Nigerian polo players in action
After starting sprightly against their fully professional opponents in the national team of South Africa, the Nigeria side to the World Cup Zone D Qualifiers Sunday in Pekan in Kuantan in Pahang; Malaysia, fell badly to their own foibles of lack of tactical depth, loose middle play and penalty committing predilection, to end the game badly beaten 13-5.
The starting quartet of Bello Buba, Mohammed Babangida, Abdulmalik Badamasi and Ibrahim Buba looked set to upset the applecart right after the whistle went for the beginning of hostilities, but what was to first do them in was their infringement committing and rules violation. This would go on to become their bane in the encounter.
Winning the ball early, they proceeded into the attacking mode, only to lose the ball due a bad contact on it with the mallet. This gave the South Africans the initiative. And in their first attacking try, one of the Nigerian players had to stop them by foul means, causing a 60 metre penalty award to the South Africans.
Despite forming a seemingly tight defensive set up at the goal point, they still conceded the goal after the South African striker, Lance Watson (4 handicapper) hit a ferocious one that would eventually be converted by Duncan James Watson (4 handicapper).
But the Nigerians, massively supported by everyone in the house, would raise hopes - which would end up only to deceive - when they struck back almost immediately with a beautiful combination of long, team and individual play after they dispossessed South Africa on their way to scoring a second goal and went into a constructive counter mode.
At one-all, everyone thought they had backed the right horse and the cheering became louder for the Nigeria team. But in another characteristic infringement of the rules of turning, Nigeria again found themselves at the sad end of having to defend a penalty award, which was converted by the South Africans to give them back their lead.
After that, South Africa, in a move reminiscent of the type renowned with one of the top nations of the sport, Argentina, went tearing out and away from the Nigerians, only for the one with the ball - after doing almost a 150-yard run and getting to less than 20 yards to the goal line, hit a slice shot that went wide, to give the boys in the green strips a breather.
The two sides went in for the mandatory three-minute interval for horses change. But hardly had play restarted after the horses change than the breather Nigeria had from South Africa losing an obvious sitter was ripped off their psyche as a beautiful combination of team play from their opponents gave make them to concede the third goal; 3-1.
Getting more confident now; probably as a result of the easy way they seemed to be able to get Nigeria to go on the back foot, the South Africans were beginning to commit their own errors and a particularly fumbling middle play gave them out to make Nigeria to counter attack with speed to reduce the score-line to 3-2.
However, again came the Nigerian Achilles Heel as another penal offence had the South Africans setting up in the 60 yards line and they having to retreat to their goal-line to defend a penalty award, which they did unsuccessfully to take the scores to 4-2. End of chukka.
With scores at 4-2 and returning to the game for the next of the five-chukka match, the South Africans were now full of confidence and radiating, while their opponents, Nigeria, though not down psychologically - obviously - but were now getting more prone to errors and infringement committing.
Going early for the attack to close the gap, almost every member of the team either committed one error or the other. From missed back hand hit attempt to poor contact of the mallet on the ball, they lost possession for South Africa to go on the counter. In the process of that, voila, another penalty offence; 5-2.
South Africa were now fully in their rhythm and with the Nigerians committing offences by the bucket full, and with them managing to infringe the rules only in the middle of the pitch where they do not result in penalty awards, it was obvious the game was theirs for the taking. But the Nigerians were still managing to defend stoutly. And in one of the rare occasions where they ran an attacking play with vigour without anyone missing their hits on the ball, they scored one of the more memorable goals of the game to bring scores to 5-3.
Within the opening three minutes of the last chukka, the team registered two goals in rapid fire. But the South Africans would later regain their control of the game after the sides returned from the horse change, to bang in two goals of their own to put the final scores at 13-5.
Nigeriawill now meet Pakistan Wednesday to decide their qualification prospect, which looks dim already given the heavy negative goals difference they sustained Monday against South Africa. South Africa, on the other hand, will attempt to complete their semi final drive with a match against Pakistan on Saturday June 18.
Tuesday's matches are Australia taking on India in the first match of the day while host country Malaysia take on New Zealand in the other match.