Benin loss undermines League stars claim to ascension
Nigeria lost to Benin in their African Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifier this week. To put that in perspective, consider that in 21 previous attempts - spanning 58 long years - the Squirrels had never won against the Super Eagles.
For the second international game in a row, Nigeria have fallen to a side they had never previously lost to, and adding insult to injury this week, they did it via a penalty in stoppage time.
It causes deep introspection, judging from the reaction on social media and in the mainstream press, every time Nigeria lose to seemingly inferior opposition. The calls are especially loud for foreign-based players to be discarded in favour of domestic players.
The latest such panic came after the 2-0 home loss to South Africa in an Afcon qualifier in June. The airwaves positively vibrated with pundits and local league backers stridently talking up the virtues of the many talented local league players who should have been called up, and would supposedly have done a better job than the Europe-based players.
Lampooning foreign-based players and talking up their domestic counterparts has become a national pastime, clear proof of George Santayana's famous - and oft misquoted - truism that "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it".
Back in 2001, a similar situation played itself out. With the foreign-based squad having qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations with one game to spare, the NFA succumbed to calls to give the home lads a run-out in the dead rubber against the Sudan. It proved a near-disaster.
By the end of the game in Enugu, which Nigeria won 2-0, fans in the stands had changed their traditional chant of "All we are saying, give us more goals" to, "All we are saying, no more home-based".
The overall performance was poor, and not even the flattering scoreline could plaster over it. Fast forward 16 years and the scenario is almost similar. But this time, against Benin, the local players had a chance to make their mark.
CHAN is a competition specifically designed to give them a leg up on their foreign-based counterparts. Rather than press their claims, they contrived instead to compromise their positions. Benin are objectively a much weaker team. In the past, even at senior level, the results have been one-sided, including a 6-0 win for the Super Eagles in 2005.
These lads let themselves down, it must be said, and have shut the mouths of their biggest proponents. This speaks to deeper issues in Nigerian football development.
The NFF Technical and Development Committee needs to dive into the granular details of the real issues afflicting the country's game, isolating said issues, and suggesting long-term solutions with clear executable actions to be taken.
In the meantime, there is one opportunity for the domestic league players to make restitution, and it comes as early as this weekend. Nothing but a comprehensive win in the return fixture against Benin will do.