Visa denials could not stop a Nigerian team from participating at the Socca World Cup in Budapest, Hungary, this past week.
Despite several months of planning, preparing and training for one of the biggest events in the amateur sports world, members of the HIVE Leagues, Nigeria’s official partners of the International Socca Federation (founded by the Leisure Leagues) were denied visas by the Hungarian embassy in Nigeria.
Its founder Henry Koko said they had to improvise. They drafted two members of their league who were resident in Europe and then spread a message among Nigerians in Greece, Germany and Hungary about the need for players for the competition. In a short while they were able to gather a team, or you may call it a coalition of the willing, to represent Socca Naija in the six-a-side matches that had 42 teams from all over the world.
“We had great preparations back in Lagos. Spent so many months grooming a squad with the hopes of coming here to do much better than we did in the 2019 World Cup in Greece. Unfortunately, bureaucracy busted the dreams of many as all of our home-based squad were denied visas,” Koko told Soccernet.ng.
“In order not to miss out entirely, we had to pull all resources and managed to put together what I will call an “international based team” made up of Nigerian amateur footballers and fans in diaspora.”
How did Socca Naija perform in Hungary?
The proud and passionate Nigerians flew high the green and white flag in Budapest.
They played four matches, won two but lost two and were eliminated after the first round. They lost their opening game to Oman 3-0 but bounced back to defeat Algeria 2-1 in their second group game.
They also beat Latvia 2-1 to brighten their chances of reaching the knockout stages. However, a 7-0 defeat to Germany brought their campaign crashing down to earth. They finished fourth in a group of five.
Brazil won the championship after defeating Kazakhstan 3-0 while Germany finished in fourth place following a 3-1 loss to Poland in the match for third place.
It was a great learning opportunity, according to Koko. They were able to overcome the odds to reach their goal of participating at this championship created for amateur players and enthusiasts.
What next for the HIVE Leagues?
The HIVE Leagues, as a sports and recreation provider, helps to create opportunities for enthusiasts to play organised football at an amateur level.
“We are giving an opportunity to everyone to play organized sport,” said Koko. And the opportunity provided by the Socca World Cup means that players can dream of playing at international tournaments.
Koko hopes that they will be able to participate in the next edition in Germany with the Socca Naija contingent intact in order to make a bigger impact.