Saturday, November 17, 2012

When football comes of age

I have been in Gabon close to 5 months and what a people we have here. And like in many of my sojourns, of interest to me is how different people think of themselves, and of others. Like in Libreville, the vibe filters from the airport through the greenbelt right down to the ghetto.

Gabonese people think their football has come of age, and if you saw their 2-2 draw with Portugal, you will understand why. First of all, the guts and tenacity of the godfathers of football to attract the likes of Real Madrid’s Pepe in a long list of high profile players should be commended.

Gabon pushed their luck, scored first, made Pepe look ordinary, claimed a ‘disallowed goal’, conceded a penalty and actually were on the score-sheet twice on the rainy night.

The small equatorial rain forest country is not resting on their laurels after a successful joint hosting with Equatorial Guinea of the 2012 AFCON which was won by Zambia. They are building on the remnants of that positive vibration and with success.

For those who missed the action, it is not the result that got us talking. It was the all round performance. The team oozed confidence and exhibited sleek silky touches and bravery. The commitment and tactical discipline was very impressive.

Working and doing business with assorted nationals and ethnicities can show you a thing or two. Experiences in the coaching field, even during the days as a coaches instructor, never answered the questions of why certain nations bullied their adversaries to submission, in some cases with shocking ease.

With an all-round performance of the Gabonese, the ball, the pitch, strength, speed and sheer talent were not only responsible for what we saw. The attitude, determination and belief proved that improved self-image was pivotal.

The mentality should never last a few minutes or days. It should be permanent. There is never a doubt of small nation players doing well overseas and failing to deliver at home. More often than not, they are blamed for shying away from crunch situations in fear of injuries, but the truth cannot be any further than that.

This nation started drilling oil over 30 years ago and the benefits are not anything to write home about. If the resources are channeled to filter through the system to benefit the game, soon, given the mentality shown this week, the sky is the limit for the small nation. It must be emphasized that the qualification to the AFCON 2013 by a small nation like Cape Verde may have inspired other budding teams.

Here are some of the opinions and sentiments of the locals in Libreville:

“The game here has improved much after the arrival of Cameroonian coaches and whites from Europe. Corruption was rife and it is still a problem as politicians want to run the show."

"There is hope and as you could see, the players did not care Portugal were. We used to be afraid of whites and players could have been of the ‘team of Luis Figo or Cristiano Ronaldo. Now we can play anybody without fear but our technique and tactics have to improve. We could have scored many goals.”

"We are a small nation but not a small team. We have come a long way and we are ready for the best in Africa."