Recalling Espana ’82 World Cup disaster
• As Rohr Plots To Recall ‘Retired’ Enyeama To Eagles
Over the years, Super Eagles qualification for the World Cup have always been bedeviled by poor selection of players, maladministration, corruption, ethnicity, among other awkward problems, which in the real sense, could have been avoided.
Nigeria will rekindle its age long rivalry with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun in a double-header Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers on September 1 in Uyo, and the usual awkward problems seem to be finding its way into the national team.
A hint by coach Gernot Rohr that he could recall retired Super Eagles keeper, Vincent Enyeama back to the team ahead the clash with Cameroun seems not to be going down well in some quarters. The German tactician said he would not hesitate to invite the Lille of France stopper if he wants to come back to the team. Many ex-Super Eagles players, including Garba Lawal and Ike Shorunmu had constantly maintained that recalling Enyeama to the team, especially for a crucial World Cup qualifier, could be counter productive.
Nigeria’s first serious attempt at qualifying for the world Cup finals in 1974 was aborted as the match between the then Green Eagles and Ghana Black Stars was disrupted by Lagos fans, who were angry at the referees officiating the match.
In 1977, before the all-important World Cup qualifier against Tunisia also in Lagos, the then NFA hiked the gate fees. This led the home fans to jeer at the Eagles. And when the much-expected goal did not come early enough, the Eagles became nervous and started putting every foot wrong. This eventually led to Godwin Odiye, who up until that day, was imperious in the defence, scoring an own goal through an art he had perfected for club and country- a header of a back pass.
Before that match, some outstanding players in the national team had complained or stayed away for what they perceived as favouritism on the part of the coaches. Notable among them were Ernest Ufele, Kennneth Ilodigwe and Baba Otu Mohammed. Mistrust and envy predicated on ethnic sentiments reigned supreme in the national camp. The football authorities swept the reality under the carpet, as if it were non-existent. This singular inaction, coupled with Usiyen’s departure for the United States, and of course, the conspiracy between Tunisia (the eventual qualifiers from Africa) and Egypt cost Nigeria the ticket for Argentina ’78.
In 1981, the last hurdle the Green Eagles needed to cross to Espana ’82 was Algeria, a country Nigeria had beaten comprehensively the previous year to win the Nations’ Cup in Lagos.
The then NFA chairman, Sunday Dankaro, was inexplicably removed by the powers that be, and replaced with Mike Okwechime. The aftermath of this decision was the forcing of certain players on the Green Eagles handler Otto Gloria, for political reasons.
Top among the players was ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu, who captained the Green Eagles to win the Nations Cup on home soil in 1980. Chukwu retired from the team immediately after the tournament. The decision to bring back Chukwu to replace Stephen Keshi, who was doing well in the defence proved to be a costly mistake for Nigeria.
Algeria did the unthinkable beating Nigeria 2-0 at the National Stadium in Lagos, and every soccer fans held’ rustiness’ Chukwu responsible for the defeat. The two goals were caused by Chukwu’s inability to cope with the pace of Salah Assad, Lakhdar Belloumi and Mustapha Rabah Madjer. The Eagles went to Algeria to lose the second leg 1-2, and waved goodbye to the World Cup in Spain.
The pain of missing the 2015 Nations Cup is still a fresh wound in the minds of many Nigerian football lovers and it hurts even more that the team could not feature at the 2017 edition of the tournament hosted in Gabon.Gernot Rohr said it was important the team had good goalkeepers to keep its hope of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive, so he contemplating recalling a ‘retired’ Vincent Enyeama back into the team. “If he is fit again, the door (to my team) is open for him,” he said.
“We are in touch, we need the best players and the goalkeeper position is an important position,” Rohr told AFP.The Lille of France stopper quit the national team because of a spat with former coach Sunday Oliseh. While calling it quit with the Super Eagles in October 2015, Enyeama said: “I have fought a good fight for more than 13 years. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith and sang the anthem with passion. “Henceforth, I am no more the captain of the Nigerian senior football team, I am no more the goalie of the team. I am out of the team. I am no more available for international duties.”
To former Eagles midfielder, Garba Lawal, such thinking by Rohr should not arise. “Vincent Enyeama has already announced his retirement from the national team but I don’t know why the coach [Gernor Rohr] is still counting on him,” he told Goal.
“You cannot force someone to come back when he is done. Why not let him be and forge ahead. To me, I respect his retirement because he has paid his dues and seen it all. He doesn’t need to force him to come back when he can look for alternatives. Maybe, he has his personal interest in him.“We have a lot of good goalkeepers in the local league. Back home here, we have some good hands that can deliver. I don’t know why he is counting on Vincent.”
Also not satisfied with Rohr’s intention to recall Enyeama back to the Super Eagles is former goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu, who said that Enyeama should not be pressured to come out of his international retirement. “Rohr shouldn’t bring in a goalkeeper who has not been part of the team. He must be very careful while making his decisions.”
Shorunmu who was part of the Super Eagles team that lost to Cameroun in the final of Ghana/Nigeria 2000 Africa Cup of Nations in Lagos believes goalkeepers Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Alampasu and Ikechukwu Ezenwa are good enough for starting roles in the Eagles.
“Akpeyi, Alampasu and Ezenwa are good keepers, and we should believe in them. We can boost their confidence by believing in them and encouraging them to succeed. “Rohr can pick one of them as Ikeme’s replacement.”
Shorunmu disagreed with football pundits who have called on Rohr to omit Akpeyi from his squad for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying double-header against Cameroun following his unimpressive performance in the 2-0 defeat to South Africa in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo on June 10.
“Akpeyi shouldn’t be blamed for our defeat by South Africa. We lost the game because we didn’t play our full team. He was right to come out of his line in an attempt to stop the second goal. It was the best decision, but unfortunately he couldn’t prevent the goal.”
“Rohr should not allow people to put him under pressure to invite Enyeama. He is still good but Rohr should be very careful. He should allow Enyeama to decide if he wants to return to the team.“Enyeama knows why he decided to retire from the national team. He understands his body better than anyone else. After the 2002 World Cup, I was under pressure to return to the national team but I said no. I know why I took the decision,” Shorunmu stated.
On his part, erstwhile Super Eagles coach Austin Eguavoen believes the team can surmount the daunting task of ensuring Cameroun bite the dust in Uyo if the duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Kenneth Omeruo are mentally ready for the big match. Eguaveon is of the opinion that Rohr’s men have a good chance of nicking all three points if invited players hit camp early to prepare for the epic clash.
Another ex-national team player, Adegoke Adelabu equally kicked against plans by Rohr to recall Enyeama saying: “The issue of multiple captains could bring personality clash into the team, and in a way, cause serious damage to our qualification.
Adelabu, a member of the then Green Eagles and former manager of Eko United FC of Lagos, said: “We have to be pragmatic in our approach to football development by seeing the future in our players so that we will not find ourselves in a similar situation next time. Proper organisation and approach to the game will indicate when a player has outlived his usefulness or importance in the national team no matter how well they are doing in their clubs.
“We don’t only have to struggle to win every game but we have to learn to prepare for the future by making use of available players and goalkeepers. I’m sure if the available goalkeepers are given the appropriate instructions and opportunities they will do well. On the whole, our nation is too big and we are too many to be looking for national team players. Not only do we have numerical strength, we also have numerous sporting talents, and all we need is prudent management of our human resources and human capital,” he stated.
Since the Eagles won the African Cup of Nations at South Africa 2013 under late coach Stephen Keshi, Nigeria have not found it rosy on the continent, failing to qualify for the next two editions of the African showpiece.