Now that the World Cup has ended, I expected lots of patronising and negative comments highlighting every single problem or thing that did not go according to plan. However, I want to say a great big CONGRATULATIONS to South Africa for hosting this marvellous World Cup. Here’s a good piece in the Guardian about the success of this tournament:
Football wise, it was not the greatest tournament. The teams who reached the latter stages were those who played conservatively with restraint, and with one striker. The final was a dreadful game with some shocking tackles. Finals are always tense affairs but watching Holland –v- Spain was like watching a horror film at times. Spain’s semi-final against Germany was so boring that I fell asleep during it.
European commentators keep salivating over Spain’s slick passing. They are a great passing team, no doubt, but at times I think they over-elaborate and do not get the ball in the box quickly enough. How good are Spain? They are the world champs and deserve all the credit. However I get the feeling we still do not know how good this Spain team really is because they were rarely tested in this World Cup. Would have loved to see them face Brazil or Argentina.
Player of the tournament: toss up between Diego Forlan and Xavi. Does any footballer in modern football hit the ball as hard and as cleanly as Forlan? Then again, did you see Xavi give the ball away during this World Cup?
Luckiest player of the tournament: Mark van Bommel. A one man foul machine who somehow manages to avoid red cards despite shockingly persistent fouling and brutal tackles. How he managed to avoid getting booked till the semi-final is a mystery.
Goal of the tournament: Giovanni van Brockhorst’s 30 yard howitzer against Uruguay.
Villain of the tournament: David Suarez. Blocking the ball with his hands on the goal line to deny a certain Ghana goal. Apparently did not realize that FIFA rules stipulate only ONE GK per team. Loved the way he acted surprised when he got a red card. He reacted almost as if unaware that deliberately handball with BOTH hands on the line is not allowed in football.
Game of the tournament: Ghana -v- Uruguay semi-final. The final 60 seconds of that game gave me several mini heart attacks. Ghana had an effort cleared off the line (legally), then another certain goal bound header cleared off the line (illegally), then got a penalty, then hit the crossbar, then went into a penalty shoot out.
Man of the tournament: Asamoah Gyan. This guy has serious cojones. Just a few moments after missing a penalty in the last minute of extra time, he came back to take another penalty in the penalty shoot out and hit it into the top left hand corner. Takes a brave man to recover from a penalty miss so quickly.
Spare a thought for: New Zealand. The only undefeated team in the whole competition. They drew with Paraguay, Italy and Slovakia, did not lose (even the finalists Spain and Holland lost) yet still got eliminated.
Biggest underachievers: Argentina. A team with Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Mascherano, and Milito should have gone further. Where were Cambiasso, Gabriel Milito and Riquelme?
Biggest disappointment: the African teams (apart from Ghana). African football has regressed in the past 15 years. The quality of individual players has increased, but the quality of TEAMS has gone backwards. Spare a thought for Ivory Coast. Their golden generation of Drogba, the Toures, Keita, and Kone are likely to retire without an international trophy.
Minor gripe: Imagine my horror in Durban on my way back when I drove to the Durban international airport only to be told by the security officer at the gate that “there are no planes here”. I asked him “what kind of airport has no planes?” It was then he told me that the Durban airport had closed and moved 40km away to the King Shaka international airport just one month earlier. I had to drive away quickly to get to King Shaka. Because the airport is new, my GPS did not recognize it and had no directions for it. So I had to navigate blind with no road directions. Just made it for my flight with no time to spare. A lesson in why you should ALWAYS leave early for the airport. The South Africans really could have done a better job of publicizing this airport move that occurred just one month before the World Cup.
Big Thank You to: The wonderful people of South Africa for their warmth, hospitality and kindness….and for confounding the Western prophets of doom who said an African country could not host a successful World Cup. Nobody was killed, kidnapped by mad rabid black Africans or sacrificed in voodoo rituals. Shame on you Western press for never believing that Africans can do anything positive. Thank you South Africa for making us proud.
