New Telegraph

Implications of Nigeria’s absence at ’22 Qatar

The Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which started on November 20, is unique in many ways. The most obvious is that the event is being staged in the winter season rather than the usual summer due to the weather template of the host country, Qatar. Unlike the usual arrangement of staging the event during the season break of clubs worldwide, this time the leagues have to be stopped for the players to be at the Mundial. And so, 26 players each from the best 32 teams in the world are in Qatar without Nigeria with a total of 832 players on parade.

It is sad that the attention of the entire world is on Qatar and the ‘Giant of Africa’s’ flag missing. After our evaluation, we observed that Nigerian players have been firing from all cylinders in the past few weeks in their respective teams.

The Eagles stars have graced the headlines with strikers like Victor Osimhen, Cyriel Dessers, Paul Onuachu, Taiwo Awoniyi scoring great goals just as Eagles defenders were also hitting the target. It was indeed an irony of sorts as other top players preparing for the Mundial were either picking up injuries or moving into the World Cup period in low spirits. The Eagles are currently hot and sad enough no World Cup for Nigeria. While this affected businesses across all aspects of sports marketing, it is also tough for sports journalists to make it to Qatar because of the huge expenses to be incurred without the Super Eagles on parade.

The players themselves are now feeling the heat and the reality is prevalent on everyone about how important the World Cup is. We are aware all the clubs in Europe and other parts of the world are on break for the Mundial and that is the event Nigeria is not part of officially. It is a shame and the players have themselves to blame for not doing enough to get the job done. With or without Nigeria, the World Cup will remain a big spectacle.

When the Super Eagles crumbled against the Black Stars of Ghana in the African playoffs for the 2022 World Cup, the effects in all aspects were not clear to many. Even the main actors saw it as a ‘you win some and lose some’ situation. For the few who knew the magnitude of the Qatar 2022 ouster, they cried out and latched on to the lackadaisical attitude of the players.

Many felt those who were complaining were simply overreacting. Player for player, Nigeria was ahead of Ghana in the two-leg fixture but the ticket went the way of the team that fought better to earn it. The Super Eagles underrated the Black Stars and felt the World Cup ticket was already in the kitty. Of course many Nigerians heaped the blame on the goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, who conceded a long-range shot from Thomas Partey of Ghana while the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) felt it was the coaching crew that failed. And so, the Amaju Pinnick board at the time chose a sacrificial lamb in the Austin Eguavoen and Emmanuel Amuneke-led crew.

The Eagles, with or without a coach, should have won the home and away fixtures against the Black Stars but somehow the players did not raise their game and took things for granted allowing the ticket to Qatar slip from their fingers. For many who knew the implications, it was indeed a tragedy but now the reality of the huge loss is prevalent because the 2022 FIFA World Cup is in the air.

The last time Nigeria failed to qualify was for the Germany 2006 tournament, which was 16 years ago. Ordinarily, with the pedigree of Nigeria, it is expected that the country will book a ticket to the Mundial with ease but maladministration and lethargic attitude of players have been a major bane in the national team. Top players like Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Ademola Lukmon, Emmanuel Dennis, Sadiq Umar and Kelechi Iheanacho were in the squad in the home and away games against Ghana and it was sad that the country failed to score in open play in 180 minutes of play. Ghana scored in open play at the National Stadium, Abuja and it was enough to earn the Black Stars a ticket to the Middle East. Today, the reality is here – Senegal, Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco and Cameroon are the representatives of Africa in the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup taking place in Qatar.

There are so many things attached to the qualification of Nigeria for the World Cup. Apart from the bragging rights, there are businesses in Nigeria that will suffer during the period. Many adverts for print and broadcast organisations will not be placed when Nigeria did not qualify to be part of the 32 teams for the finals just as 90 percent of journalists expected to be at the Mundial were unable to make it because the value is not there from the perspective of the sponsors since the Eagles are not part of the ‘greatest show on earth’. And so the talk about being giants of Africa in football is so unreal especially as Portugal walloped Eagles 4-0 in a pre- World Cup friendly where the Nigerian team exposed itself to the world as being unworthy to be in Qatar.

Incidentally, while the Eagles crumbled meekly, Ghana put up an impressive display on the same day to beat Switzerland 2-0. Deliberate efforts must be made to bring back the winning spirit and mentality to the Super Eagles in order to ensure that Nigeria does not also miss out on the 2026 Mundial!

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