Will Eguavoen be lucky with Eagles this time?
Fifteen years ago, the Super Eagles were rated as one of the favourites to lift the African Cup of Nations trophy in Egypt, considering the calibre of players in the squad.
A team coached by Austin Eguavoen and assisted by three other ex-players, Dan Amokachi, Samson Siasia and Ike Shoronmu, had a mixture of young and experienced players in the squad. They included Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Wilson Oruma, Kanu Nwankwo, Julius Aghahowa, Garba Lawal, Obinna Nsofor, Taye Taiwo, Mikel Obi, Chris Obodo, Joseph Yobo, Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwingie, John Utaka, Obinna Nwaneri, Chidi Odiah, Paul Obiefule, Sani Kaita, Joseph Enakharire, with goalkeepers Vincent Enyeama, Dele Ayenugba and Austin Ejide.
The Eagles were the major talking point for many African football analysts at Egypt 2006 AFCON. But the music changed in the semifinal played in Alexandria, when Didier Drogba single-handedly exposed the Eagles’ technical deficiency with his 47th-minute goal.
With the likes of Okocha, Kanu, Oruma and Lawal fully fit for the match, Eguavoean choose to play rookies like Sani Kaita, Mikel Obi and Paul Obiefule in the midfield. The Eagles paid dearly for it.
Drogba struck when Super Eagles’ centre-backs lost concentration. A delightful longball from Romaric Ndri found Drogba, who sneaked past the defence before placing the ball between the legs of onrushing goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Eguavoen’s decision to introduce the midfield maestro, Jay-Jay Okocha, for the then-teenager, John Mikel Obi, who had struggled to impose himself on the match, proved too late.
The Ivoirians celebrated late into the night, while the Eagles, with thousands of their supporters, were forced to early bed. It was the end of the journey for Eguavoen and the Eagles at Egypt 2006 AFCON.
Cameroon 2022 Africa Cup of Nations is barely 26 days away, and Eguavoen is back in the saddle. Unlike Egypt 2006, when he and his assistants had enough time to build the team, the situation is different now.
Eguavoen, who, until now, was the Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), is not a stranger to the African Cup of Nations, having featured at the Maroc ‘88, Senegal ‘92 and ‘94 editions. He was the on-field captain at Tunisia ’94, which Nigeria won for the second time.
Unlike Egypt 2006 AFCON, Eguavoen will work with a different set of the technical crew this time. There is no Samson Siasia and Daniel Amokachi, who was saddled with the responsibility of picking the midfielders and attackers for the team in Egypt.
One of his defenders at Egypt 2006 AFCON, Joseph Yobo, is now an assistant coach of the team. And on the field of play, only one member of the squad to Egypt 2006 AFCON is still playing active football. He is Obafemi Martins.
Eguavoen is in acting capacity with the Super Eagles, but his status may change ahead the Qatar 2022 World Cup, if he is able to lead the team to success in Cameroon.