By EMMA NJOKU
Nigerians have been assured that the Super Eagles will put up a brilliant showing at the Africa Cup of Nations billed to kick off in South Africa next month. Assistant coach of the team, Sylvanus Okpala, gave the assurance while responding to questions as to how far the Nigerian team could go at the continental soccer fiesta.
The former Green Eagles’ workaholic midfielder, fondly called Quick Silver, however, refused to be specific on what to expect from the national team at the championship. “I can only say that we are going to do our best at the Nations Cup in South Africa next year. And Nigerians would be satisfied with our performance,” he told Saturday Sunsports during a chat. Okpala admitted that Eagles’ technical crew still had a lot to do to knock the team into proper shape for the Nations Cup challenge.
“We still have a lot to do before the Nations Cup kicks off. We need to work on the team in all the departments, from goalkeeping to the midfield, up to the attack. There are mistakes we noticed (in the match against Liberia in Calabar) that we need to correct before the championship,” he admitted. Nigeria is drawn against defending champion, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia in Group C of the 2013 Nations Cup. Many have predicted that Nigeria would secure an easy qualification to the quarterfinals, but Okpala reasoned that there were no more minnows in the round leather game.
“There are no more small teams in the game of football. Could you have imagined that Venezuela would play in the final of South American Nations Cup? Some years back, whenever Brazil played nations like Paraguay and Venezuela, it would always end 6-0 or 7-0 in favour of Brazil, but today, things are different. There’re no more small teams as far as football is concerned. “In the 80s, Peru used to be the powerhouse of South American football, but where are they today?
So, let’s not joke about it. The phrase, ‘rebuilding process’, has become a reverberating one with successive coaches that have handled the national team since the exit of Dutchman, Clemence Westerhof, after he led Nigeria to an impressive second round in its debut at the World Cup in 1994 in the United States. Asked whether the ideal Eagles’ squad would emerge under the current technical crew, Quick Silver responded thus: “We have just reached the first phase of where we are going. There are still the second, third and fourth phases.
“Sometimes, we assemble these players for just two or three days training. Hopefully, we should be able to train for about 10 days before the kick off of the Nations Cup. And I can assure you that there would be a lot of difference. “It’s not as if 10 days would be enough for us, but the same situation will apply to most of the other nations that will participate at the competition because their players also play in Europe and other parts of the world. “In the past 10 years, we have never had a structure whereby coaches would go back to the grassroots to discover raw talents and develop them.
The only coach that tried it was Christian Chukwu and of course, we all saw what happened. There was a lot of confusion and we did not qualify for the World Cup. “What I’m trying to say is that football and indeed sports in general have developed beyond our imagination. I can only say that we are going to do our best at the Nations Cup in South Africa and Nigerians would be satisfied with our performance.” Before the current technical crew assumed duty, Okpala had observed that the Super Eagles lacked a playmaker that could drive the team at crucial moments.
Asked whether the team, as presently constituted, has a playmaker, he said: “We shall continue to search for players. I think that Mikel Obi was very fantastic in the match against Liberia in Calabar. “We don’t need to have only one playmaker. We have to have playmakers. We have seen Nosa Igiebor, Obiora Nwankwo and our home-based Gabriel Reuben, who we missed a lot in the match against Liberia due to injury.
All over the world, coaches continue to search for players and Nigeria is not an exception. We shall continue to search for players until we get our dream team,” he concluded.