The Qatar 2022 World Cup rumbles on and despite their beloved Super Eagles missing out of the jamboree, Nigerians take their place before television screens to watch teams from other countries play and cheer them on.

There was a time when the World Cup without Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, would have been unthinkable. But these days, the unthinkable has become possible.

When the Super Eagles of Nigeria were paired against the Black Stars for the final qualifying round for the World Cup, many Nigerians had breathed a sigh of relief at avoiding many other African teams especially from North Africa. In defiance of the many surprises that football remains eminently capable of springing, many Nigerians had looked at the disastrous outing posted by Ghana at the Nations Cup held earlier in the year and convinced themselves that the Black Stars would be easily brushed aside. Recent history also sided with the Super Eagles against their smaller West African neighbors.

When the first leg in Ghana stood scoreless after full time, Nigerians were quietly hopeful that the return leg in Abuja would see them clinch the ticket. The match was scheduled for March 29, 2022.

On March 28, 2022, while the country was quietly getting into a frenzy at an expected qualification for the World Cup, the terrorists who for years have seemed intent on plunging Nigeria into the doldrums of insecurity and instability had other ideas.

A passenger train travelling to Kaduna from Abuja was successfully attacked and immobilized. Nine passengers were slaughtered and more than 60 others abducted to begin a harrowing captivity that was to last for six months, featuring many egregious episodes during which the terrorists goaded and mocked Nigeria before successfully launching a devastating attack on the Medium Security custodial facility in Kuje where they freed dozens of some of Nigeria’s most dangerous terrorists.

The attack had once again laid bare the seeming ineptitude of the APC-led federal government. Thus, while all attention was still riveted on the battle billed for the Moshood Abiola National Stadium between two of Africa’s fiercest rivals, anger swept the land.

Thousands of Nigerians were packed into the stadium on the fateful day but the handwriting appeared on the wall as soon as Thomas Partey’s speculative effort at goal squirmed under goalkeeper Francis Uzoho in just the eleventh minute to give Ghana the all-important away goal and leave Nigeria with a mountain to climb.

It proved a bridge too far. Before the eyes of millions of Nigerians packed into the national stadium or glued to television screens, the Super Eagles huffed and puffed but could only muster a 1-1 draw as their World Cup dreams petered out before their eyes after appearances in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

In the wake of the attack on the train just a day before, many Nigerians celebrated the failure of the country to qualify for the World Cup, albeit in protest.

Now, with the tournament well and truly under way, many Nigerians have been left to rue a missed opportunity as well as lament the coaching circus, itself evidence of a deeper rot, that consumed Nigeria’s World Cup hopes, and continues to undermine Nigerian football even to this day.

The current clown in the circus is Jose Paseiro whose appointment was only confirmed after Nigeria failed to qualify for the World Cup, but under whose watch the Super Eagles have limped to five inexcusable defeats in just nine games.

Indeed, when World-Cup bound Portugal mauled Nigeria 4-0 just before the World Cup started, the embarrassing defeat should have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But Paseiro remains in his position, no doubt waiting patiently to oversee yet another defeat.

Nigeria remains awash with generational sporting talents, not just in football but in other sports. But because corruption has not allowed the country’s sporting authorities to organize and maximize the talents the country is flooded with, the country continues to underperform, posting shocking performances along the way.

There is no doubt that if Nigeria can put its house in order, there is no telling the height the country can scale in the sporting stratosphere.

Kene Obiezu, @kenobiezu

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