Nigeria: More than just a game
Nigeria stepped back from the brink of the international football wilderness yesterday as the government reversed a proposed ban on its own national team in the wake of their World Cup failure.
With only one hour to go to a Fifa deadline that would have seen the country effectively expelled from football, the office of President Goodluck Jonathan backed down in its dispute with world football's governing body. "The ban has been reversed," a source in the president's office told Reuters last night.
While some countries sacked coaches or criticised players following a disappointing performance in South Africa, Nigeria went furthest, sacking the heads of the national football federation and threatening to withdraw its teams from international competition for two years.
The ban had been intended to give the West African nation time to put its football "house in order" after a first round exit from the finals. However, the controversial move drew immediate criticism from Fifa which has maintained a strict line against government interference in the sport. The Swiss-based governing body gave Nigerian authorities a deadline of the close of business yesterday to withdraw the two-year ban or face an outright suspension from all Fifa activities.
This would have meant a ban on all representative teams at club and international levels, all officials and Nigerian referees.
President Jonathan appears to have been persuaded to back down after Fifa sent a delegation led by Nigeria's most senior football official, Amos Adamu – a member of the ruling body's executive committee – to mediate with the government in Abuja.
Fifa has been criticised regularly by independent football analysts for failing to prevent corruption within the national federations that it helps to bankroll. In both Greece and Kenya in the recent past, efforts to clean up incompetent or corrupt national football authorities have led to Fifa sanctions.
The Nigerian president's initial dramatic reaction and subsequent back down appears to have achieved his apparent goal – firing the top ranks of the federation and auditing its accounts.
"The Nigerian government's demands are clear: that Fifa must accept the removal of the current Nigerian Football Federation leadership, with transparent elections to be held to bring in a new team," said Nigerian football commentator Colin Udoh.
The "Super Eagles" squad was rocked by persistent allegations of corruption relating to team funding. Fifa has still not released its $8m in prize money from the tournament.
Preparations were chaotic as the federation struggled to secure adequate training or accommodation in South Africa and came close to cancelling pre-World Cup friendlies after disputes over venues for matches.
As Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria was long-expected to be the first team from the continent to move beyond the quarter-final stage at the World Cup. But on the pitch things got worse. After a respectable single goal defeat to Argentina, the West Africans capitulated to Greece, despite taking the lead as one player was red carded for a wild kick at an opponent. Then they drew 2-2 with a lacklustre South Korea, missing a host of chances when a win would have put them through into the next round.
The team flew back into Lagos to be met by scores of police and security guards, who held back baying members of the public.
New Zealand: Honoured by the fire brigade
When the plane bringing home the first handful of the All Whites squad touched down at Auckland airport, it was met by two fire engines spraying hoses to form a watery arch. It is an honour usually accorded only to "dignitaries, Olympic teams and inaugural flights" (the last perhaps because their national bird is yet to take to the skies). Inside the terminal, more than 100 young fans had gathered with one high school girl sporting a "Paston I love you" placard in praise of the team's previously unknown goalkeeper, who had performed heroically against Italy. The unheralded Kiwis had drawn with the mighty Italians, a shock result that had helped send the defending champions home embarrassingly early.
Argentina: Thrashed – but still heroes
With the mercurial Diego Maradona in charge nobody knew what to expect from Argentina, least of all their fans back home, some of whom have a combustible reputation. So after being sent tumbling out of the tournament by Germany at the weekend, the Albiceleste flew into Buenos Aires early yesterday morning accompanied by police. Fearing the worst, they cordoned off the terminal and arranged for a coach to meet the plane to whisk the players away. However, the fans were not to be denied and in extraordinary scenes they flocked in their thousands to the headquarters of the Argentine football association in the capital – but it was to applaud home the bemused looking players as heroes, demonstrating once and for all the unique appeal of Maradona, the man who really can do no wrong in the eyes of a nation.
