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These home boys will work wonders…

In all, 14 players were called to action at the Stade Regionale de Nyamirambo, Kigali and four of them were boys from the domestic League.…

In all, 14 players were called to action at the Stade Regionale de Nyamirambo, Kigali and four of them were boys from the domestic League. Every member of the Nigeria delegation to the match rated the boys highly.

While it would be improper to start debating on this page concerning the difference in levels of commitment of the foreign-based pros and the home boys, I was also at the Stade Regionale de Kigali and I saw the performances of all the players.

The four home boys truly gave good account of themselves – Wednesday’s match being the first in a long, long time that as many as four home boys would be in action for the Super Eagles in a competitive match.

While there were those who felt, at the end, that the home boys who thrashed the Senior team of Liberia in Monrovia in a friendly match on February 15 could have achieved a better result, it is important that we also appreciate the position of Head Coach, Mr. Stephen Keshi who was playing his first competitive match since signing his contract in November 2011.

It is true that Keshi himself made good from the domestic League, and alongside dozens of other very ambitious, purposeful and focused colleagues, took Nigeria football to a glorious height. But for several years now, the accent has been on using mostly Europe-based players to prosecute even games against the likes of Sierra Leone.

Who would, therefore, blame Keshi? Also, a good percentage of the Euro-based stars invited for the match in Kigali were making the right headlines for their clubs. Someone like Yakubu Ayegbeni has scored dozens of goals in the English Premiership this season, and Osaze Odemwingie has even netted a hat-trick in one match, for which the NFF sent him a letter of congratulations.

Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama remains the country’s best even if he is not getting regular action in France, and it is hard to fault the invitation of ever-potent striker Ikechukwu Uche, midfielders Dickson Etuhu, Sani Kaita, Victor Moses and Joel Obi, defenders Taye Taiwo and Captain Joseph Yobo and winger Ahmed Musa.

Before the match, I had opportunity to address the team at their only training session on the artificial turf of Stade Regionale on Tuesday evening. My confidence was high after the session, and I was able to dispel rumours of impending slash in their match win-bonus. Players and officials appeared happy and committed to the cause, and we all believed we were going to win the match on Wednesday.

It is important to state here that at no time did anyone feel that the Europe-based boys were not going to give their one hundred percent, or that the home boys would show signs of having jitters. It was one team united in one mission and all were determined to give their best.

During the match, one must commend the firmness of South African referee Daniel Bennett, his compatriots who were the assistant referees and reserve referee, and Mr. Wabera from Djibouti who was the Match Commissioner. There was no time they showed any hostility or unfairness and the 0-0 result was just reward for what the two teams put into the match.

Are the foreign-based professionals truly better than the home-based professionals? That is a debate for the media and analysts and commentators. But I have read somewhere that at the post-match press conference, Coach Keshi lamented that most of his troops did not give one hundred per cent on the day.

I have also read an interview in which Captain Joseph Yobo said there would never be automatic shirts for the Europe-based stars again. I guess his colleagues would not like that too much, but I believe it was his conviction from his partnership with tall Warri Wolves FC centre back Azubuike Egwueke.

While the Rwandas created a number of anxious moments with that skilful play, pace and coordination, the strong partnership of Yobo and Egwueke in the centre of defence and the alertness of Godfrey Oboabona on the right, coupled with the agility and well-known capabilities of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, enabled the Super Eagles to come out unscathed.

Surely, Nigeria would have taken the match even in the first half with a couple of brilliant chances but poor finishing, and sometimes unbelievably poor control, kept the scoreline tame.

The electrifying pace and passion of Ejike Uzoenyi, who plays for Enugu Rangers in the Nigeria Premier League, deserves more than a passing mention. Someone said he was asked whether Lionel Messi (the only one) had naturalized and become a Nigerian! For him, the outing of Uzoenyi was as good as whatever Messi can conjure on a good day.

Certainly, if we had not started the residential camping programme, the likes of Ejike Uzoenyi would never have had their chance. After watching him in the match against Angola, I decided he was something special. And in Kigali on Wednesday, he justified his being listed in the starting line-up – something that surprised not a few members of the Nigeria delegation.

All in all, it was not the outing we wanted and planned for, but the opportunity comes to win the tie in the return leg in Nigeria mid-June.

I got several phone calls, text messages and e-mails after the match, all expressing preference for the home boys and warning that the NFF must find money to sustain the camping programme. I assured them that we would do everything we can to sustain the programme.

It is important that I express the appreciation of the NFF to the Honourable Minister/Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi for his warm words and kind gestures to the team before its departure to Rwanda. The Honourable Minister met the team at the Bolton White Apartments hotel before the delegation left for the airport on Monday night, and himself followed the team’s programme in Kigali with keen interest.

Also, the Nigeria High Commissioner to Uganda, Ambassador Fidel Ayogu and senior officials of the Mission that is also overseeing Rwanda, were very devoted, receiving the delegation at the airport on arrival and being part of all the team’s programmes.

Many thanks also to the players who prosecuted the ‘war’, the NFF Executive Committee members, Management, Secretariat Staff, eminent stakeholders, media reprsentatives and members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, led by Dr. Rafiu Oladipo, who despite all odds, gave the team roaring support in Kigali.

NEXT WEEK: Fireworks in Lusaka!