NIGERIANS and indeed, fans of the senior national football team for men, the Super Eagles, were shocked to their marrows by the team’s unexpected early ouster from the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2021) currently on-going in Cameroon.
FOR a team that was adjudged the most exciting during the preliminary round of the competition, the only team that won all its three matches during the first round of the contest to be ousted by the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia that qualified as one of the best losers, soul searching is needed. The important question here is: what really was responsible for the lack-lustre performance of the players that led to the early exit of the once promising team?
PROBLEM of the three times African champions team started with the sacking of their Greco-German coach, Gernot Rohr who discovered most of the players and built the team to its present level. Accepted that the coach turned out some unpleasant results lately before his sack, the timing of the action was wrong. Sacking a coach a few weeks to an important and highly competitive tournament like AFCON has its adverse consequences. Also the drafting of Austin Eguavoen, from his position as the Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to coach the team whether on an interim or substantive basis was faulty.
WITH due respect to Eguavoen and without sounding immodest, Nigerians are aware of his antecedents as a former Super Eagles coach. Some people are of the opinion that he had no notable achievements during his earlier stint as the Chief Coach of the team to warrant the comeback to coach the Super Eagles. However, he did his best and should not be blamed. He offered what he has and most logically, what those who brought him back wanted.
ROHR may not be the best of coaches, but he was technically better and had a lucky aura that gave him victory even when written off. Unfortunately, Eguavoen was not as lucky as Rohr. Whoever doubts the reality of luck in football is ignorant of the fact that it is agame.
THE round of 16 match with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia exposed the technical deficiency of the Nigerian representatives. The Tunisians, no doubt, capitalised on it to overrun the three times African champions. After watching their three sparkling performances in the preliminary stage of the competition, coaches with better technical knowledge and game management acumen studied the Nigerian team and found antidote for it. They were able to discover that the strength of the Super Eagles lied on the wings where Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze held sway. Since the Nigerian side became predictable, what the Tunisian players and bench did was to clip the wings: They adopted compact midfield play and defensive play with a quick counter attacking runs from the flanks. Their technical input paid off through the only goal of the match that assured Tunisia a quarter final slot in the coveted AFCON.
ONE had expected the Nigerian bench to adopt another pattern that would counter the style of their opponents midway into the match. This did not happen . It only justified the maxim that a man can only give what he has.
THE early and unexpected exit notwithstanding, Nigeria has something to take home from the AFCON 2021 experience. The four matches Super Eagles played exposed the good quality of the Nigerian squad. It showed that with good preparations and sound technical bench, Nigeria can make a serious impact in the forthcoming world cup finals in the United Arab Emirates.
THE Cameroun 2021 AFCON finals should serve as a lesson to both the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and the federal government to learn to give coaches free hand to do their job since the buck will stop on their tables if the team fails to perform.
THE qualifying series for the world cup finals are around the corner and the Super Eagles have been drawn against the Black Stars of Ghana – a very difficult opponent of Nigeria. National Light’s advise to the NFF is that preparations should start in earnest. They should know that Ghana may have lost to some minor football nations in AFCON 2021 but not to Nigeria because of the long-standing rivalry between the two countries in football.
NOW that the NFF has appointed a new expatriate coach, Jose Pesero for the team, efforts must be made to ensure that the Portuguese is given everything that would enable him succeed in taking the team and indeed Nigerian football to a higher level.
WITH a team of average age of 26, we believe that given adequate preparations, free hand and good welfare package, the team will post better records than their predecessors at the World Cup.