BY AFOLABI GAMBARI
Ever since the Samba Boys of Brazil and Super Eagles met in a friendly game in Abuja in June 2003, either has not crossed the other’s path. Yet, both are no strangers to each other. Who, after all, would forget how Nigeria glided past Brazil in the semifinals of Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and then went ahead to get the soccer gold?
But the Olympic pain suffered by the Brazilians had disappeared by the time they visited the Abuja National Stadium in 2003 as their Ronaldinho-inspired team humbled the Austin Okocha-captained Eagles 3-0 before a capacity home crowd.
Sixteen years have passed since the Abuja drubbing, and the Brazilians await Nigeria on a neutral Singapore ground on October 13 in what obviously would not be a mere friendly game but a real war of supremacy.
Former Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu, who led Nigeria to edge Brazil at the Atlanta Games, says the impending match is what it is: war! “Anything short of war won’t capture the game very well. And I should know, because we and Brazil believe strongly that we are blessed with talented players any time. We have mutual respect for one another but within them, they know we are not going to be pushovers for them. So, I can already imagine how prepared they would be for the game. I am not surprised that they are parading their very best players at the moment against Nigeria.”
Although Kanu says his many years in football have convinced him that the round leather goes beyond mathematics, he nonetheless expresses worry on the uncertainty that has seemed to creep into the current Eagles’ squad. “When you look at how the Eagles have performed before and after they lost to Algeria in the AFCON 2019 semifinals in Egypt, you cannot but be a bit disturbed. However I believe they can motivate themselves to accept that a lot of things are at stake in this match with Brazil, particularly their individual careers that they need to give a boost by coming out with a good result.”
Kanu, who traversed Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal, among others, during his glittering and trophy-laden career, dismisses the notion among fans and experts that the current Eagles’ players lack the required solidity to withstand the Brazilians. “A big match as this calls for the participants to give their all. I just think the Eagles cannot afford not to exert all that they have for this match because even they know too that it is in their own interest to do so.”
Yet, it is clear that the Gernot Rorh-coached Eagles are deficient, even if they don’t look depleted. The AFCON 2019 thoroughly exposed the team as needing painstaking overhaul going into the future, notwithstanding that Nigeria won the bronze medal at the Egypt finals. Indeed, the Nigerian senior national team is still largely experimental. The goalkeeping section has not proved assuring since the World Cup 2018 finals in Russia. Nor has the central defence in which the pair of William Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun used to offer much confidence. The inconsistent club form of Balogun has continued to put the partnership in jeopardy, with Ekong being forced to settle for strange bed fellows, as it were. The central midfield seems the most assured with in-form Wilfred Ndidi holding the forte excellently. Dare-devil wing players.
Samuel Kalu and Samuel Chukwueze also can wear down any opposition though, no matter how sturdy such opposition may be. The absence of team captain Ahmed Musa, out of this game through injury, can be filled conveniently in the wings by young duo now noted for their pace and mazy runs. But the greatest undoing of the Eagles is the aching but inevitable absence of playmakers in the mold of Okocha and Kanu, a situation that has tended to make the strikers look impotent with inadequate supplies. Newly discovered Joe Aribo, who plies his trade at Scottish club Rangers and who showed sparks at last month’s friendly with Ukraine, capping his debut with a goal, could offer real promise in creativity. But he is out of this encounter after suffering a head injury in a club game a fortnight ago. This is not exactly so for Brazil, the current South American champions who have a team replete with all the stars on offer; and it is for this reason that Nigeria may endure a torrid time in Singapore. It remains to be seen how the Eagles would fly without having their wings clipped.
Afolabi Gambari Journalist, Environmentalist, Social Commentator writes from Lagos, Nigeria Tel: +2348064651922, +2348116706849