By Tolu Olorunmoteni
Here we are, reeling from our AFCON 2017 miss – the third time the Super Eagles have been absent in the last four editions of the biggest African football event.
The second tournament without the “Giants of Africa” since we won our third AFCON in South Africa four years ago. We have faced a lot of upheavals.
Former Super Eagles’ player and coach,Sunday Oliseh returned to much fanfare and was expected to turn things around after taking over from the late Stephen Keshi, the man who led the latest glory we have achieved in recent memory. Instead, Oliseh failed to cope with Nigeria, the administrators, and more importantly in the equation, the footballers. It’s a story that should be forgotten in a hurry.
We have moved on or so we all like to think. But watching Cameroon win their fifth AFCON crown, reminiscent of Nigeria’s 2013 win by nearly all standards, we remind ourselves that we’ll play the newly crowned Champions of Africa twice in 5 days spread between August and September later this year. Nearly 7 months from now. In that time, Cameroon would have played in the Confederations Cup in Russia and we will have played at least three games to see what we’ll be up against. Whether or not they have improved will be brought to the fore.
While they celebrate, savouring the moment, it is a bit concerning for a lot of Nigerians at the moment. For one, Cameroon won the tournament without their biggest stars. Much ado about the eight who turned down invitation, Vincent Aboubakar -the scorer of the winning goal – and Clinton Njie were relegated to impact players as the tournament wore on. Both play for Besiktas and Olympique Marseille respectively. Its testament to how they have improved.
Well, we are a different team now. We lead our World Cup qualifying group, wins over Zambia and Algeria, four points ahead of second placed Cameroon- yes, the newly crowned African Champions. We play them next.
Mikel and Ighalo haven’t played their best football in the opening six months of the European football season and they’re off to China, like many other pros making the switch to the east. But a lot of Nigerians feel the duo’s move is a step backward. How so? Remember Aaron Samuel, the lad who played for Guangzhou R&F in a relatively weak Chinese Super league as of 2014 and scored two goals against Sudan and Congo in his seven caps for the Super Eagles? The CSL is different now, improved, more competitive and of course richer. Quality-wise, Ighalo and Mikel haven’t sacrificed arms and legs by moving over to China. Surely, they still possess individual qualities adequate for the Eagles to control the crunch encounter.
One last concern is Kelechi Iheanacho’s situation at Manchester City. No doubt, he has fallen off the pecking order behind Gabriel Jesus and Kun Aguero. Now the youngster needs to work his way up. He has been a light, alongside Victor Moses, Etebo and Alex Iwobi but his situation begs for an improvement which he’s capable of. Iheanacho did enough to get the attention of Manuel Pellegrini, now he has to do enough to get Pep Guardiola’s attention and then hope that Pep trusts him some more.
Are there players whose performances have begged to be seen?
Yes! John Ogu, for one has been rock solid for table topping Hapoel Beer Sheva in Israel. He brings steel and is calm on and off the ball. He is easily our best defensive midfielder in Europe at the moment. Having seen Mikel play further forward in the national colours lately, Ogu could slot in easily behind Onazi and afford the enforcer his preferred role as box-to-box.
Brown Ideye is another. He is easily the most lethal Nigerian forward out there with his 12 goals in 18 league games played so far. He’s hot enough.
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