Eagles Must Soar Higher At Nations Cup

| January 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

Eagles Must Soar Higher At Nations Cup  print

Published on January 14, 2013 by   ·   No Comments

The 2013 African Cup of Nations, AFCON kicks off on Saturday, 19 January in South Africa, but millions of soccer loving Nigerians are sceptical about the ability of the Super Eagles to do well or win the trophy. The general belief is that Nigeria is going to the tournament with an average squad.

Unlike in the past when the Eagles were the team to beat, winning the Nations Cup in 1980 and 1994, the senior national team have not been impressive in recent times.

The country’s dwindling fortune in international football was epitomised by the failure of the Eagles to qualify for last year’s edition of the AFCON co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Nigeria was just few minutes to making the trip to the 2012 Nations Cup, when the Eagles, then coached by Samson Siasia surrendered the sole ticket in Group B to Guinea.

The Eagles needed to beat their Guinean opponents by just a goal to reach the Nations Cup finals on a superior head-to-head rule, but lost out with a dramatic 2-2 draw that gave Guinea a smooth ride to the tournament last year.

The team’s failure, coupled with the poor administration of the sport by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, have made the entire football fraternity in the country and the rest of Africa not to have faith in the Eagles again.

The recent results garnered by the Nigerian team further worsened the fears expressed by former CAF and FIFA official, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde and ex-international, Chief Segun Odegbami, that the Eagles are indeed not strong enough as a team to put up a good performance at the Nations Cup, let alone win the coveted trophy.

We agree with Onigbinde and Odegbami, who urged Nigerians not to expect too much from the Stephen Keshi-led Eagles, when they file out against their Group C opponents; Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and defending champions, Zambia at South Africa 2013 AFCON.

Onigbinde believes that Nigerians will be putting an undue pressure on the Eagles if they want the team, that were assembled barely a year ago, to come back with the Nations Cup.

The two-time national coach argued that the Eagles played well in some of their friendly matches, but reiterated that it would be a miracle if the Eagles, who are currently 56th in FIFA’s world ranking and 10th in Africa, win the Nations Cup.

On his part, Odegbami, a football expert, reasoned that the Eagles are getting better by the day, but declared that they are still in the rebuilding process.

He said the Eagles would need more time to develop to a quality squad that can win trophies in international tournaments.

Renowned analysts such as Godwin Dudu Orumen, former skipper of the defunct Green Eagles, Christian Chukwu and ex-international, Garba Lawal also played down Eagles’ chances of performing above average in South Africa.

Veteran journalist and a member of the Media Committee of Confederation of African Football, CAF, Paul Bassey and former Eagles’ attacker, Jonathan Akpoborie, did not even give Keshi and his squad any chance of making it beyond the second round of the Nations Cup.

However, such doubts were surprisingly dismissed by Jahan Cruyff, the European coach who guided Catalonia against Nigeria in one of their tune up matches recently.

Cruyff said the Nigerian team, which paraded eight players assembled from the Nigeria Premier League, NPL, with a handful of foreign-based stars impressed him, and rated the Eagles among the teams to beat at the Nations Cup.

We see such recommendation, especially coming from a coach in the rank of Cruyff, as a great boost to the Eagles. The retiring coach praised Nigeria after playing 1-1 draw with his Catalonian selected side; that paraded 10 Barcelona stars, which included skipper Sergio Gonzalez, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol and Bojan Krkic. Didier Drogba, a former Chelsea star, who will play for Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, equally tipped the Nigerian team to reach the medal zone of the tournament.

Keshi, who is bearing a heavy cross of leading the Nigerian team to South Africa 2013, is aiming to win the coveted AFCON trophy.

Keshi claimed that he has worked hard enough to get a solid squad that football loving Nigerians would be proud of at the Nations Cup. Whichever the case is, we can say all hope is not lost, as the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa provides another opportunity for the Eagles to right the wrongs of the past, and show what Keshi and his crew members have been doing with the team in the last 12 months.

The fact that Nigeria edged out the Lone Star of Liberia to qualify for this year’s edition of the AFCON, showed a slight improvement in the standard of the team since Keshi took over the Eagles late in 2011.

Since their qualification for the tournament, the Eagles have played two top friendly matches; drawing 1-1 with Catalonia in Spain, and defeating Venezuela 3-1 in Miami, Florida in the United States of America. The team also played a goalless draw with Nations Cup debutants, Cape Verde last week, before defeating Dutch Division 2 Club, Rotterdam 1-0 at their Faro camp in Portugal on Saturday. Just as Akpoborie rightly pointed out, Keshi and his crew members must work more on the composure of the team and for the coaches to address the poor coordination between the defence and midfield of the team before they depart Portugal for South Africa this week.

The former Hansa Rostock of Germany star also admonished the Alhaji Aminu Maigari-led NFF to ensure that all hands are on deck to ensuring that the Eagles perform well in the tournament.

Interestingly, Keshi has adopted the style of his former coach, Clemens Westerhof, who raised a squad blended with home-based and foreign-based players from 1989 before he won the 1994 AFCON for Nigeria. But, Keshi should know that Nigerians would not wait for so long for his rebuilding process to start yielding positive fruits. Keshi’s first task is to ensure that the Eagles qualify from Group C, and the team must prepare for the battle of their lives in the knock out stages.

If Nigeria avoids Group D favourites, Ivory Coast in the quarter final, they are likely to battle another arch rivals, Ghana in the semi final, meaning that their roads would be very rough through to the final. While we are urging the NFF to provide the team with all they need to excel, including their match bonuses and allowances, the Eagles must rise to the occasion by building on their tremendous preparations.

The team must play well at the AFCON to win back the confidence of Nigerian fans, who want to see them soar higher in South Africa.

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Category: Sports