BY AFOLABI GAMBARI
Good outcomes mean everything in football. Teams could play unsatisfactorily. It wouldn’t really matter as far as they scraped victories in the end. No one would fault Super Eagles’ path to the Africa Cup of Nations finals billed for Egypt in June, the Nigerian team having emerged top of the qualifying group and even won the ticket with a game to spare. Yet, a critical look at the Eagles suggests a squad that is still far from formidable going forward as the African contest beckons. The team got jolted as the qualifiers commenced late in 2017, losing 2-0 at home to South Africa. It was a comprehensive defeat, assuaged only by the recovery in the next game away to Seychelles where the home side got a 3-0 trouncing. More assurance came when next opponent Libya fell in Uyo and Sfax in Tunisia where the Arab nation had been subjected to playing its home games sequel to the political crisis that engulfed the country (Libya) in recent years. The next Eagles’ game away to South Africa failed to earn the Nigerians maximum points in the controversial encounter that saw both sides settle for a 1-1 result. The last match at home to Seychelles was a dead rubber where the Eagles were expected to use the encounter to determine how far they had compacted. It turned as an easy 4-1 win, though, but not after the Nigerian goalie Francis Uzoho had exposed his flaws that would subject the trust reposed in him to scrutiny. Overall, fans were least impressed by the Eagles’ display and they voiced their displeasure to the gaffer Gernot Rorh. More exposure of Eagles’ flaws was to come. Four days after they walloped Seychelles in Asaba, Egypt came calling in a friendly game only for the Eagles to demonstrate their old bogey of goal shyness. The Egyptians fell 1-0; but had it not been the fortune that crossed the path of debutant Paul Onuachu who netted a long range shot in the seventh second of the game, it could well have ended on a sour note for the host who had to change alternate goalkeepers Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezinwa to successfully ward off the Pharaoh’s ceaseless threat. The Eagles had seemingly finally encountered a formidable Egyptian side that was without its talisman, Mohamed Salah and without real leadership, struggled for the most part. Team captain John Obi Mikel, who has been relied on to provide leadership, has not played in the Eagles since Nigeria crashed out at the second round of Russia 2018 World Cup. After struggling with injury at the Chinese top flight he returned to England to sign for Championship side Middlesbrough in January. He is yet to fully commit himself to the Eagles, leaving many to speculate that he may have either quietly retired from international football or opted to select the matches he prefers to play. It remains to be seen what pans out of this calculation as the Egypt 2019 Afcon finals approach. In the meantime, Rohr is hard pressed to admit that he has no team ready for the African showpiece where Nigeria should be expected to make a claim for its fourth title. In specific terms, he said last week that his team was “only 69% ready”. In the possibility of Mikel not being available, the Franco-German knows he must get another leader going into the real battle. From the look of things the stand-in captain Ahmed Musa may have to assume the vacant leadership position if Mikel is no longer available in the team. However, whether he is battle-tested will have to be determined when the African championship in Egypt is underway. Rohr insists he won’t call up fresh players ahead of the Afcon. Few believe this assertion in view of the expatriate’s penchant for experimentation, which saw him throw in the aforementioned Onuachu when least expected. Rohr has also hinted that the team he hopes to take to Egypt would be largely inexperienced. Nigerians are asking again why the Super Eagles manager would do a thing like that. The fans that tolerated him into the World Cup with lapses in the team selection and performance may demand that he should be shown the exit door should he fail to win the 2019 African title.
Afolabi Gambari, Journalist, Environmentalist, Social Commentator Lagos, Nigeria Tel: +2348064651922, +2348116706849