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Again, fans demand home-based players in Eagles

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(Top L to R) Nigeria’s goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, Nigeria’s forward Odion Ighalo, Nigeria’s defender Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria’s defender William Ekong, Nigeria’s defender Leon Balogun, Nigeria’s defender Chidozie Awaziem, (bottom L to R) Nigeria’s forward Moses Simon, Nigeria’s midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo, Nigeria’s defender Olaoluwa Aina, Nigeria’s forward Ahmed Musa, and Nigeria’s forward Alex Iwobi, pose for a team photo ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Nigeria and Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium on June 26 , 2019. Giuseppe CACACE / AFP

Burundian striker Finiston Abdoul Razak and some others playing at home, no doubt, are making strong points for the local league at the ongoing Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt.
 
These players have shown that they could hold their own against more rated stars based outside the continent.

From their grit and determination, they have shown that given the space they can lead their teams to success.

 
Outside the pitch, Razak has been championing the cause of marginalised players in the continent.

Aside from the North Africans and countries from Southern Africa, which build their teams around players in their local leagues, most of the teams at the ongoing African Nations Cup are made up of players living outside the continent.

Speaking to The Guardian after the match between Nigeria and Burundi, Razak said, “this is my first AFCON and my performance today (Saturday) is not a big deal, because I have to play like that just like I have been playing for both my club in Algeria and my country in the AFCON qualifiers.  
 
“Playing the way I did against Nigeria by giving all I have, is trying to market myself. As a professional, I can not be scared of any big country not even Nigeria.”

Razak said players should not be judged by the popularity of the league they play, rather by what they are capable of doing on the pitch.
 
The performance of some foreign-based players seems to buttress Razak’s belief that location does not mean that a bad footballer or unmotivated player will find the push to move a mountain when he comes to a competition like the African Cup of Nations.

Before Super Eagles’ first game against Burundi, some Nigerians living in Egypt, had boasted to their Egyptian friends of how Nigeria would roast debutants, Burundi.

 
However, at the end of the encounter, when The Guardian spoke with a Nigerian, Ahmed, he couldn’t hide his displeasure with the team. He rained abuses on the Eagles, saying they let him down in front of his friends
 
“I don’t know what is wrong with these players. How can they be playing casually, as if nothing is at stake. I trust, if it were to be Ghana or Morocco, even Senegal in this group, they would have destroyed this minnows in African football.

“This country is playing its first Nations Cup and Nigeria cannot show them ‘pepper’. Can you imagine a goal over Burundi? It’s disappointing. I ‘don’ tell dis my frends say we go beat Burundi 4-0. See wetin happen,” the Nigerian said disappointedly.
 
The story was not different in the Eagles’ second game against the Syli Nationale of Guinea, which also ended in a 1-0 win for Nigeria.

At the post match conference, Coach Gernot Rohr said, “finally, my players showed they are professionals and in the second half, with passion they showed they could make a difference.
 
“I am very satisfied with five players who started the game but the spirit was the same. It is good to know that we have qualified even with our next game against Madagascar. But we will play to win our next game and I am happy there is no injury in my team,” Rohr said.

Many followers of the national team did not believe that their coach saw the game as an improvement on the first match.
 
Rohr’s bubble was to burst with the match against ‘minnows,’ Madagascar, who taught the Europe-based Super Eagles that football is played by individuals and not names. It ended in a 0-2 humiliation that could have been worse if the Malagasy did not halt their onslaught after their second goal.
 
The outcome left may Nigerians dejected, and raised the question, once again, on the claim that overseas-based players are better than their home-based counterparts.

Rohr explained the loss thus: “We made five changes to allow some players to rest because they have played so many matches this year, especially for Ndidi (Winfred) and Iwobi (Alex). And also we wanted to see the second goalkeeper since we had qualified for the second round.
 
“Our decision is to provide opportunities to other players so that they too can show what they can contribute to the team. I also tried to avoid more yellow cards to those who are already on cards in the team, and to avoid injuries. 
 
“That is why the team of Madagascar was able to dominate the game with their fighting spirit and counter-attacking football and we were not able to even score one goal. So, that is why we have to work harder for our next match, which is more important and I think the players know we have to improve on many areas of our game in order to win the next match.”

