Congratulations once more to Nigeria for securing a place in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup fiesta in Russia next year. Kudos to all who contributed in one way or the other in making this possible.
However, let us not be carried away by the victory over Zambia. This is not the time for our football administrators to think we have reached the promised land. The time to raise shoulders in self aggrandizement and delusion. After all , this will be our sixth appearance in the world,s most glamorous soccer showpiece. So nothing extra- ordinary in the qualification per se.
Picking the ticket to be among the world best is one thing, making the desired impact is a different kettle of fish. Especially, for a country like ours, notorious for maladministration ,mismanagement of time and resources . With approximately nine months to go, one would expect it is enough time to take a holistic look at the team we are taking to Russia as one of Africa’s representatives.
Truth be told, the present national team is still a work in progress. This team needs to be repackaged. The challenge mounted by the Zambians in Uyo exposed this much. I still believe the Super Eagles played their best match against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at same venue. Against the Zambians, there was clear evidence of over confidence on the part of the Nigerians, apparently due to the outcome of the first leg in Ndola, where the Eagles picked the maximum three points. The effect was a very close encounter that could have gone either way, but thanks to Alex Iwobi,s divine strike.
As we prepare for the tournament proper, let us take a hard look at our team with a view to closing the gaps where they exist. First, the goalkeeping area needs to be sorted out. Kudos to the home-based Ezenwa for rising to the occasion when called upon. He was the goalkeeper for Heartland FC of Owerri when I was at the helm of affairs. I know he has a big heart and full of confidence. His off- the-field issues will not be discussed here but must be addressed by his current handlers. How he controls our foreign legion in crucial moments in the defense remains to be seen. We need our best hands to face the best in the world .
Elderson Echiejile needs help. Age is no longer on his side and he has never been masterful in manning the left wing. He has never been in the class of Ben Iroha or Celestine Babayaro. Equally missing from the left flank are the likes of Chief Justice Adokie, elastic Friday Elaho or mesmerizing Emmanuel Amuneke. The right wing is still begging for the likes of Finidi George as Ahmed Musa remains in the wilderness. They say modern football does not require classic wingers but nobody has replaced versatility either, if in doubt , ask Victor Moses.
After so many trial and errors, it does appear Shehu Abdulahi is our best at the right wing back. He still needs support. He needs to be quicker going forward. He needs to be more imaginative. Exactly what Victor Moses does for Chelsea. And who says we cannot draft Moses to play the same role for Eagles. After all , we have many offensive players that can replace him upfront.
Leon Balogun and Ekong are forming the desired partnership in the central midfield but need to be more tactical. Communication is key here. Onazi, Mikel, Ndidi complement this 4–3 defence formation .
As we are about getting it right at the defense area, the attack appears to be posing a new challenge. The reasons are not far fetched. Almost all our strikers are not active in their clubs. Not playing regularly for their clubs is robbing off negatively on the the national team. From Ahmed Musa to Kelechi Iheanacho to Alex Iwobi. Even Odion Ighalo has not been consistent in our national colours. It has nothing to do with the Chinese league as some people would want to argue. The situation was not different when he was in England.
Rohr , and the Super Eagles handlers must freshing things up. We need to inject new impetus into the attack and indeed in all other areas. The team needs pace, smooth transition, creativity and above all play makers. Real Game changers that swing things around depending on the opposition.
I still believe that a player like Etebo, with so much energy and pace should have a place in the national team. What has happened to former Enugu Rangers goalkeeper Daniel, that even relegated Dan Akpeyi to the bench for the Bronze -winning Olympic team in Brazil.
The last World Cup qualifying match against the Desert Warriors of Algeria provides an opportunity to test all the unused invitees to the national team. The argument that the usual suspects should still be fielded to beat the Algerians in a bid to climb up FIFA ranking holds no water.
We shouldn’t be so fixated with this mysterious FIFA ranking. Nigeria was ranked 5th before US’94 World Cup. What did that translate to? Did we win the World Cup? Did we get to the semifinals or Quater-finals.
Finally, if the managers of our stunted local league think anything good can come out of their endeavours, let the best home based players be put on display in a round-robin tournament for the German handler to see. It will be the final nail on the coffin of the local league if Nigeria heads off to Russia in nine months without good representation from our league.
•Till Next week, keep attacking.