Super Eagles, AFCON and Qatar 2022 – Thisday

The relevant authorities should ensure that the Super Eagles hoist the flag of Nigeria in Qatar

The Super Eagles of Nigeria crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) tournament which ended last Sunday in Cameroon, with victory for Senegal. The loss to Tunisia was against form guide as the Super Eagles had become bookmakers’ favourites after winning all their three group matches with aplomb. But the national team that had only conceded a goal while scoring six, suddenly reached a cul-de-sac. What made the elimination particularly painful was that Nigeria lost to a Tunisian side that only survived the round of 16 as one of the best third placed teams, having been defeated by Mali and Gambia in Group F.

However, without being blinded by sentiment, perhaps only few Nigerians expected the Super Eagles to perform extraordinary feats given the circumstances surrounding their departure for the AfCON campaign. We recall that the substantive coach Gernot Rohr was sacked four weeks to the start of the tournament because of the team’s shoddy outing in the build up to the Africa World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign. Austin Eguavoen was only appointed the interim coach few weeks to the start of the Nations Cup. Besides, the team did not have the benefit of quality warm up matches before the tournament due to travel restrictions and other health protocols warranted by COVID-19 pandemic. Some key players were also unavailable for selection. For these and other reasons, we can hardly hold Eguavoen liable for Nigeria’s fate at the tournament.

However, Eguavoen may also have played into the hands of the Carthage Eagles who exposed his tactical limitations by choosing to employ the same formation and approach that worked in the victory against Egypt. Our players were also profligate as they failed to convert any of the chances they created while their Tunisian opponents scored the solitary goal in the few forays they ventured upfront. The Super Eagles were particularly appalling with their conversion of set pieces, especially free kicks, and corner kicks.

With Eguavoen confirmed as the substantive coach of the Super Eagles, these observations will serve him as the national team prepares for the crucial World Cup qualifying playoff against archrivals, Ghana next month. The Super Eagles cannot afford to jeopardise the qualification for Qatar 2022 in the two-legged affairs against the Black Stars. Beyond other factors, pride is always at play whenever Nigeria and Ghana clash and we expect the two matches billed for Accra and Abuja to be tough.

Meanwhile, political figures and business tycoons must desist forthwith from mounting undue pressure on the players through promises of monetary and sundry gifts. This practice, often encouraged by the Sports Ministry and Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), is a needless distraction. In Cameroon, a businessman was even allowed to venture into the players’ dressing room at the interval during the match between Nigeria and Egypt, with promise of hefty gratifications for goals scored. This brazen act of indiscipline is a Nigerian malaise that has dogged almost all our previous participations in global sporting events, especially football.

Overall, if reports of what transpired in Cameroon are any guide, then the NFF has learnt no lessons from recent past. The players and the NFF were said to have been embroiled in a row over payment of their bonuses until the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervened to save the day. The NFF and the Sports Ministry should be held accountable for what they do with the money voted for these tournaments. But more importantly, they must ensure that the Super Eagles hoist the flag of Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It is a huge global platform for the exhibition of national pride that we should not miss.

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