Valentine is in the Air after all for the Falcons!
February is a month synonymous with Love for the English, Amour for the French, Amore for the Italians, Liebe for the Germans, 爱 (Pronounced as ere) for the Chinese, इश्क (pronounced as Ishk) for the Indians and so on. My apologies that not all nationalities were mentioned; I’d love to get more translations in the comment box below.
Now where was I???
Of Course, Love!
In today’s world, this is observed and firmly expressed in different ways as a celebration of St Valentine’s Day which is marked on the 14th of February. Coincidentally, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), supreme football body of the African Champions decided it was time to send Cupid on a much heralded errand that had been long awaited since the Super Falcons triumphed for the NINTH time in Namibia- October 2014.
How? One would ask……
It’s pretty simple! As a ticket holder for the Women’s World Cup in Canada slated for June 2015, it was expected that as soon as the Africa Women Championship (AWC) was over, preparations would be made briskly for the anticipated showdown but apparently, even my 20 month old godson, Michael Daniels, has been faster in calling me “Ty” (for Aunty) than the federation in preparing for our girls.
It is a tradition especially in Africa that when title winners make the trip home, they are grandly received with dancing, street celebrations, monetary/material benefits and a proper banquet by top national figures, precisely the President or Ruler on arrival. The Super Eagles of Nigeria received that in matter of hours after they won the men’s tourney in 2013. As we speak, the women’s team got only a salute and promise of monetary benefits; nothing more. The formal gala has been postponed ‘indefinitely”- not that it matters to a team that has won it NINE out of ELEVEN times as compared to the Men’s THIRD after nearly two decades and THIRTY editions in total.
Sour Grapes it seemed when women and men alike called for the ladies to be recognized but in truth, this act to a little or large extent (depends on where you stand), has preceded how the Falcons have been treated afterwards.
With FIFA taking measures to improve the quality of the World Cup this year, Football Associations from across the world had started making adequate preparations, budget and planning, some as far back as when Canada were announced ‘hosts’. Training tours have been on the rise, Invitational Tournaments have taken center stage (Cue in the Cyprus Cup and the Algarve Cup) and most importantly, Top Grade Friendlies have been endless and THAT has had me really excited that Women’s football is taking a stand….TO BE FELT!
Back in Africa and Nigeria to be precise, it’s been a thoroughly drab affair. The Nigeria Women Premier League was concluded months ago (November 2014) if an excuse was to be made of the availability of players. The National Team Coach, Players, Journalists and indeed Nigerians waited patiently for any news on the camp being opened for the girls. In the process, we all unanimously agreed that watching paint dry was a far better and illustrious routine than waiting for any form of announcement from the NFF. To be clear, this NFF since the exit of the Super Eagles from the World Cup has been embroiled in a sensational all-time low of tumultuous politicking. The crises prompted a FIFA Ban and threats of more bans on Nigeria as this almost affected the Falcons from competing in the AWC and the Falconets in the U-20 world Cup as a whole. With the unbelievable saga supposedly well and truly behind “us”, it was expected that the newly elected FA board would speedily address areas of concern and the Falcons were high up there on the priority list, or so we thought. But it never happened.
With a timeline which consists of the following:
Feb 22 – Players Resume Camp. 26 locally based players expected. 10 Foreign based players given two weeks extension.
March 22 – All Africa Games 2nd Round 1st Leg Qualifier in Mali.
April 12 – All Africa Games 2nd Round Return Leg.
May 09 – Olympic Games 1st Leg Qualifier in Bamako versus Mali.
May 17 – Olympic Games Return Leg Qualifier in Nigeria versus Mali.
May 18 – June 04 Tentative Timeframe for Reported Training Tour and Grade A friendlies versus Canada and New Zealand.
June 06 – July 05 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada.
If victorious in the Qualifiers
September 4 – 15 All Africa Games (AAG), Brazzaville, Congo
August 5 – 21 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Rio, Brazil
The Coach of the Super Falcons and FIFA Coach of the year Nominee, Edwin Okon, lamented on the state of affairs of his team.
“We have not started anything and I hoped we would have started by now. This is the World Cup, the biggest football tournament in the world and the other teams have started some form of preparation.”
