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Fifa Threatens Nigeria, Ghana Bows Out Gracefully

Published on Sunday 4th July 2010

he Federation of International Football Association yesterday gave Nigeria until Monday evening to reverse its decision to pull its national team, the Super Eagles out of international competition for two years or face suspension.

President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday approved the withdrawal of the Super Eagles from international tournaments and the dissolution of the Nigerian Football Federation management board after Nigeria's first-round exit from the South Africa 2010 World Cup. He also ordered a probe into alleged financial corruption at the federation.

FIFA's ultimatum was given several hours before Africa's last hope of reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup was extinguished when the Black Stars of Ghana bowed out after a spirited match against Uruguay that was determined by a penalty shoot out.

The world football governing body's Communi-cations Director, Nicolas Maingot providing clarification in Johannesburg on the ultimatum said: "FIFA has sent a letter to the Nigerian Football Federation indicating that the government of Nigeria has until Monday at 6 p.m. to cancel its direction to withdraw Nigeria's participation from all FIFA and CAF competitions for the next two years. Failure to do so will lead to the suspension of the NFF."

Maingot also warned that FIFA would not recognise the interim body set up by the federal government to oversee the affairs of Nigerian football until a new NFF board is put in place.

However, he indicated that FIFA was still ready to dialogue with Nigeria in an effort to seek an amicable solution to the impasse.

In line with this, Maingot said Dr. Amos Adamu, a Nigerian member of the FIFA Executive Committee would be dispatched from South Africa to Abuja to see if a solution can still be worked out. "Adamu will be in Nigeria on Monday for a last mediation attempt," Maingot said.

Maingot also took pains to explain what the suspension would mean for Nigeria, saying that it covers the national team and club matches in African competitions, referees as well as the cash that flows from FIFA to national associations.

"A suspension goes beyond the suspension of the national teams. It also freezes financial help and no Nigerian referee can participate in international competition," he said.

Reacting to the deadline, officials at the National Sports Commission in Abuja told this newspaper last night that the Nigerian government is yet to get official communication from FIFA.

However, one official confirmed that Nigerian officials have been meeting with FIFA "since the day of our last match with South Korea on the need to overhaul the entire football administration in the country."

"In our discussion with FIFA, we were quite frank about the rot in the Nigerian Football Federation and even though FIFA said that it would not support graft by any football association, it cautioned Nigeria to tread with caution and adhere to FIFA rules," said the official.

FIFA rules protect soccer from government intervention, with power to suspend members who do not manage their affairs independently.

When suspended, national and club teams cannot play in international competitions and soccer officials are barred from attending meetings.

Nigeria was knocked out of the World Cup in South Africa last week after losing two of its first-round matches and scraping a 2-2 draw with South Korea.

The Super Eagles, one of a record six African teams at the tournament, finished last in Group B, while Argentina and South Korea advanced to the second round of the tournament.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke had also described the Nigeria issue as "a threat to the whole set-up of international football."Speaking on South African Radio 702 yesterday, Valcke said: "If the government of Nigeria does not back down, we will suspend Nigeria and the decision will be taken in the next 48 hours.

"We have been severe with France, why would we not be towards Nigeria? We have 208 members and if one of them goes against our constitution and the system, then the whole footballing pyramid is in danger."

FIFA president, Sepp Blatter had personally warned French president, Nicolas Sarkozy of the dire consequences should his government's hand be seen to be behind the resignation of the President of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes.

Also outgoing French coach Raymond Domenech along with Escalettes were hauled before a parliamentary inquiry to explain France's poor showing at South Africa 2010.

But French officials were quick to insist that they had no hand in the resignation of the federation chief, insisting that Sports Minister, Roselyne Bachelot had only expressed her view that in the wake of the fiasco she expected Escalettes to honourably throw in the towel.

Ironically this will be the second time in four years that Nigeria would feature on the FIFA radar after the world governing body had to send its secretary general to the country to resolve the impasse that followed after NFF elections in Kano returned the then president Ibrahim Galadima to power in 2006.

A pressure group dubbed the 'Stake Holders' refused to accept the result prompting FIFA to wade in and arrange a fresh election that subsequently brought the current board, headed by Sani Lulu Abdullahi into power.

It is left to be seen if this time around an amicable solution can be found before the Monday ultimatum elapses.

Meanwhile, Ghana's defeat by Uruguay in a penalty shoot out saw the South American nation reaching the semi-final of the World Cup for the first time since 1970.

But the devastating loss for Ghana ended the continent's hopes of seeing an African team reaching the semi-final of a World Cup tournament for the first time. It was a loss felt not only in Ghana but across the African continent and among supporters in Johannesburg.

Ghana seemed certain to become the first African side to reach the last four of the competition when Luis Suarez of Uruguay saw red after handling the ball in his goal mouth in the dying seconds of extra-time.

However, striker Asamoah Gyan, who had already converted two penalties in South Africa, skimmed the crossbar with the last kick of the game.

Gyan showed incredible guts to take the first spot-kick of the shoot-out but John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah both had their low strikes saved by Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera.

After the terrible misses by Ghana, Sebsatian Abreu then showed iced-cold composure to dink the decisive penalty beyond Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson, sealing a Uruguayan semi-final tie against the Netherlands.

Suarez's deliberate handball, which came seconds after he had legitimately blocked one goal-bound effort with his knee, was a gamble that paid handsomely.

It was a truly remarkable few minutes, surely some of the most dramatic in World Cup history, and came at the end of an engrossing and occasionally bad-tempered contest.Both teams enjoyed periods of the ascendancy and great moves, and both were equally guilty of wasting numerous opportunities.

Ghanaian forward, Sulley Muntari, almost kicked out of the squad after criticising coach Milovan Rajevac earlier in the competition, struck a long-range opener on the stroke of half-time.

But the second half saw the Uruguayans take control of the mid-field which paid off when impressive Diego Forlan equalised with a free-kick 10 minutes after the commencement of the second half.After the equalizers both teams made several attempts to go one up but all efforts proved futile, forcing the match into extra time.

The Black Stars were dominant in the closing minutes of extra-time as their opponents visibly tired and, after Suarez twice denied Adiyiah, once illegally, the match took its dramatic final twist.

Uruguay's eventual shoot-out victory, the second of the competition after Paraguay defeated Japan, ended Africa's participation at this tournament, much to the huge disappointment of the vast majority of the Johannesburg crowd and supporters across the African continent.

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