Let me recount the last sentence in my diary posting yesterday concerning the match last night between Nigeria and Algeria: ‘There is only a single warning for the Eagles – take very good care of a left-footed player playing on the right side of the Algerian attack. His name is Riyad Mahrez’. Gernot Rohr did not heed that small warning. He left Riyad to roam freely and paid the price. Even the ‘Fly on the Wall’ in the Super Eagles camp woke up this morning with a headache created mostly by Riyad Mahrez’a ingenious artistry. His first cross from a great dribble down the right flank was deflected by Nigeria’s Troost Ekong for Algeria’s first gifted goal. His ‘Banana’ shot taken from outside the box a few seconds to the end of the match was another free gift by the Nigerian Goalkeeper Akpeyi, whose positioning, directly behind the human wall that he had set up, was so elementarily bad that many people wondered about the foundation of his goalkeeping.
Last night’s match was a huge disappointment. The Eagles simply could not fly and soar above the Foxes scurrying and confusing them on the lush green turf of the Cairo International Stadium. So, the ‘Fly’ has been flustered since last night. It was some sort of surprise that the Eagles could wake up this morning, although with sadness written boldly all over their faces, and muster the courage and spirit to go for their usual early morning workout. The players must have taken their defeat philosophically, particularly considering how the match went and how the goals were scored, each one a drama, with the last one, a back-breaking goal scored with the very last kick of the match, deflating any chance of doing anything about it. It was a sad night yesterday for the team and for all Nigerians. It is obvious that on the balance of performance it would have been unjust had the Eagles won. They did not play well enough to win. At the same time, although the Algerians put up a better overall performance, they too did not do enough to win the match the way they did at the every end. The match should actually have ended in a respectable draw.
However painful the result was, except for Nigerians beclouded by patriotism, there was no one that did not think it would have been unfair to the Algerians had Nigeria ‘stolen’ the match and eventually won. Having said that, the Nigerian players deserved some commendation and encouragement, after all, there is one more battle to be fought on Wednesday – the Third Place match against Tunisia. The preparations for that match started last night. Wearing very sad faces, the Super Eagles returned to their hotel and immediately retired to their rooms. There was no lamentation of any sort, just an eerie silence in the largely empty hotel. Truly, defeat is an orphan. Last night also, after the match, the Senate president who led the Nigerian government delegation to Egypt to support the team, accompanied by Amaju Pinnick, The President of the NFF, visited the players and consoled them. He encouraged and challenged them to set aside the defeat and go ahead to play and win the next match because a Bronze medal is surely better than nothing at all. That seemed to have calmed the players down a bit and eased their pain. They went back this morning to training in the true spirit of sportsmanship, after all, they know that they lost to a better team and that, no matter the case, the world would not come to an end because they lost to a better team.
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