“I really don’t know what to say about the situation and I really hope the NFF can help us so we can start our preparation because we want to do well,”
When reached on the reason for the lull, it was reported that the fixture congestion especially for the qualifiers were a major concern and the reason for the delay in camp activity. However, the Chairperson of the Nigeria Women’s Football League, and an executive committee member of the Nigeria Football Federation, Dilichukwu Onyedinma gave a jaw dropping reason which should be nominated for the Ballon ‘HUNHH??’Award
“The general elections are coming and most of these players are registered to vote in their respective votes, so we must allow them perform their civic duties.”
“We expect that after the elections, they shall be called to camp in preparation for the World Cup,”
But that same elections (scheduled for Feb 14 and subsequently rescheduled, Thank you Nigeria!) did not hamper the male U-17 preparations for the ongoing African U-17 Championship in Niger, the Olympic team from preparations for the AAG as well and the Super Eagles’ well publicized friendly with a country that starts with B. (We were informed Brazil and now it’s reported Bolivia!).
What seemed to be a back and forth, grandma’s rocking chair of ‘What to do’,’ When to be Done’ and ‘How it will be done’ was answered when the General Elections were postponed! With no apparent excuse to fall back on, and the perfect timing of Valentine month, the NFF released a statement that the training camp will resume on the 22nd and subsequently, the Coach released a strong team of 36 players who will be fielded for the WWC, AAG and the Olympic games in Rio.
Not only that, news that the ladies would be involved in Grade A friendlies with New Zealand and Canada during a tour that will take place two weeks before the commencement of the World Cup brought about….
With just four months to go, it’s better late than never as they say. It is left to be seen what this portends for the girls. I for one should be going through a well weighted diatribe on why it took an eternity (and that is putting it quite nicely) for the girls to be given attention knowing that they are arguably in the Group of Death with teams like the USA, Sweden and Australia already chomping off at preparations but I Instead decided to Love today and Fight maybe tomorrow or probably, never!. The need to dispel that 1999 record of a Quarter final exit (their best tournament appearance till date), 16 years on plays on the mind of the team. It will take a monumental and I dare say herculean effort to progress from the group stage but the joy of finally having something to work on and with means far greater for this girls who are characterized by pure grit, passion and desire to be the best they can be for their country, their continent, race and most especially, themselves.
So there you have it. Not necessarily the quintessential fiery love wrapped in an all red gift wrap but the Falcons will take it with hands, feet and a swing of their boots.
It’s going to be a good Valentine, after all.
P.S- The 36 Invitees:
Christy Ohieriaku (Osun Babes);
Ibubeleye Whyte (Rivers Angels);
Precious Dede (Ibom Queens);
Onyinyechi Okeke (Edo Queens);
Okewole Funke (Sunshine Queens);
Alaba Jonathan (Pelican Stars);
Faith Ikidi (Pitea IF, Sweden);
Onome Ebi (FK Minsk, Belarus);
Osinachi Ohale (Houston Dash, USA);
Ugochi Njoku (Rivers Angels);
Mariam Ibrahim (Nasarawa Amazons);
Sarah Nnodim (Delta Queens);
Blessing Edoho (Pelican Stars);
Ngozi Ebere (Rivers Angels);
Onyinyechi Ohadugha (Rivers Angels);
Josephine Chukwunonye (Rivers Angels);
Francisca Ordega (Pitea IF, Sweden);
Cecilia Nku (Rivers Angels);
Halimat Ayinde (Delta Queens);
Ngozi Okobi (Delta Queens);
Evelyn Nwabuoku (Rivers Angels);
Chikodi Amaefuna (Edo Queens);
Patience Agbokadi (Sunshine Queens);
Osarenoma Igbinovia (Ibom Queens);
Yetunde Adeboyejo (Bayelsa Queens);
Ebere Okoye (Nasarawa Amazons);
Chisom Henry (Sunshine Queens);
Desire Oparanozie (EN Avent De Guingamp);
Loveth Ayila (Rivers Angels);
Esther Sunday (Pelican Stars);
Asisat Oshoala (Liverpool Ladies);
Courtney Dike (Oklahoma State University, USA);
Chinwendu Ihezuo (Pelican Stars);
Ini Umotong (Portsmouth Ladies, UK)
NOTABLE OMISSION – Perpetual Nkwocha
NOTABLE INCLUSSION – Faith Ikidi
‘Janine is a TV/Radio Sports Presenter/Correspondent and Web reporter for SPORTON Nigeria. She also covers Africa Women’s football for various portals including the NFF (Nigeria Football Federation) and The Women’s Game