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When ‘over-pampered’ Super Eagles paid the big price

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Madagascar’s midfielder Ibrahim Amada (L) vies for the ball vies with Nigeria’s midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

After the Super Eagles 0-1 defeat by the Teranga Lions of Senegal in the city of Ismailia in their final build-up game before hitting Alexandria for the on-going Egypt 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, veteran coach, Godfrey Esu observed that the team might find it difficult to reach the semifinal stage unless the players put aside their lackadaisical approach to matches, particularly in the attack.

In Ismailia, the Senegalese scored on the half hour mark, but the Eagles were unable to find a way past the Teranga Lions’ defence, a performance Esu described then as a ‘big warning’ for the team to the Afcon.

Before then, the Super Eagles were held to a 0-0 draw by the Warriors of Zimbabwe in their first pre-Afcon friendly game at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, Delta State. The result meant that the Coach Gernot Rohr-led team failed to register a goal in their last two games before arriving in Alexandria for their group matches.

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Esu, a veteran coach in the Nigerian domestic league, pointed out in a chat with The Guardian just before the kick off of the Nations Cup that a Super Eagles team that struggled against Zimbabwe at home and failed to score against Senegal in Ismailia was not good enough.

“From my observation, this Super Eagles team lacked cohesion in every department, and once that happens to a team, such a team finds it difficult to put its bearings together at a major competition. I watched them in the match against Zimbabwe in Asaba, and the game against Senegal. To me, every department of the team needs adjustment. From the defence to the midfield and the attack, the coach may have some explanations to give to Nigerians on his choice of some players at the end of the tournament. Unless a miracle happens, I don’t see the Super Eagles making it to the semifinal in Egypt.

“I am saying this because the players look too relaxed on the field when it comes to fighting for goals. And the coach is not helping matters. He looks too quiet. I agree the players are professionals, but the Super Eagles need a coach like Clemens Westerhof, who will push the players to give their best. That fighting spirit the Nigerian team was known for some years back is missing completely in this team. And this might work against us when hostilities begin in Egypt,” Esu stated.

Esu spoke before the kick off of the Nations Cup.

The Eagles began their campaign on a not too impressive note by struggling to beat a relatively unknown Burundi 1-0 with a goal scored by substitute Odion Ighalo. And in the second game against the Syli Nationale of Guinea, the attackers were missing completely. It took a defender, Kenneth Omeruo’s lone strike for Nigeria to overcome the Guineans. It was enough signals for a coach worth his onions to know that something was missing in the entire team.

In a battlefront, one is either advancing or retreating because standing in a particular position for too long could be counter-productive. But such does not matter to the Super Eagles, who are like soldiers on the ‘battle ground’ in the land of the Pharaohs.

As the case in their two matches against Burundi and Guinea, the Eagles began their last group match against lowly-rated Madagascar on Sunday with no sign of ambition, particularly from the midfield, which was more defensive instead of attacking.

Many Nigerian football fans, who came from far and near to cheer the Super Eagles at the Alexandria Stadium, were forced to retire to bed early in frustration. Some were of the opinion that coach Gernot Rohr got his tactics absolutely wrong from the beginning of the match.

“This team lacked creativity, and I am holding the coach responsible for this shameful defeat we suffered in the hands of Madagascar,” a member of the Supporters Club, Samson Oyovweno cried out when Madagascar scored their first goal. “What is Mikel Obi doing in the midfield, and how come the coach left two ‘young fighters’ Samuel Chukwueze and Moses Simon on the bench? Is Rohr confused?

Oyovweno continues: “It is quite obvious now that our coach is leaving on past glory. He believes so much in big names. I am yet to see the rationale for fielding Mikel in this match when we need pace on the flanks and creativity in midfield. He (Mikel) does not have that energy to struggle with these young and energetic Madagascans any more and I expected our coach to known this. ”

“Mikel should forget about playing in our next match. He should act like Stephen Keshi at Tunisia ’94. If we get to the final and win the title, Mikel can step forward and receive the trophy. He has tried his best for Nigerian football,” he stated.

In 2006, when the Eagles lost to Cote d’Ivoire in their semifinal tie at same venue in that year’s edition of the African Nations Cup, many Nigerians blamed coach Augustine Eguavoen for ignoring his ‘old soldiers’ in the midfield like Austin Okocha, Wilson Oruma and Garba Lawal for young kids in such a crucial match.

On Sunday, the defence, midfield and attack failed in every ramification. Apart from Mikel looking so tired, Ugochukwu John Ogu appeared so rigid. He was not mobile the way a good midfielder should be, particularly after the Eagles was 0-1 down.

For majority of the fans, the reaction from the technical crew was nothing to write about.  Coach Rohr bringing in a defensive midfielder to replace a ‘sluggish’ Ogu when the Eagles needed a goal showed clearly he was bereft of ideas.

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