August 8, 2022

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INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLIES: More kudos than knocks for NFF amid Covid-19 checks

Posted By Godwin Onyemaechi

Regardless of the hues and cries after the home-based Super Eagles were beaten by Mexico in last Saturday’s International friendly in California, many are still of the view that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)  deserves commendation for keeping its  national teams busy  even in the face of coronavirus pandemic, reports MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.

Despite last Saturday’s 4-0 defeat handed  to the  Home-based Super Eagles by Mexico at the Los Angeles Coliseum in California (USA), purists are of the view  that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)   still deserves plaudits for  its tenacity and drive for keeping the national teams busy amid coronavirus pandemic challenges.
Of all the African teams jostling for places at next year’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the Super Eagles for instance, is among the few that have been most active in the last 10 months after Covid-19 took over the entire sphere of sports.

Even in the midst of this Covid-19 milieu, the NFF in conjunction with its FIFA Match Agents, Eurodata last October organised two high profile international friendly against African champions Algeria and Tunisia in Austria.  Yet as recently as June,  the Super Eagles twice took on the Indomitable   Lions of Cameroon at the  Stadion Wiener Neustadt in Vienna, Austria at a time when several African teams had gone to sleep after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) postponed the opening round of qualifying  matches of Qatar 2022 World Cup.

“The challenges of organizing football matches including international friendly games are enormous,” frontline sports broadcast journalist Toyin Ibitoye stated matter-of-factly. “Adherence to the Covid protocols as outlined by FIFA is in phases. For domestic matches, the conditions are not as tough or difficult to meet as the ones for international matches.

“Travel restrictions among nations, Covid protocol requirements for the players, officials, fans and travelling contingent are some of the issues that need to be addressed before international friendly matches are approved and played.

“Yet the Nigeria Football Federation and its match agent, Eurodata Sport always ensure that all these protocols are met as well as other conditions that the host FA may outline.”

Ibitoye, who is the immediate past Team Media Officer (TMO) of the Super Eagles, said some of these set conditions by the host FAs (Football Associations) can be mindboggling, adding: “Sometimes, these host FAs would direct that all pre-match activities including match coordination and media activations before and after the games are done virtually with only very few spectators granted access to the games, which is a big sacrifice as a major part of the revenue from such matches is ticket sales.”

But beyond  marketing  and ticket revenues, Jairo Pachon of Eurodata Sport, who has been managing the affairs of the NFF as  per organising international matches and training camps across all the national teams since 2009, noted that the symbiotic relationship between his organization and NFF has been the key while the sporting world was at sea with covid-19.

“I have been blessed  with the  NFF working with me as  we have been able to provide Super Eagles and Super Falcons great opportunities regardless of all the challenges faced since October  2020 when we organized  the international friendly between Nigeria  and Algeria as well as Nigeria  and  Tunisia,” the amiable Pachon, the  London-based Colombian told NationSport. “But it has been challenging especially with the continuing change in country’s regulations as well as the virus itself, not to mention the visa processing as embassies are working with reduced human resources and everything takes longer.

“However,  thanks to our great network and contacts with governments, we have received unconditional  support and have succeeded with all including USA, Austria and Turkish international travel and training camps and games in these countries,” he added.

Yet Sam Ahmadu, the consummate connoisseur of women’s football development and growth, readily reckoned that the NFF deserves a pat on the back for its rebranding efforts of the Super Falcons even more so as the national women’s team prepares for its forthcoming international competitions.

“It’s really different and difficult times to keep national teams busy, considering the impacts of the lingering global health crisis since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020,” the straight talking Ahmadu admitted.“ Despite the over 14 months of inactivity, the NFF has continued to show its commitments to the national teams, including the Super Falcons. “It is instructive that the women’s team has never been more active for the first time in almost two decades prior to African qualifiers, having played six top international friendlies in the space of six months in 2021.”

Ahmadu who is usually economical with praises for the NFF despite being a past  member of its women’s football development  committee noted that the Super Falcons have yet again been pushed into  higher pedestal  when juxtaposed against other women’s teams across the continent.

