The celebration that greeted Nigeria’s qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup could have been short-lived on Tuesday when the world football governing came down hard on the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
FIFA found Nigeria guilty of using an ineligible player in their last World Cup qualifying game against Algeria. The Super Eagles were thus docked the points accrued from that thankfully dead-rubber encounter.
The country’s football federation was also slapped with a fine of 6,000 Swiss Francs.
Top defender Abdullahi Shehu had received a yellow card in the match against Zambia in Uyo on October 7 (the match in which victory guaranteed Nigeria a place in Russia), making it a second for him in the qualifying race, following an earlier yellow card against Swaziland in the preliminary round.
The Swaziland game was played in November 2015 under the then coach, Sunday Oliseh.
Traditionally, yellow cards issued in previous rounds of the qualifying race are cancelled going forward, but the principle did not apply to the latest series.
It is, however, mind-boggling that the NFF were operating under assumptions even though rules guiding every FIFA competition are always available for all to see.
An attempted explanation by Shehu Dikko, the second Vice President for the NFF, did little to absolve the federation of complacency.
According to him, FIFA actually sent a notice after the match against Zambia that Shehu is suspended for Algeria match. But the email was sent directly to the technical officer (whom he did not mention the name) in charge who incidentally was hospitalised at that period with a serious heart problem and couldn’t have seen it.
He continued: “On match day against Algeria, neither the match commissioner was aware nor the away team and Abdulahi played the match without any protest or notice from either side.
“Algeria never protested as they too are not aware, but FIFA sent NFF a query to ask why the player played.
“NFF duly responded with proofs that the notice was sent to an email account of a technical staff that was hospitalised with proofs.“
The FIFA disciplinary committee met and decided that since previous emails had always been sent to the same account and were received, the sent notice is valid.
The decision of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee which sat on the matter read, inter alia: “The Nigeria Football Federation is liable for having breached art.55 par.1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and art. 8 of the 2018 Regulations of the FIFA World Cup Russia.”
Indeed, it is a really a bad mistake; but thankfully it hasn’t punctured the hopes of 180 million Nigerians waiting to see their team ruffle feathers at the Russia 2018 World Cup.
As a matter of urgency, NFF needs to reorganise the Technical and Competitions departments to ensure this horrendous mistake never happens again as this mistake is clearly the lack of diligence on their part. Thankfully, the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, has already pledged to ensure such does not happen again.
While the Russia 2018 World Cup ticket is intact, the records and bragging rights Nigeria has as far as world cup qualifying matches are concerned have been hit a bit.
Nigeria were hitherto seen as one of the seven teams that were unbeaten on the road to Russia 2018,
Before now, only three countries in the world, including Nigeria were unbeaten in the past three qualifying series for FIFA World Cup finals (South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014 & Russia 2018), the others being Germany and Spain.
But with the ruling of FIFA, Nigeria is technically out of this exclusive list.