Super Eagles and Russia 2018: Don’t roll out the drums yet
The accolades are coming in torrents and some have started the celebration. There is that feel of good aura pervading the whole nation, especially among the legion of followers of the round leather game. Suddenly like a bolt out of the blue the Super Eagles have found their rhythm. And something a number of people thought impossible now looks plausible. Yes, hope is rising and the expectation among the country’s legion of football followers is that Nigeria’s name will appear among the best football playing countries of the Globe when the World Cup opens in Russia in 2018. Expectedly politicians, community leaders, sports buffs, football administrators and, of course, those at the commanding heights of governance at various levels are falling over themselves to salute and identify with the Super Eagles whose resurgence is at once unbelievable and comforting especially in this season of strikes, kidnappings and general unease in the land.
Without doubt, there is something to celebrate about the resurgence of the Super Eagles. Here is a team that failed to qualify for the last African Nations Cup which was won by the indomitable lions of Cameroon. And when they were drawn against Cameroon, the reigning African Champion, Algeria and Zambia in the World Cup qualification series, the Super Eagles were written off. But contrary to expectations and the permutations of bookmakers the Super Eagles went to Zambia and snatched a well-deserved three points from the Chipolopolo. And when the Desert Warriors, said to be the best team in the group came to Uyo, Nigeria, they were dealt a debilitating blow from which they are yet to recover going by their lacklustre performance so far. That 3-1 victory in Uyo was the harbinger of a new beginning for the Super Eagles and things are looking good. Thereafter it was the turn of the African Champions. The Lions of Cameroun and the perpetual nemesis of Nigeria thought it was going to be business as usual. After all, they came to Uyo with their full squad including their young and agile goalkeeper.
In spite of the win against Algeria and Zambia even the incurable optimists could not have predicted the outcome of the two legged encounter with Cameroon. On September 1, 2017 when the battle was joined at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo everybody waited with baited breadth. At the end of proceedings the Eagles totally dominated and eventually caged the Lions beating them by 4-0. Nine points in three matches simply turned the doubting Thomases to believers and the road to the World Cup 2018 in Russia seems to be becoming smoother by the day. Four days after, the Eagles made assurance double sure when they went to the lion’s den in Yaounde and came back with a respectable 1 -1 draw further consolidating their hold on the leadership of their group.
However, more than the win against Cameroon, it is the camaraderie, sense of purpose and skills displayed on and off the field of play that is showing that we have a new Super Eagles on the mend. The impact of Captain Mikel Obi and Victor Moses is worthy of note in the new breadth of fresh air in the team. Of course, Moses Simon, Leon Balogun, Ogenyi Onazi, Aaron Samuel, Kelechi Ihenacho, Odion Ighalo, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Elderson Echiejile and their other co-travellers have also contributed their own quota. The technical crew led by Gernot Rohr is also showing that it has finally gotten its acts together and it can build a team out of a bunch of individual players with differing skills.
But Moses and Mikel Obi have stood out so far. The work rate of Victor Moses in Uyo and Yaounde was outstanding. He was all over the field. Apart from his good runs upfront, he also came in from time to time to help the defence. The Chelsea man stamped his authority on the two legged encounter with sublime skills that left opponents in quandary time and time again. Such awe-inspiring skill was last seen during the era of the electrifying Kanu Nwakwo and the mercurial Austin J. J. Okocha. Take for instance, the run up to the missed goal of Victor Moses during the return leg with the Lion of Cameroun. One of his mates had located him with a telegraphic pass close to the opponents eighteen. He sold a dummy to two defenders, in a split second, he looked up, picked the position of the goal keeper, chose his spot and swerved to his side before sending what the late Ernest Okonkwo would have described as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile of a shot which unfortunately hit the upright to the chagrin of the Nigerian band of supporters and the relief of their Cameroonian counterparts. Indeed we can safely say that the Super Eagles have played themselves back into the hearts of Nigerians and have restored hope and believability in their ability and the competence of Gernot Rohr and his technical bench.
But then it is not time yet to roll out the drums and start painting the town red. Yes the Russia 2018 ticket is almost certain and only a catastrophic mishap can stop the Eagles. But it is not over until it is over. Therefore, Rohr and his wards should redouble efforts and stave off all distractions. The two remaining matches are critical. However, the home match against Zambia in October is more critical as it is a must win one. The Zambians still have an outside chance of snatching the ticket, that is if Nigeria underrates them and allow them to win in Uyo. They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain and would want to throw their all into the battle of Uyo. So to be on the safe side, the Eagles must feast on the Chipolopolo in Uyo and thereby make their last match against Desert Warriors in Algiers a mere formality. It is only after the win against Zambia in Uyo that we can roll out the drums and begin the celebration of another World Cup qualification. But then that celebration too should not go on and on. It must be terminated at some point for the preparation for the main event which must begin immediately after the ticket for participation has been won.
And a note of warning here: Politicians and ethnic jingoists and religious zealots with parochial agenda should keep off the Super Eagles before they derail the march to Russia. Football is one of the few things that bind Nigerians together therefore ethnic colourations and religious calculation on the composition of the team should not form part of the narrative of the New Super Eagles. All extraneous individuals should keep off and allow Nigerians to savour the few moments of respite being provided by the Eagles and their handlers.
Adebanjo is former Sports Editor , TELL Magazine.
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