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SPAIN: THE WAY TO PLAY FOOTBALL

By NBF News

Last Sunday, I bit my fingers in regret that Spain defeated Netherlands in the FIFA 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

I did not bite my fingers because I am anti-Spain, but because I was on the side of Netherlands. I had two reasons to support them - it was their third time at the finals and they deserved victory, and because quite unlike Spain, Netherlands features my fellow blacks as players. In fact, the Dutch side has always done that over the years, and consistently, Spain and Italy can never give their black citizens the chance of playing football for them. Even Germany, and sometime ago Poland have grown beyond that.

But I was glad for Spain's qualification for the final alongside Holland because their presence took World Cup victory and dominance away from the seven traditional winners. Before now, it had taken shape that whenever there is World Cup, the winner must come from among those old names who won it in the past. This time, a new entrant took it home. That spiced up the tournament as real competition.

No doubt, I was not against Spain winning, but I had preferred Netherlands. My policy about life and football is that whoever labours deserves the reward. Any team that qualified for the final match in the World Cup has already shown class to deserve to win. Such feats don't come by chance, but a product of hard work.

As I was still pining in anger over the bitter loss, a friend sent me a text message in support of Espanyol. I gave it back to him that I was not part of that. That reply resulted in a long exchange of SMS that at last ended on cordial and friendly note. Actually, the entire football world was on Sunday divided into two camps for Netherlands and for Spain.

When the final whistle from Howard Webb, the man with notoriety for pulling cards at players - the highest in football history (14 yellows and one red) blasted, I felt happy for Spain for some reasons.

Spain did not pick the trophy by chance. FIFA and other bookmakers had listed her among the likely winners, and having lost her first match to come back and win the ultimate, it was just good. It is the same Spain Nigeria beat in the opening match in the 1998 World Cup in France. Can you ever imagine Nigeria trying that again?

Spain prepared very well for the World Cup. Spain has its players in some other big European leagues, outside their home La Liga. Spain is the current European champion. Spain has the reputation of winning big with just one goal. Spain had overcome its 45-year bareness with just a single goal from Fernando Torres of Liverpool two years ago to win the Euro title. Spain sank better Germany in South Africa 2010 with just one goal to come to the final. It did that again from Andreas Iniesta to pick the world ultimate football trophy.

When Iniesta scored, I remembered the U20 Nigeria 1999. In the tournament, Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Xavi and some other players in the FC Barcelona and Spain national squad routed the world and picked the trophy 11 years ago.

When they went back home, they continued to groom this crop of young players. Yes, they were truly young, just like the young Spaniards that attended the Nigeria 2009 Under 17. All of them that fell to Switzerland at the final play at the junior teams of the big La Liga sides.

Because Spain tells herself the truth to field players of the right age, those young men had to grow in time to take the world in ultimate soccer. It was in that same tournament where Iniesta and his brothers conquered the junior world that Henry Thiery of France was discovered. Henry has taken the world also in a great measure having played World Cup final in 2006 in Germany and also a EUFA Champions final in the same year for Arsenal. Henry later won the trophy with Barca last year. Ronaldinho, the Brazilian magician came to limelight in Nigeria 99 also. It was that same tournament that discovered our own Julius Aghahowa and Yobo Joseph.

Whereas the other young men told themselves the truth and their home football managers being reasonable men of honour picked the boys of the right age, they still play and have matured into football giants. While they grow for years and in many exploits, we decline into oblivion years after boasting of cheating in age to win trophies. That is the difference between them and cheating Nigeria.

Because we never tell the truth about the age of our players, that is why they rise today as old 'young' boys to win age group tournaments and fade into oblivion of old age two years after. Yes, Aghahowa told us he was under 20, and the conniving NFA and now NFF crooks helped him reap from the deceit, today football has matured for those who were under 20 in 1999 to the point of winning the World Cup. So, I ask, where is our superstar Aghahowa and his co-travellers. It happens to us every year and we refuse to learn, but rather get worse.

Spain's trajectory of growth and maturity between 1999 and this year is a good case study for every football manager in Nigeria that cheats the nation to desperately field over-aged players to win today. We always act like the world ends today, that is why anyone selected to manage our young players for the age group championships will prefer to recruit my father's age mates to hack down little boys and win. After winning, we die the following year before the high noon of football. With Spain's example, we have seen that definitely, we have always got it wrong, a good reason we cannot grow in football. That is why all our silly victories in the boys' world cups have never translated into bigger and meaningful long-term victories. Shame on people that cheat themselves.

Watch and see how the Swede boys that took the trophy in the Nigeria U17 last year will still surprise the world at the ultimate trophy contest in years to come. They keep growing because they tell themselves the truth while we remain on the decline.

Sometimes, I fault FIFA or feel they intentionally watch us die in football suicide for believing that those old folks we field are actually of the age we declare.

In fact, FIFA is not a friend of Africa, and that has been shown severally, a reason Luis Fabiano of Brazil brought down the ball with his hands and scored two goals against Cote D'Ivoire and FIFA feigned ignorance. But FIFA apologized to England for Lampard's goal that was disallowed at the Group of 16 match against Germany. Joseph Sepp Blatter has not found any reason to apologise to the Ivorians for that double blunder because an African nation is involved.

Sometimes, I don't make sense from Issa Hayatou's presence in the FIFA board because I don't see him making any efforts to help develop African football or defend African nations in the face of FIFA victimization.

It annoys that in a World Cup, on the best outing, you have just one African referee in the pack. The reason they give is that they are not good. And that makes me ask, how good the chosen FIFA referees who officiated in South Africa are with all the unpardonable blunders in almost every match? If they could be chosen with all their flaws, why is Hayatou not making case for the inclusion of African referees? How would we win the World Cup against the white man when the white man is the official that decides who wins like Webb did to remove a Dutch player at the crucial moment to create an opportunity for Spain to win from the deficiency.

These facts make me feel so bad to remember how President Goodluck Jonathan allowed himself to be intimidated and bullied by Blatter over ban without putting up a fight. It was the most pitiful diplomatic summersault. It seems Blatter has turned football terrorist against hapless member states of FIFA.