On the day when it mattered most, one team showed they wanted the honors of the WAFU Nations Cup more and so went out and got it.
Ghana poked holes in the Nigerian team, plucking the feathers off the Eagles as the result showed but also, if Salisu Yusuf had a game plan for that final, it did not work.
Every other game for the Eagles; before the final on Sunday, had been an improvement from the last.
Salisu stuck with pretty much the same personnel that had persecuted the group stage matches and the semi-final – only two players had started less than four games.
He called on the regulars, who had more mileage as far the competition was concerned and they gave just about the same energy as they had in previous games.
But they lost this time, and heavily to. Until the final Nigeria had not conceded a goal and edged Ghana 2-0 in the group stage – the first time the team actually scored in the competition proper.
Some may argue it was a dead rubber for the Black Stars and that they’d cared less about losing to the Eagles.
But the mere mention of Ghana vs Nigeria in one breath punctures that argument.
If nothing, there was pride and bragging rights on the line for Maxwell Konadu and his men… Both they lost that night.
Right now, hopefully somebody has caught on with the line of thought in this discourse – because that is how far criticism of the Eagles will go.
Admittedly, nothing worked for them on the night, and allowing Rabiu Ali take the last free kick, which also produced Nigeria’s only goal in the game further buttresses the aforementioned.
In hindsight, you’re forced to think, why not have him behind the ball in the previous four or five kicks when there was any hope of fighting back.
Therefore, we could say without any doubt that, tactically, Salisu was outclassed. Even his substitutions didn’t impact the game – Konadu’s produced goals.
After all said, the biggest disappointment is the damning assessment by the armchair football fans and some pundits.
Throwing the Coaching crew, players and even the League under the bus over that loss to Ghana – in a competition or final we had no business playing in, not with the way we organize ourselves.
It is easy enough to shrug off the fact that this team was assembled under a month between the players hopping from their clubs to the national team camp every other weekend.
Certainly, it also doesn’t matter that arriving Ghana just under 24 hours before their qualifying game, they beat Sierra Leone 2-0.
Surely, attempting to document their journey to the WAFU Nations Cup at this point will only illicit those ridiculous arguments about the players being professionals after all, and should have seized the opportunity to wear the nation’s colors proudly.
If every professional athlete truly considered anything less than the Pride of flying Nigeria’s flag, we’d probably have no sane person willing to represent this country.
It begs “common sense” and reasoning what else we to ask of these guys, having given them nothing but rhetoric.
When Nigeria lost to South Africa in Uyo, a player revealed the match ball was different from those the team had practiced with in the build up to the game.
Franco-German Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr barely chipped in an opinion. Why? Who knows!
So, when Salisu pointed to the burden of adjusting to the patchy turf of the Cape Coast Sports Stadium after weeks of preparation on an artificial ground, you’d think, oh once again here the NFF has slammed a spanner in their own works.
Pride for the Country was the only thing those players wore on their backs as they crashed into opponents, risking concussions or anything else that could threaten their well being.
To question their dedication or quality means you either haven’t seen them really play or you have a pre-conceived negative notion and no regards for our “home based players”.
Blame Salisu for not tweaking his game plan after he realized on day one that the obstacles he’ll face in Ghana were humongous – even his mentor, Rohr, did after the defeat to South Africa.
The WAFU Nations Cup final on Sunday night could have ended differently, but it didn’t.
So, hopefully the Coaches, players and even Administrators have picked key lessons for future dates.
For the fans, what must change is the ease in conveniently demanding the improbable and coming more to terms with the reality of every specific situation.
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