9 February 2013

Nigeria: Keshi, Eagles and Amazing Afcon Transformation


Last Sunday, many of us got our fingers burnt when Nigeria's Super Eagles shocked us (maybe even themselves) by upstaging Africa's top-ranked national football team, the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire, in the quarter-final of AFCON 2013. They then followed that up with another impressive performance in a 4-1 semi-final win over Mali, which saw them making their first final appearance in 13 years.

It's still quite amazing the way the team transformed from the one we saw labouring to draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia and a even against Ethiopia in the 2-0 final group victory to the one that was so impressive against both the Elephants and their fellow Eagles.

Is it that Stephen Keshi and his wards played a classical "419" on people like me and millions of other fans (including experts and bookies) around the world, who based on what we saw of the team in Group C, would never believe in our wildest dreams that the same set of players would not only raise their game but also go all the way to the final!

But before those that "won" beat their chests and gloat over our "misfortunes" I want to remind everyone that I have repeatedly stressed that football is not exact science and as such making predictions can be a hazardous thing too.

Bookmakers and pundits pore over previous performances, the form of certain players, antecedents of teams and other stats to try to conjure up what they believe might happen in the present.

But like I pointed out recently when I "correctly" predicted that the Eagles (despite their poor form then) would beat Ethiopia, I did not go to "watch" it at a babalawo's place - no I tried to marshal out my reasons and "luckily" I was proven right at the end.

But wait a minute, let me ask this: "What would have happened had the Eagles crashed?"

Of course "we" (that is those of us who did not give them much of a chance) would have also been the ones gloating that we "said so!"

And this is what we should all realise - there are always two sides to every coin or issue and depending on how it plays out one can either be proven right or wrong.

I can imagine had the Eagles lost, many of the same people praising them to high heavens would have been the ones condemning them.

In the run up to the game it was clear that officials had been preparing grounds to hang them (Eagles players and officials) out to dry with such talk like: "We had given them everything they needed to do well" and so on.

So had the Elephants trampled on them, they would have also descended on the coaching crew and players slamming them for "letting the nation down despite all the support they got".

What I'm trying to point out here is that while we are quick to identify with success, we, especially our officials, should also be man enough to also identify with setbacks and rather than placing all the blame on others also accept that they were have part of the blame too.

But knowing my country I know this is wishful thinking and we will continue to see those in high places blaming others for setbacks while assuming key roles for success.

I will like to round up by wishing the Super Eagles all the best in Sunday's game against the Stallions of Burkina Faso. And by the way please don't expect any predictions - last Sunday is still a "painful" memory!

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