Puke and Projectile Vomiting
After being eliminated, South Africans were anxiously supporting Nigeria. On my way to the stadium, Cameroon and South African fans got on my bus wearing Bafana Bafana and Lions shirts and were cheering on Nigeria. A South African woman in front of me came with her daughter who chatted with, and enjoyed attention from Nigerian men. Sadly the girl’s mother got travel sick and started puking violently everywhere. I wondered what was going on when everyone around me started running for cover. I was the last to notice what was going on. By the time I realised, a disgusting pool of vomit was heading its way toward me. I think some splashed on my left foot. Nice.
A Tale of Two Flags, Big Thighs and a Big Butt
I was about 20 yards away from the pitch, sitting in amongst a group of Nigerian fans with some interesting characters:
*The official Nigerian supporters’ club was about 20-30 yards to my left and they clapped, cheered, danced, sang, and played drums and instruments all game long in their green and white garb.
*Pacing up and down the aisles was a Nigerian police officer in full NPF uniform. Several fans went over to take photos with him. He also had a FIFA accreditation badge. Can’t figure out what he was going there.
*In front of me were a group of 5-6 Nigerian guys and a pretty young South African girl with a gold tooth, and an incredibly curvy “yansh” and thighs. She was obviously the girlfriend of one of them. I could not figure out which one was her boyfriend – which was a statement in itself….
Nigerian fans can be annoying and inconsiderate brats at times. I had two guys carrying large Nigerian flags in the rows in front of, and behind me. The guy in front of me stood up and waved his giant flag all the time – blocking the view of about 20-25 people. Everyone kept shouting at him to sit down and calm down with the flag waving. He just ignored all of us and continued walking around with the flag – blocking everyone’s view until one fan threatened to report him to a steward. Right behind me was a Nigerian with a smaller flag, who kept waving it and resting it on my head. I told him several times that my head was not a flag pole and to get it off me. Yet he persisted in wrapping the flag around my head continually. At one point, he had the temerity to get annoyed with ME for complaining about having a flag draped over my head from behind. He then proceeded to mutter insults about me to his friend in his native tongue. Unbeknown to him, I understood what he said and responded. He was shocked. I asked him whether he thought I was an “Oyinbo” that did not understand any Nigerian languages. We then had an animated conversation about how he had presumed I was Fulani or Igbo.
A Home Game for Nigeria
Before the game started I looked all a home game for Nigeria. Green and white everywhere. I could barely see Koreans in the stadium. I looked around the stands and noticed one lone Korean flag about 100 yards to my right, and one small group of about 100 Korean fans high up in the nosebleed stands. Otherwise all the South African and Nigerians were solidly behind the Super Eagles.
The non Nigerian fans and “Oyinbos” were deeply amused by a Nigerian fan and his vassal who were clad in a pure green and white cassock, rang a bell reminiscent of a funeral chime and walked up and down the aisle with an open bible as if consecrating someone to dust. More people watched this spectacle than were watching the game.
Nigeria – Back to the Future
The Nigerian fans were disappointedd that Yakubu and Kanu started the game. Kanu’s legs have gone, but the technique and intelligence is still there. He took up good positions and used the ball cleverly. Rabiu Afolabi almost gifted Korea a goal in the 1st minute with a misplaced pass which was intercepted and nearly resulted in a goal. I was relieved that Haruna Lukman was not playing. His replacement Yusuf Ayila played with composure and experience that made me wonder how Lukman got in the first 11 ahead of him.
Nigeria started brightly and deservedly took the lead through Kalu Uche after a great cross from the right by Chidi Ordiah. For the next 20 minutes, Nigeria were outstanding, teasing and passing rings around the Koreans. It was the best footballing display I’ve seen from a Nigerian team in 5 years. This was like the Super Eagles of old. Kanu jinked and sprayed the ball around, and Obasi delighted the crowd with a beautiful pirouette in the box. Chants of “Papillo” rang out as Kanu strolled around the pitch caressing the ball.
Kalu Uche nearly made it 2-0 when he hit the post with an excellent 25 yard shot. Nigeria were dominating play, but had not put Korea to sleep. I was worried because Nigeria are most vulnerable when they are winning.Nigeria cannot defend a lead, and are no good at chasing a game when they are losing either. Think of the crucial games where they have surrendered a lead after winning, and games where they just could not react to going a goal behind. Ghana African Nations Cup 2008 – they were in a winning position, winning 1-0 and ended up losing 1-2 to 10 man Ghana. The World Cup qualifier against Tunisia last year they twice surrendered the lead and let Tunisia score a last minute equaliser after leading 1-0 and 2-1. Note that Tunisia’s first equaliser occurred just a few minutes after Nigeria took the lead.
