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Super Eagles and 2021 AFCON ouster

By Chukwuemeka Opara, NAN
31 January 2022   |   5:15 pm
The Super Eagles were on Sunday, Jan. 23 eliminated from the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon by Tunisia, at the second round of the competition.
Nigeria Super Eagles

Nigeria play Egypt in AFCON 2021 Group D opening game [FILES] Nigeria’s players pose for a photo before the FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying football match between Nigeria and Cape verde at the Surulere Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on November 16, 2021. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The Super Eagles were on Sunday, Jan. 23 eliminated from the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon by Tunisia, at the second round of the competition.

Nigerians are still reeling from the shock of the ouster as many gave the team a chance of winning the biennial diadem for the fourth time.

The team’s journey to the diadem were full of uncertainties. The team’s erstwhile Technical Adviser, the Franco-German Gernot Rohr was sacked with a month to the competition.

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) assigned the Head of its Technical Department and former Coach and Captain of the team, Augustine Eguavoen to tinker the team on a temporary capacity.

The association announced that it had hired Portuguese tactician, Jose Peseiro as the team’s new technical adviser to take over from Eguavoen after the AFCON.

Eguavoen commenced work and invited 28 players for the competition. Some of the invited players opted out for various reasons ranging from injuries, COVID 19 affliction and reluctance of their various club sides to release them for the competition.

The team travelled to Cameroon as non- favourites and with the absence of two top stars: Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo.

Football fans did not give the team chance of creating much impact, but on Jan.11 at the Roumde Adijia in Garoua, the team proved bookmakers wrong by outclassing Egypt 1-0.

The team’s classical performance stunned even the hardest of critics. It suddenly became favourites and by the time it equally defeated Sudan 2-0 in its second match of the group, the vision of a fourth triumph for the country suddenly appeared.

The team also demolished Guinea Busaau 3-1 to emerge winners of group D with nine points, the only team in the competition to win a perfect record in the competition’s group stage.

The team was pitched against Tunisia in the round of 16. The North Africans qualified for that stage of the competition as one of the lucky third best placed teams in the group stages.

In fact, it amassed a paltry three points in contrast to the nine by the Eagles. To many Nigerians, the match was already concluded before it was even played.

The Eagles did not play with the same gusto it played in the three previous matches. Its point man, the Nantes of France forward, Moses Simon was caged by the tactically aware Tunisians.

The team struggled all through the game to the bewilderment of its teeming fans across the globe. A cheeky goal conceded by its model-like goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye did the havoc.

The red card to Everton of England’s midfielder Alex Iwobi as a result of an unfortunate stamp on a Tunisian compounded its woes. At the end of 90 minutes, the Eagles were out of the competition, its worst outing in the competition since an unceremonious quarter-final exit at AFCON 2008 in Ghana.

Tongues have continued to wag since the ugly debacle with reasons for the ouster flying from all quarters. A News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondent sought the views of soccer fans in Ebonyi and the next step for the flagging, once giants of African football.

Hillary Ogbonna, Chief Coach of newly-formed Salt City Football Club of Abakaliki, blamed the players for being over confident against the Tunisians, but noted that it was time to forget the past and move forward.

“We cannot continue dwelling on the team’s elimination, but rather concentrate on the world cup qualifying play-off in March against perennial rivals Ghana. Augustine Eguavoen should be drafted back to the team to complete the job as a new coach will bring new ideas that the players would struggle to adapt to before they confront their West African neighbours.

“Eguavoen must have learnt from his mistakes against Tunisia and should be trusted to get his tactics right in subsequent matches if re-engaged.

The players re-enacted the scenario of France 98 world cup when the Eagles were scheduled to meet Denmark in the second round, but looked down on the Danes, anticipating a potential quarter final cracker against eventual runners up Brazil. The result was a “1-4 pummeling by the Danes, ” he said.

Julian Ileagu, defunct Anambra State Environmental Sanitation Authority (ASESA) Warriors FC defender, urged the NFF to take immediate action on the appointment of a new coach for the team to avoid the usual fire brigade approach before the play-off with Ghana.

“We should do things differently for once and start early preparations for the match against Ghana. The preparations should commence with the immediate appointment of a substantive coach and not another interim arrangement.

“The new coach whether local or foreign, should have enough time to review the team’s recent performances especially at the AFCON and evolve a strategy to correct the tactical deficit that was so evident in the infamous loss to Tunisia.

Ileagu urged the NFF, to implement modalities to ensure that all regulars of the team are available for the match against Ghana including those who were not available for the AFCON.

“Nigerians would not forgive the NFF if the Eagles fail to qualify for the mundial in Qatar. The NFF should realise that not qualifying for the world cup in October would spell doom for the country. It should do all within its powers to ensure that the team defeats Ghana.

“The NFF should commence immediate consultations with the clubs of these Nigerian players and ensure that nothing deter their release for the all-important encounter.

“The players should see the AFCON debacle as an eye opener and an opportunity for them to redress all wrongs. They should use the world cup qualifier to show Nigerians that they are still the much touted Eagles, which gave them joy and hope during the group stages of the AFCON and in the past. “They should see the world cup playoff as an opportunity to prove to the world that their performances at their various clubs were no fluke.’’

Chief Bethrand Okike, a timber merchant and soccer buff, said that it was time the nation’s soccer authorities look the way of home based players who are always available when needed.

He said that one of the factors that affected the Eagles performance at the AFCON was the late withdrawal of some key players and their replacement with new and untested ones.

“The Super Eagles Former Technical Adviser, Clemens Westerhof and Bonfrere Jo had standby home-based teams which the Eagles relied on in cases of emergency. The goalkeeping department where the team lagged in Cameroon can be beefed with home based players.

“The likes of Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Ike Shorunmu even the team’s current goalkeeping coach, Aloysius Agu shone at the home front before sojourning abroad. It is time we look inwards to ensure that the Eagles return to their famed winning ways.’’

Okike, however, advised the Eagles technical crew to field Francis Uzoho in subsequent matches if it still wants to stick with foreign based goalkeeper in the team. He said that he would not join the wagon casting aspersions on Maduka Okoye, for his unconvincing performance at the AFCON, but would rather insist that Uzoho was more experienced than the other keepers in the team.

“We all saw how calculated Uzoho was, in the team’s last group match against Guinea Bissau and how he dealt with uncomfortable situations unlike Okoye.

“Uzoho has a world cup experience behind him and in the world cup playoff, the country should field its best to avoid another heartbreak to Nigerians.”

Mrs Jane Mbaoma, a youth activist and football enthusiast, faulted the current condemnation of the team by soccer fans as a result of their unconvincing performance at the AFCON.

Mbaoma said that Nigerians should realise that this was the same team which thrilled them during the group stages of the competition and the only team with a 100 per cent record.

“The team should therefore not be vilified especially over the loss to Tunisia, but be encouraged to soar past Ghana in the playoff. The fans should restore its confidence in the team to prepare the players psychologically for the task ahead.

“Nigerians should realise that football is unpredictable and no team wins all the time. Twenty-four teams qualified for the present AFCON, but there will be only one winner. The team needs our prayers and support and that is the way to go,” she said.

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