Two African countries have jeopardised their World Cup preparations by changing coaches
Shaibu Amodu may have worn the look of a man on death row, but Vahid Halilhodzic will have had no inkling of his imminent guillotining.
The aftermath of the African Nations Cup has seen two World Cup-bound teams dispense with their coaches just months before they head to South Africa.
For Nigeria, it is a repetition of eight years ago, but for the Ivory Coast it was a surprise move that smacks of player power.
Amodu had seen it all before with Nigeria and carried a haunted look as his side struggled unconvincingly in the January tournament, knowing full well what awaited him at the end of the Angolan adventure. Even though his side made it to the semi-finals, and picked up yet another bronze medal, Amodu was fired within a week of his return – replicating the fate that befell him before the 2002 World Cup.
In 2001 Amodu was given the job of securing Nigeria’s place at the Japan/South Korea finals after Jo Bonfrere had been axed halfway through the qualifiers. This he duly achieved, but when the Super Eagles could only manage third place at the 2002 African Nations Cup in Mali, Amodu was pushed aside and replaced by Festus Onigbinde just months before the World Cup in Asia.
Henri Michel of Tunisia and Carlos Queiroz of South Africa were also fired at the same tournament, creating a new legend of the “curse of the Nations Cup” for World Cup-bound coaches.
Halilhodzic would have dismissed that prospect out of hand at the start of the year. Having taken the Ivorians through their World Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten, his side were hot favourites for the crown of continental champions in Angola, as they had been for the two previous editions. And they offered firm proof of their status with an easy win over Ghana in the last group game.
But for a moment’s panic in defence in their quarter-final against Algeria, they might have realised their potential. However, they squandered a 2-1 lead late in the game and were beaten 3-2 after extra-time.
Halilhodzic – a former Yugoslav international with a French passport who was born in Bosnia – minced few words in blaming his players for the breakdown and then had to sit through mounting criticism from all corners as he awaited his increasingly obvious fate. He was not told of his firing until more than a month after the Nations Cup exit, the inevitable arriving by fax at his French home. Later the same day, Ivorian Football Federation president Jacques Anouma made public the expected outcome during a televised debate about the national team’s recent performance, presumably playing his trump card to deflect any criticism.
Looking to Europe
The Ivorians immediately looked to Europe for a new coach, with Didier Drogba reportedly speaking to Guus Hiddink, and others such as Eric Gerets were also tapped up for the
job. But delays in making an appointment mean Ivory Coast will not have a new coach in place until some 80 days before the World Cup gets under way.
Nigeria, meanwhile, published a wish-list of coaches – not for the first time, bizarrely, including Peter Taylor – before setting out to speak to them. The likes of Hiddink, Louis Van Gaal and Giovanni Trapattoni would have been bemused, but quickly made it clear they had no interest.
Eventually, Bruno Metsu, Glenn Hoddle and Lars Lagerback were persuaded to travel to Abuja for interviews, with Lagerback emerging as the surprise choice. His Swedish compatriot Sven Goran Eriksson was also in the mix, though just how seriously remains unclear.
Lagerback watched his new charges beat Congo DR 5-2 in their first match following the African Nations Cup finals, but he will have gained little insight from the friendly in Abuja as a home-based side was supplemented by just two foreign-based players and coached by…Amodu.
The Swede will now have to wait until mid-May to begin his work in earnest, effectively having less than a month before Nigeria’s opening match against Argentina in Johannesburg.