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Omeruo draws parallel between Keshi’s Eagles, Rohr’s squad

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Nigeria’s defender Kenneth Omeruo celebrates his goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations football match. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)


Super Eagles defender, Kenneth Omeruo is one of the most sought after players at the on-going Egypt 2019 African Nations Cup. Apart from scoring Nigeria’s lone goal in the second group match against the Syli Nationale of Guinea in Alexandria to qualify the team to the round of 16, Omeruo played crucial roles in the games against the defending champions, Indomitable Lions of Cameroun and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.
 
On the eve of the semifinal cracker against the Desert Foxes of Algeria, Omeruo was at the media centre, where he spoke on a number of issues. He was responding to questions from journalists during a pre-match conference.
 
In the current Super Eagles team in Egypt, only three players, Omeruo, John Obi Mikel and Ahmed Musa, were part of the winning squad at South Africa 2013. And in one of the questions fired at Omeruo on Saturday, he was asked to differentiate between the two teams.

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He responded: “The two teams have the same focus and fighting spirit. But the Super Eagles of 2013 had some of the best players in the world at that time, and they were more experienced. The current team has younger players who have the energy to fight. Majority of the players in this squad can still play for the country for a longer period of time.”
 
In 2013, the late Coach Stephen Keshi assembled an army made of more players, who had already established themselves in the round leather game. Keshi’s army to the Rainbow Nation included goalkeepers Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim. Defenders were Joseph Yobo, Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona, while midfielders included Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Raheem Lawal and Rabiu Ibrahim. Some of the attackers to South Africa 2013 were Ahmed Musa, Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses, Ikechukwu Uche and Sunday Mba.
 
Not many Nigerians gave Keshi and his team the chance of making it to the semifinal, especially after the team struggled to qualify from the group stage. But they became instant heroes after they eliminated one of the biggest favourites for the title, a star-studded Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinal in the battle of Rustenburg.

The Keshi-led Eagles went on to win the trophy, beating the resilient Stallions of Burkina Faso in the final. That was six years ago in South Africa. Nigeria failed to defend its title, as it did not qualify for the 2015 edition held in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea, just as the team could not qualify for the 2017 edition after Coach Samson Siasia bungled Nigeria’s chances. 
 
Here in Egypt, Coach Gernot Rohr parades a squad that is dominated mainly by future stars. From goalkeepers Francis Uzoho, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi, to defenders Olaoluwa Aina, Abdullahi Shehu, Chidozie Awaziem, Jamilu Collins, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, John Ogu and attackers Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon, Henry Onyekuru, Alex Iwobi, Samuel Kalu, Paul Onuachu and Samuel Chukwueze, the Super Eagles boast of stars that can hold the stage by the time Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo, Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong and Leo Balogun retire from soccer.
 
As at the time of writing this story yesterday afternoon, Omeruo and his teammates were looking forward to the crucial semifinal clash against the Desert Foxes of Algeria. But he was optimistic of the team beating the North Africans to the ticket.

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In an interview with The Guardian earlier after the team defeated Bafana Bafana of South Africa in their quarterfinal clash, Omeruo stated that he wanted to go back home feeling proud.“When we won the Afcon title in 2013 in South Africa, it was amazing because everyone, young and old, men and women, as well as the kids were at the airport and they ran after the bus. I still remember that feeling and want to experience it again.
 
“Back then, I didn’t really grasp the importance of winning the Cup of Nations. It was my first time and we did it. So I thought there were many to be won. I didn’t realise just how long the captain then, Joseph Yobo, had been trying to win it. But we didn’t qualify for the next two, and now I know what a big deal it is,” Omeruo stated.
 
Omeruo, who signed for English Premier League side, Chelsea in 2012, has since been farmed out on loan to a clutch of clubs including ADO Den Haag in Holland; Middlesbrough in England; Kasımpasa and Alanyaspor, all in Turkey; as well as Leganes in Spain. He is not befuddled about where his future lies after the on-going Egypt 2019 Afcon.

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