Are Referees Biased Against African Teams?
We have all seen bad refereeing decisions and performances. For the first time in my life I actually questioned the integrity of a referee. The Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca gave a free kick seemingly every time a Nigerian player went within 5 yards of a Korean. Things got so bad that at one stage I thought he might be tempted to give a red card to the Nigerian subs for having the gall to warm up within a 5 mile radius of the Korean bench. There seems to be an anti-African bias in the officiating at the World Cup. It was the most openly biased display of “officiating” I have witnessed in years. The referee was giving every call to South Korea and booking Nigerian players per foul. At one stage South Korean Captain Ji Sung Park ran through behind the Nigerian defence and Nigerian GK Vincent Enyeama came out to challenge him. The two went shoulder to shoulder for the ball and Enyeama cleared it. Neither player went down or protested. The ref booked Enyeama and gave Korea a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box. A few minutes later both Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi and Yusuf Ayila were booked for challenges which were fouls but hardly life or career threatening challenges. The effects of the ref’s biased officiating had a mental effect on the Nigerian players. In the space of 30 seconds, both Ayila and Obasi pulled out of tackles and let Korean players run past them rather than risk getting sent off by the dodgy ref they obviously did not trust. Of course when Obasi ran through and was hauled down by TWO players on the edge of the Korea box, the ref waved play on.
Me and the Nigeria/South African fans (except Koreans) were screaming blue murder. A middle aged South African lady sitting to my right went so far as to say the ref had been bribed. The woman’s young son was angry at the ref AND his linesman o our side of the pitch. To be fair, that linesman did not give a single Korea offside in the whole first half. Despite several suspiciously offside Korea moves. the boy got so angry that he complained that the linesman was not following play into the Korea half. I had to educate the boy and make him aware of another linesman on the other side of the pitch.
Nonetheless I began to worry. It was if the ref was trying to let Korea back into the game. Sure enough, just before half time, the ref awarded Korea another free kick which was whipped to the far post and headed in by Lee. With Nigeria’s height advantage, conceding a headed goal from a set piece to Korea was a disgrace. Rabiu Afolabi was to blame. He did not enjoy playing at left back and struggled to mark as a left back, away from his usual center back position. He had a nightmare and was not helped by Kalu Uche (a striker) who played at left midfield in front of him and is not accustomed to defending or marking. Afolabi ball watched and left Lee Jung goo free to head in.
The goal came totally against the run of play and silenced all the Nigerian fans. Korea had one chance the whole half and scored it. Nigeria had a hatful and did not take them. They would pay…
There was still time for some more biased officiating. At the end of the second half, the ref finally awarded Nigeria a free kick. As Nigeria went to take the free kick, he blew up for half time. I have never seen a ref blow up for half time while a set piece was being taken. Shocking.
Joseph Yobo was taken off at half time and replaced by Uwa Elderson Echiejile. I can only imagine that Yobo was injured, since Afolabi was the obvious candidate for replacement. In the second half Danny Shittu went up for a header and won it cleanly and fairly. The ref of course awarded Korea a free kick on the edge of the Nigerian box. I muttered to the guy next to me “If they score from this I will be so angry”. Of course, Park Chu Yong scored directly from the free kick. The momentum suddenly changed. Lifeless Korea were suddenly playing like Brazil, and were running Nigeria ragged. The same Nigeria team that dominated the first half now looked deflated and lacked confidence.