France: A tense audience with Sarkozy
More presidential involvement here, but not in a positive way. There was not a more shambolic squad in South Africa than the French, but after the Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for swearing at the coach, the players refused to train and went home without a win. They flew into Bourget, a small airport outside Paris, with a police guard to keep away angry fans. Thierry Henry, the team's faded star, demanded an audience with Nicolas Sarkozy and was whisked off to the Elysee Palace – entering through a side door. The president of the French Football Federation resigned and coach Raymond Domenech had already agreed to leave, so at least the Gallic public – in the best traditions of the republic – got their rolling heads.
Italy: 'Shame on you', they cried
The italian team was pelted with rotten tomatoes in 1966 after suffering the ignominy of being beaten by North Korea – and South Africa proved to be their worst finals performance since then. The defending champions could not beat the might of New Zealand and were knocked out at the group stage for the first time since 1974.
But when they landed at Rome's Fiumicino airport the squad was no doubt relieved to face a small crowd hurling only insults as they hurried out of the arrivals hall. "Shame on you," yelled fans as captain Fabio Cannavaro, dark glasses firmly in place, pushed his trolley past without moving a facial muscle. Fabio Quagliarella, one of the Azzurri squad, conceded: "There is a lot of bitterness. It's understandable."
Japan: Celebrated – but they were sorry
The blue Samurai left home with little expectation from their supporters, so a second-round exit – and a painful one, too, after a penalty shoot-out defeat by Paraguay – was hailed as a success story. It was their best World Cup finals performance on foreign soil. When they landed at Osaka's Kansai airport it was to a reception party of 4,000 screaming fans, nearly all of them dressed in the team's blue shirt. The unlikely focus of their attention was taciturn coach, Takeshi Okada, who was greeted with banners saying "Okada, pride of Japan" and "Our hero Okada". Okada responded by apologising to supporters for the team's failure to progress further.
England: Pronounced guilty in trial by tabloid
With Shaun Wright-Phillips still clutching his pillow and Frank Lampard a couple of vuvuzelas, England's team slipped into a corner of Heathrow early in the morning to be greeted by a handful of underwhelmed baggage handlers, a scattering of perma-smiling airline staff and a few long-range lenses, as the media and public were kept well out of the way.
From there the squad dispersed to waiting cars to begin a game of cat and mouse with the paparazzi.
Wayne Rooney disappeared off on holiday. Other members of Fabio Capello's troop have dared to make public appearances in the UK, go to restaurants, attend parties and even be seen smiling, all accompanied by the scowling red-top press.
Brazil: A gauntlet of angry supporters
Most people's pre-tournament favourites had a World Cup to forget (as the 400-strong media pack that accompanied the team have pointed out with robustness). Back in Brazil, the Selecao were met with opprobrium when they were dropped off in Rio de Janeiro. Dunga, the soon-to-be-former coach and Felipe Melo, who gifted Holland a goal and was sent off in the quarter-final defeat, found themselves ushered out into a scrum of angry fans and cameramen. Hapless Melo looked terrified as security men tried to clear a path. "I'm not the villain! It was a collective mistake," he pleaded, in vain.
Slovenia: Out in first round. But who cares?
As the youngest country at the finals – they only gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 – the Slovenes still appear enraptured with the novelty of it all. They failed to make it out of the group stages after suffering the ignominy of becoming the only country to lose to England, but their exit was cruel with a last-minute goal by the US sending them home. When they got back to Ljubljana it was to a joyous reception – 2,000 fans turned up at the airport and another 10,000 were waiting at an official reception hosted by the president.
North Korea: Open arms, but no crowds to be seen
Coach kim Jong Hun provided the tournament's second most optimistic statement (Joe Cole's assertion that England could win the World Cup is a runaway winner) by proclaiming that his side would be "welcomed home with open arms". The Koreans had by then lost all three games, including a 7-0 thrashing by Portugal, to finish bottom of their group. When they arrived back in Pyongyang, the country's capital, there were, according to local reports, "no crowds of people waiting". That contrasted with the large number who turned up – willingly or otherwise – a few weeks earlier when the team had flown out for their first finals since 1966.
Kim Jong-Il's thoughts on their performance have yet to be recorded.Reuse content