By: Lawal Jamiu Olakunle
Eight appearances – Eight wins, is the history of the Nigeria’s National football team down the years at the Competition 3rd place Play-offs. You may wish to call them the master of Bronze Medals.
Odion Ighalo poked-in an early minutes goal during the clash of the Eagles (Eagles of Carthage Vs Super Eagles) after a howler from the Tunisia’s goalkeeper, Moez Ben Cherifia. His fifth strike of the tournament, taking him two goals ahead to the summit of the most goals scored at the ongoing tournament in Egypt. That tally also equate him with the Nigeria great, Rashidi Yekini on most goals scored by a Nigerian player in the history of the competition.
Unless Senegalese Sadio Mane, Algiers duo of Riyard-Mahrez and Adams Ousna score an hatrick at the final; he’s bond to take home the Golden boot of the tournament. It will be a well deserved accolade for the 30-years old striker in a competition with the likes of Mane, Sallah and Mahrez, if eventually.
This was enough for the eagle to bring home a consolidating medal for the millions of Nigerian fans, who are still left devastated with the late Riyard-Mahrez Stunner at the Semis. A fine stunner which consequently ‘End the road’ of hope for the super eagles, who were determine and adamant in lifting the 4th African Cup of Nations Tittle.
The debate on whether or not the gaffer’s job; Gernot Rohr is safe has been put to rest for now by the Glass House super powers Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), as he was recently told to stay while his contract runs out. He was equally offered the duty of coaching and training in Germany ahead of the next qualifiers. By so doing, the rebuilding and recruitment of next crop of players should began in earnest.
In a squad filled with promising youngsters may not be of much revamping overhauling, but a department in which millions Nigerians are certainly calling for holistic changes is the goalkeeping department, which certainly will also be in the gaffer’s mind.
Prior to the consolidating show of confident display by the young star, Francis Uzoho, the first two choice has led the team down with their uncharacterized display. Prior to the tournament, Francis Uzohor has been destined to mount in-between the poles for the team at the tournament, if not for the blunders displayed during the qualifiers which promptly brought in Daniel Akpeyi into the fold. A man many Nigerians describe as “unreliable”, which he in fact, exhibited by not moving an inch close Riyard-Mahrez late Free-Kick strike which consequently dump Nigeria out of the tournament.
The second choice Ikechukwu Ezenwa on the other hand wasn’t able to stop two goals from crossing the lines at the last match of the group stage against Madagascar. This however rendered the goalkeeping department has b nothing to write home about from the course of the qualifiers to the tournament. With the exception of the young and growing Deportivo La Coruna loanee; Francis Uzoho, the others should be shown the Exit door.
At the defense, the partnership of Ekong and Balogun have yielded comfort down the years but seems their legs has become weary of them. They’ve produced some individual errors that caused the team struggling. Kenneth Omerou has been a good prospect at the heart of the defense for the team down the years, but had a slow start of life into the tournament and was sometimes caught unaware by the opposition strikers. Seems like the golden age have started leaving him behind. An ever ready combination is needed at the heart of the defense.
Chidozie Awaziem is one of the surprising performing super eagles’ players at the tournament. The awe of delivering at the Global Stage didn’t overwhelmed him. He did his job well close to perfection. His other colleagues at the right and left back positions; the duo Jamilu Collins and Ola Aina also stood tall to their tasks and didn’t put too much foot wrong. So going into the future, the wing back positions seems promising.
At middle, we need creativity. Gone are the days of Jay-Jay Okocha in which our middle playmaker can tear down the walls of defense. The pyramid of our three middle , Alex Iwobi, is trying too much and hasn’t yet settled in fully. Most of his final passes betrayed him at the tournament. He needs creative support.
As John Obi Mikel announced his retirement from international football; a giant replacement is therefore needed for the former National team captain. The likes of Etebo Oghenekaro has proven to be a box-to-box energize player, stopping opposition’s attack and not necessarily a creative playmaker, while Leceister Wilfred Ndidi hasn’t yet level up to the expectations we once saw in him.
The attacking lines has been our major strength down the years. Showing some kind of flairs, swaggers and dazzling runs from the wide area into the middle, which is somewhat missing now.
With all the criticism, Odion Ighalo is still the best we have upfront, but age is running out of the 30years old China based striker and a change is inevitable. The likes Ahmed Musa and Moses Simon seems not to have shown up in the tournament. Their effect wasn’t as blistering as expected of them. 20years Old Aba born Villarreal’s attacker, Samuel Chukwueze’s seems promising for the future with his magical footworks and dribbles. The likes of Henry Onyekuru, Samuel Kalu and Victor Osimhen also showed some promising display.
Be that as it may, the good news is, all the 23 squad players taken to the tournament were used by the coach, setting a new record. The closest Nigeria have come to that was at the 1992 Cup of Nations in Senegal, when all but the two reserve goalkeepers were used. This shows a depth in the team without drop of quality which is a good prospect for the future.