“This (keeping the Super Falcons busy) happening in a period where rival African sides are struggling to get games due to COVID-19 except Morocco is indeed remarkable,” he further explained. “Before the release of recent women’s FIFA rankings, Nigeria and the USA were the only countries in the world to have played up to three games between April and June.

“ Besides the six (matches already played  in the period under review), they (NFF) have already lined up some training camps, including this month in Austria and friendlies opportunities, including Aisha Buhari Cup in September for the ladies.

“This support by the NFF to the women’s team is commendable, instructive and heart-warming. Hopefully, it can be sustained amid the pandemic as the girls gear up for their crunch qualifiers against Ghana in October.”
But the crux of the matter by concerned stakeholders in the way and manner the NFF went about its last Saturday’s international friendly by assembling a collection of strange bedfellows from the Nigeria Professional Football league (NPFL) to face the firework of Mexico, the CONCACAF God Cup holders who are bidding for an encore as the 16th edition of their continental competition gets underway tomorrow in the United States.
Former Nigeria international, Bolaji Douglas did not miss words, describing  what should ordinarily have been a high profile friendly between Nigeria  and Mexico, a mere ‘shenanigans’ after the NFF pushed out an ill-prepared home-based Super Eagles against the El-Tri in California.

“If anything,  I think the late Coach Stephen Keshi provided a template for how to go with the home-based national team,” explained the former BCC Lions of Gboko defender who incidentally was one of  the four home-based players (along  with goalkeeper  Ike Shorunmu, midfielder Sam Pam and late striker Barnabas Imenger) in Nigeria’s 20-man squad to 1995 King Fahd Tournament in Saudi Arabia where the Super Eagles lost the Bronze medal match to Mexico via penalties after a 1-1 scoreline in regulation time.

He continued: “The gap between the home-based and the foreign-based boils down to two: there is a disparity in technical and tactical nous especially the tactical aspect of the game and application. Secondly, there is the element of managing the game off the pitch, discipline, diet etc.

“Both of these can be achieved by camping the players and exposing them to better training conditions. That was what Keshi recognised and brought in players into camp. If the NFF are serious about developing the home-based players via the CHAN, they need to recognise these shortcomings and address them.
“But I have my fear with regards to all of this home-based versus foreign-based. I suspect there is an agenda, once again the players are the only pawns in the game.

“You cannot be shouting home-based are good enough while you spend all the time begging players born abroad to come and play for Nigeria. You cannot be shouting home-based are good enough, when you now have foreign-based players being brought in to now play for U-20 and U-17 national teams, something does not sound right there. It sounds hollow and shallow,” the vastly experienced Douglas who turned 53 on June 12 noted.

But another former Nigeria international Pascal Patrick, who incidentally is the Team Manager of the Super Eagles, said there were more gains at the recent baptism of fire received by the home-based players against strong opposition as Mexico who are currently ranked 11th  in the world by FIFA.
“Beyond the criticisms, I think we need to praise the NFF for being able to organise matches here-and-there for the national teams including the Super Eagles and B Teams as well as the Super Falcons despite the challenges the world is facing due to Covid-19,” the 46-year-old Pascal, who doubles as the Chairman of Bauchi State Football Association told NationSport.

“Of course, we saw what happened to the home-based Super Eagles against Mexico last Saturday, I think this will give them more exposure, experience but they can’t go further if we keep on criticizing them because of the loss.
“The more exposure the home-based payers from the NPFL get by playing international matches, the better for them and our football,” he added.

President of NFF, Amaju Pinnick, quipped after the catharsis that befell the home-based Eagles in California: “There is nothing that has happened here that will discourage us from pushing ahead with the plan we have for the team. Our programme to get the team to a higher level through regular exposure to the toughest games possible will continue apace. We will go ahead and deliver on the programme we have for them to be a much stronger team, as we look forward to the next African Nations Championship.”

Towards this end, the home-based Super Eagles are expected back in the US later this year after the NFF and the Government of the State of Maryland signed and sealed a cooperation agreement that would see the NPFL Stars   feature in a four-nation tournament against Ghana, Cameroon and Canada in Baltimore.

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