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Falls united by pride

Falls united by pride

By Steve Alabi
Two seemingly different but related issues engage our rumination this week. Everyone is talking about the Super Eagles and their topsy-turvy performance in the land of the Pharaohs; we join in. Gracefulness in victory and defeat is in issue following questionable outbursts from icons who should know better.

Emotions swung from delight to disgust to delirium as the Super Eagles returned to the Africa Cup of Nations at Egypt 2019 after six years of absence. The team ascended to high heights with two quick victories and descended to the lowest level with a disgraceful defeat to a debuting team, all within the first round. Discerning technicians had advised caution after the Eagles’ victories in the first two matches having seen the weak architecture of their game but apologists of the football establishment rationalised it as the usual slow takeoff of the national standard in championships. Then along came Madagascar, a team making its debut at the continental fiesta. Ninety minutes of fast and furious football from the minnows left the Eagles shell shocked and grounded two-nil. Two-nil?

It is difficult to forgive this denigration of our national pride. Anyone privileged to wear the green-white shirt has a duty to defend it with every fibre of his being. No matter the strengths or weaknesses of the Eagles, there are some teams that are not supposed to beat us. Madagascar is one of them. A draw with such a team should ordinarily be considered a national disaster, let alone a defeat. And anyone involved in such devaluation should pay dearly for it. If you think this is harsh, look at Egypt. Their FA president has quit honourably and the coach axed in the wake of the Round of 16 loss to South Africa even though the Bafana Bafana are a huge team.

Some respite came in the gritty game against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in which the Eagles prevailed despite a largely incoherent delivery. Technical deficiencies so noticeable against Madagascar were again on display but in lesser measure. Why are the Eagles finding it difficult to play with confidence and technical efficiency? Why is it impossible to find a good successor to the great Vincent Enyeama to the point of having our hearts skipping a beat whenever the ball moves toward our goal? Why is our skipper, Mikel Obi not playing with the authority of his experience like other veterans? The answer is in the quality of our bench and the competence and sincerity of our administration.

Will these shortcomings not count against us when the Eagles face South Africa in the quarter finals? Tough question to answer considering the powerful display of the Bafana Bafana in overcoming the hosts, Egypt in the Round of 16. The Eagles are not top notch, the Bafana Bafana are buoyed by their incredible victory over the Pharaohs. A titanic battle it will be, one that I think will be settled by emotions. The clue may be in the words of stand-in captain, Ahmed Musa. “It was such a happy occasion when we won in 2013 and we said as a team then that there is no bigger honour than winning something for your country. Now, it is the same for us this year after missing out over the last two editions. If we win the title, I am going to dedicate it to the late Stephen Keshi… We really miss him as players and as a country and we always pray for him. It would be an honour for us if we won this for him.” Are you reading his lips?

Now the second issue. First, it was Phil Neville, the loquacious gaffer of England at the Women’s World Cup in France. Now, the highly gifted Lionel Messi has joined the list of icons lacking grace in victory and defeat. Neville let his trap fly unguardedly against Cameroon in the wake of annoying VAR decisions. He has been justly rewarded with excruciating failure that again validates the saying that pride goes before a fall. His Lionesses were at the receiving end of VAR calls that shaped their defeat in the hands of eventual champions, USA. They suffered further agony against Netherlands in the third place decider, thus consigning the English to a poorer performance than the last World Cup, the main reason why they engaged him in the first place.

Messi surprised many soccer fans after Brazil dumped Argentina out of the 2019 Copa America with unbelievable rantings against virtually everything. He was such a sore loser, to the point of asserting that the championship was deliberately packaged for Brazil to emerge champions just because refereeing calls did not go the way of his team. Yet Brazil not only won the cup but also every honour on offer, Most Valuable Player, Golden Boot, Best Goalkeeper. While the Argentine captain is still searching for his first senior title in the international arena, his Brazilian counterpart, Dani Alves has it all, World Cup, Confederations Cup, Copa America, etc. He is in fact the first footballer ever to win 40 football championships. Messi’s outbursts even provoked a rumour that Argentina would quit Europe and that Europe was considering admitting the South American nation. Such balderdash!

Sports icons of the calibre of Neville and Messi not only have a responsibility to hone their skills but also to tame their temper and tongue. When those who earn public respect on account of their talents display short fuse, the game is denigrated and the sensibilities of the ordinary folks who adore them are insulted. The reason why they should show greater restraint.

Pride, they must remember, goes before a fall. If Messi is not careful, he may find the going tough. The same fate awaits South Africa if they follow the counsel of their former defender, Jethro Mohlala who boasted after they defeated Egypt that the Super Eagles’ players will not be able to match the pace of Bafana Bafana players tomorrow when both countries meet in the quarter finals. Again, pride goes before a fall.

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