless, the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) has filed a protest to the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Observers question the ability of the Egyptian referee, Ghead Grisha, who was at the centre in the Group 'C' match between Nigeria and defending champions Zambia in Nelspruit on Jan. 25, to officiate in continental tournaments such as AFCON.

Stakeholders, players and fans alike have expressed their bitter resentment of the referee's act, even as they eagerly await CAF's decision on NFA's complaint.

They unanimously agree that punitive measures against erring referees are quite desirable but they insist that concerted efforts should be made to ensure fair play since the results of poorly officiated matches are never reversed.

Super Eagles skipper Joseph Yobo appealed to the referees officiating at the ongoing 2013 AFCON tournament to be fair to the teams in the remaining matches.

"I don't want to question the decision of the referee but I want to make a passionate appeal to the referees to be fair in their decisions, so that the best team will always win.

"It was a bizarre officiating; it was the worst penalty award I have ever seen in my entire football career. Only God knows why they are doing this to us," Yobo said.

Another Super Eagles player, Azubuike Egwueke, said that he was shocked from the bench area when the referee pointed to the spot.

"It was like a dream and I was wondering whether it was a penalty award or a free-kick against Zambia.

"CAF should help us plead with the referees to be fair to our team," he said.

On his part, Ogenyi Onazi, who allegedly committed the "foul" that led to the penalty kick, said that he was still at a loss over the referee's call.

"The opposing Zambian player was the one who was pulling me and shoving me; in fact, he almost pulled down my pants. We were not even within the 18-yard box when the referee called for a penalty.

"CAF should please tell this category of referees to stop killing African football," he added.

A football analyst, Mr Tony Opara, noted that the deed had been done, while the injury had been inflicted.

"Fine, if they even sack the referee but the result still stands; CAF should be more careful with the type of referees they engage for its tournaments.

"CAF should do all it can to ensure that these type of obnoxious calls by referees do not continue in the remaining part of the tournament," Opara said.

Besides, of no less concern to football followers is the quality of officiating of the match between the Super Eagles and the Stallions of Burkina Faso.

However, Mr Afam Udeani, a member of the Board of Rangers Football Club, urged the Super Eagles not to be deterred by the actions of the officiating team.

"The award of penalty was uncalled for; even the commentator said so.

"Besides, the pitch was horrible. I cannot believe South Africa has such a terrible pitch," he said.

Mr Ikem Odenigbo, a civil servant and football fan, said that the actions of the two referees, who handled the previous matches involving the Super Eagles, were aimed at discouraging and disorganising the Nigerian team.

"Our players did very well. For the first time in a long while, we saw good football by the Super Eagles," he said.

Mr Victor Chikwendu, a football analyst, described the poor officiating as "an insult to Nigeria."

"They denied us broadcast rights for AFCON 2013; now they want to use referees to frustrate us. This is not right; enough is enough," he said.

Chikwendu also wondered why no Nigerian referee was allowed to participate in the championship in spite of the country's contributions to CAF.

Laraba Mourad, a television journalist with Al Jazeera, who is a compatriot of the Algerian referee, Benouza Mohammed, who refereed the Nigeria-Burkina Faso match, said that the referee had a history of "poor officiating and corruption."

A soccer analyst, Ogunyomi Adebola, urged CAF to "critically" examine the mode of officiating adopted by referees in matches involving Nigeria at the ongoing AFCON tournament.

Adebola noted that the questionable penalty kick awarded against Nigeria in the match against Zambia was a glaring fact that the Super Eagles were not fairly treated by officials at the tournament.

Adebola, who is a member of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, urged CAF authorities to closely monitor their officials, while ensuring fairness for the Eagles and other teams.

He, nonetheless, stressed that the Super Eagles still had a good chance of reaching the quarter-final stage of the competition if they performed well in subsequent matches.

"However, this can only come through hard work and absolute concentration by the players," he added.

Perspective analysts are also not happy that CAF did not appoint Nigerian referees to handle matches at AFCON 2013 even when Nigeria's football league was adjudged the best in Africa.

They query the yardstick for appointing referees for CAF tournaments; going by the bad officiating recorded in the ongoing AFCON tournament.

They, however, urge the Super Eagles not to allow the bad officiating of their previous matches to dampen their spirits.

"The Super Eagles can still go far in this competition with right attitude and approach.

"If they put the match beyond their opponents by converting their chances in the first half, it will difficult for any referee to manipulate the outcome of the matches," some of them say.

NAN

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