Moment of madness costs Nigeria dear
World Cup 2010: Bloemfontein
Nigeria midfielder Sani Kaita had the thousand-yard stare and weary, monotone voice of a man who had quickly grasped the impact of his actions as he answered questions about the red card he was given during Thursday's match against Greece.
The match turned completely on his moment of madness after 33 minutes, with the Super Eagles 1-0 lead eventually becoming a bruising and costly 2-1 defeat.
"I am sorry for the whole of Nigeria," said Kaita, who understandably looked like he would be just about anywhere else rather than in front of the semi-circle of journalists attempting to establish with almost forensic detail his version of events.
"It was not the right thing to do and I hope it will not happen again. I made a mistake. That is all."
Kaita had tangled with Vassilis Torosidis, who later scored the winning goal, as they competed for the ball close to the touchline.
The Nigerian aimed a kick in the direction of his opponent's leg and Torosidis went down holding his face, in what was an unseemly if hardly surprising example of the win-at-all costs philosophy that besmirches the modern game.
The whole incident was regrettable and ended with Kaita taking a long and slow march across the pitch to the dressing room.
Kaita watched on television as Greece's wily old coach Otto Rehhagel swiftly abandoned his ultra-defensive formation in favour of a rarely glimpsed attacking ambition that saw his team record their first victory at a World Cup.
Nigeria veteran Kanu revealed that the red card had left the 24-year-old Kaita in tears. Kaita himself said that he had been surprised to be dismissed but team-mate Yakubu, who failed to convert an excellent second-half chance, felt that it was the right decision.
"He was a little bit carried away but will learn from the mistake," said the Everton striker.
There can be no doubt that playing for Nigeria brings huge expectations from a fanatical and expectant public.
"There are 150 million of them and all of them think they are a manager or a coach," added Yakubu.
Shortly before the World Cup the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said: "I expect the Super Eagles to prepare well and win this trophy."
However, this Nigerian team were always unlikely to be able to match Jonathan's unrealistic ambition.
This is Nigeria's fourth World Cup campaign but they only just scraped through qualification, needing a late Obafemi Martins goal to defeat Kenya, while Mozambique stunned Tunisia.
Nigeria have some excellent players, such as goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, full-back Taye Taiwo and forward Peter Odemwingie. They also have players with superb potential, such as 19-year-old midfielder Lukman Haruna.
But they are without the injured John Obi Mikel in South Africa and are not of the same standard of many of the Super Eagles teams that have played with such flair over the last decade and a half. They lack the creativity that was provided by the likes of Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George and Jay-Jay Okocha.
Their Swedish coach Lars Lagerback was appointed in February, but did not hold his first training session with his players until 20 May and had just three friendlies to settle upon a formation.
Nigerian managers such as Samson Siasia, Oliseh and Stephen Keshi would have been potentially interested but were overlooked, while Lagerback beat off competition from Glenn Hoddle and Sven-Goran Eriksson to land the role.
But if his appointment was based on his coaching experience with his native Sweden at the 2002 and 2006 finals, then I don't think his decision making on Wednesday vindicated the decision.
Rehhagel, who presided over Greece's remarkable Euro 2004 triumph, changed his side's entire strategy four minutes after Kaita was dismissed by taking off a defender and bringing on a forward.
Lagerback waited until the break to make a change, replacing Odemwingie with Chinedu Obasi and sending his team out for the second-half with Yakubu as the lone striker and two banks of four behind him.
By that time, however, the damage had been done. The momentum of the match had changed irreversibly and a Greek side that appeared to be slipping out of the tournament were reinvigorated - as well as on level terms.
I also think that Lagerback made a mistake in playing Yakubu for the entire 90 minutes. Surely as the match wore on the striker should have been replaced by the fresh legs of the pacey Martins?
"Every four years there is a World Cup and qualifying from the group is decided in just three games," mused Lagerback, who knew the structure of the competition and indeed the composition of Nigeria's group before he accepted the job.
However, all is not yet lost for the Super Eagles and their fanatical fans as Thursday's result leaves Group B fascinatingly poised with one round of games left.
Argentina have six points and take on Greece, who have three thanks to their win over Nigeria.
South Korea, thumped 4-1 by Argentina in the group's other match on Thursday, have three points after defeating Greece, and take on Nigeria.
"We have one more game to go and we will keep fighting and see how it goes," added Yakubu, who clearly has not given up on the possibility of reaching the round of 16.
But with Kaita suspended and Taye Taiwo, who possesses an excellent long-range shot, injured, it will take a remarkable upturn in fortunes if the rock-bottom Super Eagles are to soar up Group B and snatch second place.