The sorry state of our sports generally and football in particular, is very apparent. The knocking out of all our national teams in various categories of continental championships next season speaks volumes. The ousting of all the clubs in their various continental competitions also point to the fact that we have ceased to be a major force in Africa.
If the state of our football were to be considered a critical sector of our national life, a state of emergency would have been declared. Some years back, a home fixture with Sudan, especially after an away win, would have been relegated to the realm of walkover.
Who would have thought of a Nigerian team conceding a whooping four goals at home, no matter the weather or pitch condition? Who will ever think we will require the services of prayer warriors because Nigeria has a fixture with Niger Republic?
Only a die-hard optimist can vouch for the Super Eagles to pick a slot at the Russia 2018 World Cup. The clear and dangerous signs are there. It will be an upset if Nigeria scales the hurdles and qualify.
In less than four weeks, the last lap of the race begins. But this weekend, we will have a dress rehearsal as two knocked out sides, Nigeria and Tanzania meet on the last day of 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The match will be an indication of what to expect exactly a month later when Nigeria faces Zambia in a World Cup qualifier. This is coming when Nigeria football appears to be at its lowest ebb. Morale has also sagged. A relatively lowly known coach, Gernot Rohr is at the helms. The German is expected to have his first shot as Nigeria’s manager on Saturday.
Can he clear the rot in our national team and make us great again? A glimpse to the answer is expected when he lines up the Super Eagles against Tanzania in Port Harcourt.
Even though the contest has no effect on the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, it is important as dress rehearsal for Nigeria in the bid to shore up image and prepare for more challenging World Cup qualifiers. Tanzania, not having anything at stake other than honouring a fixture, may not even offer the type of challenge we can expect from Zambia, Algeria and Cameroon.
We are back in the laboratory performing experiments. From all indications, the Super Eagles will have to struggle throughout to the last Russia 2018 match-day next year.
It may not be ideal to prejudge Rohr, especially as he does not rank among the heavyweight coaches befitting of Nigeria’s stature, he may just make significant impact. After all, who knew of Clemens Westerhoff before his adventures in Nigeria in 1989 at the closing stages of Italia ’90 World Cup qualifier?
What Rohr may have going well for him is the well-known German fighting spirit. But such quality was not exhibited by the previous four German tacticians who had handled our national team. Heinz Marotzke, Gottlieb Goller, Manfred Hoener and Berti Vogts were German coaches who had failed to lift our standard to appreciable level and qualify us for the World Cup.
The burden on Rohr is to prove that he is different from his compatriots we knew. He needs to understand that coaching the Super Eagles is the most difficult job in our land.
He will need to understand that his signing to handle the Super Eagles is like a new marriage and honey-moon hardly last long. He should be getting ready for the turbulence that attends every football manager’s career.
Rohr will have to figure out how to take the Super Eagles back to their all-time height, and also how to cope with the expectations of demanding fans, officials and of course, the media.
The battle for Nigeria to regain a good position on the FIFA monthly ranking begins this weekend. We eagerly await the great revival of our national team. A mere defeat of Tanzania this weekend may not just be enough to restore hope in the team.
We want to see quality team-play. We desire a tactically disciplined side. We like to see a side in the mould of the German side of Brazil 2014 semi-finals and Rio 2016 quarterfinals that keeps scoring until the opposition is beaten to pulp.
Nigerians want a reliable Super Eagles side that entertains and yet delivers good results. They want a team that will hold an absolute dominance on the continent. They want a Super Eagles that will become attractive to all the big global brands, a mentally and tactically disciplined Super Eagles.
They look forward to a Super Eagles side that really has distinctive character, not the present one with its sluggish offensive and uncoordinated defence that makes silly mistakes.
We look forward to a good and promising beginning this weekend. Our national team has never lost to Tanzania in all the nine encounters in the past. May the story not change, at least now.