 
To some fans, the truth is that these Eagles lack the passion and desire to play for the country. They described many of them as unfit, rusty, and lacked the commitment to fight for their country.

A fan, who described himself as Segun Aribiyi, said, “give this Madagascar to Enyimba and see the Nigerian spirit massacre them.

“Lobi Stars, Rangers, Kano Pillars and Enyimba play against some of the best players from countries like Madagascar and come out on top. How come players from this same country are difficult for our over-pampered Europe-based stars to beat?”
 
Joining his Nigerian friend in condemning the attitude of the current set of Super Eagles, an Egyptian, Monsour, said: “Nigeria not good; where is JJ Okocha, Kanu, Finidi, Amokachi.

“I have watched all your games, your goalkeeper is not too good,” he said.
 
At the last group C and D matches played at the 30 June Stadium on Monday, between Namibia and Cote d’Ivoire, and then Kenya versus Senegal, a total number of 17 players, either based on home soil or in other leagues in Africa, played in the two games.
 
Aside from the famous Sadio Mane of Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire’s Wilfred Bony, who shone like stars in the games, others who played their hearts out were players in lesser-known clubs in Europe. The biggest disappointment on the night was Tottenham’s Victor Wanyama, who failed to inspire the Kenyans despite holding one of the favourites to the AFCON title to goalless in first half.
 
In the 1990 squad to the AFCON, the Eagles had home-based players such as Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi, Ben Iroha, Thompson Oliha, Herbert Anijekwu and Uche Okechukwu, among others.

These were the players nurtured by coach Clemens Westerhof to bestride the era known as the golden age of Nigerian football.

These players later went to play abroad, but before then they had built a cohesion that made it difficult for any team to dominate games against them.

This is completely lacking in the current team, a Nigerian supporter here in Alexandria, Oniwaru said.

“I have been travelling, supporting the Super Eagles in the last four World Cups. My issue with the Eagles is that they don’t take their chances whenever they meet any of the minnows in the African football.
 
“If you are playing against a smaller country in football, you go all out for the kill. These minnows don’t have the quality of players we have, even the ones we have on the bench. Our bench is better than most of these countries’ players. They need to take their chances; they need to gamble more.
   
“I understand if they are playing against a big country, they can be cautious, but not against these smaller countries. The Eagles shouldn’t sit back after scoring a goal, they should finish them off.
 
“I am not comfortable with this guy called Akpeyi because he is always jittery. I believe there are a lot of goalkeepers in Nigeria. We need to get more local players that are ready to die for this nation.

“Most of the Eagles that I have watched feel too big to play for the country. And once they start feeling this way, it means you are not ready to give your best to the country,” he had said.

Oniwaru is among the fans, who believe there must something wrong in the way we choose our goalkeepers. “Tell me, what should Ezenwa be doing in Egypt when Afelokhai is back home in Nigeria,” he asked referring to Enyimba’s number one goalkeeper, Theophilus Afelokhai.

“Afelokhai forced Ezenwa to run away from Enyimba because he was confined to the substitute’s bench. In Enyimba, Afelokhai was number one goalkeeper followed by Dauda, a Ghanaian before Ezenwa. But here, Ezenwa is in the national team,” he said.

Another Nigeria, who came with the Supporters Club, Oghenevo said, “In the world of football today, you see Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and other stars, who earn as much as £500,000 per week and yet they work harder to earn more, whereas our own, who earn between £10,000, and £30,000, think that they have arrived because of the value of our currency.
 
“What they simply do is to convert what they earn in their lowly rated clubs and feel they have made it. And the next thing you see them doing is feeling they are on top of the world. The residual of their arrogance is what you see them display for the national team.
 
“After all, Yekini, the late Oliha and Adepoju, among others, were all home-based players when they won the Nations Cup in 1994 after which they went ahead to the World Cup to storm the world at USA 1994.

“These players later sold themselves to clubs in Europe and made money. So, what are we talking about here; if they are not ready, let’s bring those that want to make name for themselves and forget these spoilt brats. Even the 2013 AFCON team coached by the late Coach Stephen Keshi was 60 per cent home-based players.”

 
  


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