Well, it's an exciting time for me, as I've just had an article published in When Saturday Comes, the only good football magazine in the UK. It came out at the weekend, I'm told (my copy won't arrive for another couple of weeks yet). I wrote about the farcical recent Romania vs Nigeria friendly international, and well, you can read it yourself as I have reproduced it in full below. On the off chance that you have a copy of the magazine and this is not exactly the same it's because they've employed a sub-editor to make it readable and stuff. Anyway, enjoy.
We’ve all seen it happen. A match is organised, there is confusion among the participants as to whether it will actually take place, no-one is quite sure when it kicks off, and finally the visiting team show up late without enough players to make up a team and have to borrow a local or two to make up the numbers.
In this case though, rather than a couple of estate cars overstuffed with slightly portly and sheepish looking blokes drawing up and wondering if they could borrow a couple of players, the whole comedy of embarrassment was played out on Romanian TV, as the Romania vs. Nigeria friendly descended rapidly into utter farce.
The signs were there as much as a week in advance when the Nigerian Football Association Chairman, Ibrahim Galadina, informed the media in Nigeria that the game had been cancelled at the request of Romania. They even, it seems, managed to arrange another friendly with Oman to make up the gap. But, in fact, the match hadn’t been cancelled at all, and was still scheduled to go ahead. The NFA finally contacted its players on the Monday, 48 hours before the game, to let them know they had been selected and would they mind going to Bucharest. Realising the late notification may be a problem, they took the unusual step of inviting 40 players to the game in the hope that some of them at least would show up. In the circumstances it’s hardly surprising that most of the names in the Nigerian side chose not to.
By lunchtime on the day of the match, due to start at 5pm, precisely 3 Nigerian players had made it to Romania. Just after 2pm a plane arrived carrying a further 7 players (protesting that the match was supposed to start at 8, and saying “Let us rest. We’re dying of hunger”) and the remainder of the “delegation”, which consisted of one official from the NFA, assistant-to-the-normal-assistant-coach Daniel Amokachi, and the goalkeeping coach (the team’s manager Augustine Eguavoen had decided to go to Morocco instead to watch the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup).
With the players at the hotel attempting to grab a hasty nap to recover from the long flight, the officials were seen in one of Bucharest’s shopping centres, getting names and numbers printed onto the shirts. By this time an eleventh player had been identified, FC National Bucharest’s Agumbiade Abiodun. Apparently he played a couple of games for the U17 Nigerian Team back when he was (presumably) under 17, but since then had not been close to the squad. Still, he was available and in the country. Interviewed on TV when they located him (by this time the “game” was big news and it seemed like the media had taken over the business of trying to make it go ahead), he was asked if he knew Amokachi. “Oh yes, I know him very well, I just don’t think he knows me.” Yet more Nigerians were located, seven in all, players for second division FC Targoviste, but they were deemed surplus to requirements – after all by now a twelfth player, Benedict Agwuegbu (a man who even had some previous caps), had arrived from Austria.
Finally, in front of a massive crowd of 300, and a Nigerian bench of one sub, but still live on TV, the match kicked off at 6.20pm. For the record, what amounted to Romania B beat Nigeria D 3-0. The real question, aside from whatever recriminations go on in Lagos, is why on earth this game was arranged in the first place. Romania don’t have another competitive match until the qualifiers for Euro 2008 begin, and having already played Cote D’Ivoire the Saturday before, they’d presumably got whatever practice they needed against West African opposition (in preparation for the remote possibility of meeting another in the group stages of WC2010?). For Nigeria, it was billed as a warm-up game for the upcoming African Nations Cup. But with none of the first choice team playing, and the coach not even showing up to watch, it’s debatable what kind of a warm-up it actually was. Still, if nothing else, at least Abiodun, Brentford’s Sam Sodje, and a whole bunch of other previously uncapped players have stories to tell their grandkids about how they ended up playing for Nigeria.