I suddenly realised that top flight football/pro sports at this level is more mental than physical. Players tend to win due to superior belief. If you BELIEVE you can win, you will. Korea believed they could win, and Nigeria no longer did. I looked around the pitch and searched for a Nigerian player – a leader, who could bail the team out, and found none. Nigeria lacks a blood and thunder inspirational leader who can pull the team up when they are struggling. In years gone by, Nigeria could play badly and get themselves out of jail with a moment of individual brilliance by Okocha. They can no longer do that. Nor do they have a motivator on the pitch to scream, bawl and get the team going by force of personality. All successful teams have such a player: Chelsea have John Terry, the awesome Man Utd teams of the 1980s and 1990s had “Captain Marvel” Bryan Robson and Roy Keane. Korea were dragged back into the game by the energy and drive of their Captain Ji Sung Park….who does Nigeria have?…
Kanu was subbed off and Martins got a great ovation when he came on….or was it for Kanu’s last hurrah. As Kanu trudged off I told those around me that “his international career is over”. Deep down, I think the Nigerian fans also knew it was the last time Kanu would play for the national team. Adieu Papillo….
Nigeria finall fashioned a gilt edged chance when Ayila broke down the left and crossed perfectly for Yakubu. The Korean GK missed the cross, and Yakubu was in the 6 yard box with an open goal, I stood up, everyone in my stand stood up ready to cheer the equaliser. Yakubu somehow sidefooted the ball wide of goal – when he had the WHOLE OPEN GOAL to aim at from inside the 6 yard box. I held my head in my hands and felt like crying. Every person I could hear – white, black, Indian, Nigerian, South African…..all cursed Aiyegbeni. Everyone was aghast and wanted him taken off immediately.
I stopped watching the game or paying attention. Then Obasi went down in the box. I did not react, because I did not believe the ref would give Nigeria even a blatant penalty like that. To my surprise, he gave the penalty. My initial optimism soon disappeared when I realised Yakubu was taking the penalty. I kept screaming “why are you letting him take it?” I was convinced he’d miss. Most fans next to me felt the same, and a fan in front of me implored Yakubu not to “mess this up”. To my surprise he scored the penalty, and to my relief he was immediately subbed off for Victor Obinna Nsofor. I told the guy in front of me that “Nsofor has lots of pace and strength but no brain”.
In the pandemonium of celebrating I tried to take a photo. To my horror, in the backslapping and high fiving, my battery had somehow dropped out of my camera and fallen into goodness knows where. I searched on my seat, under it, and the seats in front, behind and around me….no joy. More on where the battery went later….*
The news came in that Demichelis had scored and filtered around the Nigerian fans who started screaming at the Nigerian players to get forward since the result in the other game was going Nigeria’s way. If Nigeria could score again and win, they would go through and qualify the second round. If so, it would be the first time that a team that lost its opening two World Cup games qualified for the second round. To be honest, it would be a travesty if South Africa got eliminated after getting 4 points, beating France and losing only 1 game, and Nigeria qualified after winning just one game, and having a minus goal difference.
Martins soon proved himself just as wasteful. He was put clean through, he could have gone round the Korean GK or side footed it past him. He instead tried a cute dink over the keeper but instead floated the ball wide. For the rest of the game Korea time wasted, their GK took an eternity to take goal kicks, they subbed players who walked off the pitch with the pace of 90 year old one legged men….yet the ref did not think it fit to book any of them for time wasting. Korea got men behind the ball and played for a draw. Even when they had a corner, I noticed they left 5 (yes FIVE!) men back defending to mark ONE Nigerian striker.
Mexican waves followed and annoyed the hell out of me. Mexican waves were once used when fans were bored while watching a dull 0-0 draw. Not when the score is 2-2 with seconds remaining and World Cup qualification is at stake!
I lamented with other fans that Argentina had done its part by beating Greece but that Nigeria could not even get past a Korea team with only one class player (Ji Sung Park).
FINAL SCORE: South Korea 2 -v- Nigeria 2
Things I learned:
*Nigeria actually had the easiest group of all the African teams. Argentina are a world class team. However Greece had never won a game at the World Cup and South Korea were also very beatable.
*Ossie Ardiles said he “expected more” from Nigeria. So did all of Africa.
*Nigeria now has a 12 year long losing streak at the World Cup. Nigeria has not won a World Cup match since June 1998 when it beat Bulgaria 1-0 in France. Since that game, Nigeria has played 8 world cup matches, losing 6 and drawing 2. That’s right Nigeria has lost 6 of its last 8 World Cup matches.