Nigeria's elimination after a defeat by Argentina at the World Cup in Russia has left the players, coach, and the referee as targets of incessant blame. Nigerians have blamed Odion Ighalo, and criticised the referee, but they've not asked perhaps the most pertinent question, how the Super Eagles should improve, and learn from their elimination.
The Super Eagles' defeat by the Argentine team in their final group game at the World Cup in Russia left many Nigerians with a lot of emotions, mostly painful ones. For a country that only needed a draw to move on to the next round, Nigerian fans, and African supporters were hopeful that the Super Eagles would deliver. Sadly, that wasn't the case.
First, Lionel Messi scored a beautiful goal, and you could see the relief written on the face of the Argentine maestro. Luckily for the Nigerian team, they equalised through a penalty converted by Victor Moses, and the Super Eagles were able to keep their hopes alive. As the game progressed, the question which was surely on everyone's mind was: could the Nigerian team be an equal match for the Argentines? Could the referee have a huge role to play in the outcome of the game?
After Argentine player Marcos Rojo headed the ball unto his own hand, the Nigerian side appealed for a penalty. The referee consulted the Video Assistant Referee VAR (referee who reviews decisions made by the head referee with the use of video footage and a headset), and later gave the decision of a goal-kick. The end result is now common knowledge, the La Albiceleste eventually kept their dream alive, with a goal from Rojo on the cusp of elimination, a goal which came right towards the end of the match.
A hugely frustrated Captain of the Nigerian team, John Obi Mikel after the match said, "It was a clear penalty for me. If you look at the Portugal game yesterday, this wasn't close to that. This was worse. We have seen it again in the dressing room. It was a clear handball. The referee looked at the VAR. he said it hit the hand. I asked why he didn't give the penalty, but he said he didn't know."
For many fans in Nigeria, those from across the continent, and even some neutrals, the refereeing in the match was biased. Social media was abuzz with commiserations, messages of support, vociferous complains, and even jokes, probably a way to cope and deal with the painful elimination. Some came up with the their version of the meaning of the acronym FIFA; Football Isn't For Africans. While others commended the Super Eagles for playing their heart out, others still felt the young team didn't do as well as it should.
The players received a lot of stick, but none more than the man who fluffed a golden goal opportunity. Nigerians blamed Odion Ighalo who missed an glorious chance to score, and the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir was not spared. Cakir whose officiating was seen as biased was heavily criticised. But with all the blame going around, few people have been talking about how Nigeria can learn from its mistakes, perhaps the thinking is the Super Eagles have had numerous other opportunities, and by now should not be eliminated at the first hurdle.
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is yet to come out with a statement following the Super Eagles' elimination in the group stages. Despite Nigerian fans blaming coach Gernot Rohr for his perceived inferior tactics (if any at all), no one is yet calling for his sacking. Many are hurt by the elimination, but some fans continue to applaud the Super Eagles for a valiant display in Russia.