Eagles, Not the End of the Road

Apr 25, 2016

Understandably Nigerians are not happy in the aftermath of the failure of the senior male national team, the Super Eagles, to qualify for the African Cup of Nations tournament billed to take place in Gabon next year. It is the second time in a row and third overall, that Nigeria has failed to make it to the African football showpiece. Nigeria was beaten 1-0 by Egypt in Alexandria after a rather unlucky 1-1 draw in Kaduna, Nigeria.
Since that defeat, Nigerians have been talking and the general opinion is that the nation's football has no future.
While it is painful for any country to see her team fail, the fact however remains that in football, as in any other sport, there are times adverse results come. The important thing however is the ability of such a country to turn that adversity to something positive.
A look at the current crop of players in the Super Eagles will reveal that for the first time Nigeria has players that are within the right footballing age and who play for big clubs. Players like Odion Ighalo, who is the top scorer for his club, Watford in England; Kelechi Iheanacho who plays for Manchester City in England; Alex Iwobi of Arsenal; and Victor Moses of Chelsea who is on loan to West Ham of England, all form the spine of the future Eagles.
They are supported by experienced plyers like the new captain, Mikel Obi of Chelsea, England; Ahmed Musa of CSKA Moscow; Efe Ambrose of Celtic of Scotland; Elderson Echiejile of AS Monaco of France, and a host of others. This allows for a right mix of youth and experience.
Before now, the country had had players playing for obscure teams in obscure leagues, a development that did not help the country much. There is no gain saying the fact that exposure matters in football as it breeds confidence and instils fear in opposing teams. These are factors that Nigeria can leverage upon to return to her lost glory.
Against Egypt in both legs, Nigeria dominated the game but found goal scoring rather difficult. But despite not scoring, the signs were good. What is needed is that extra touch that comes from playing together for long correcting flaws. There is no doubt that Nigeria had chances to kill off Egypt but for those flaws.
Bearing in mind that this team as assembled barely two weeks to the two encounters with Egypt, one may be right to say that the team tried. What is left now is for the soccer managers in the country to ensure that this team does not scatter.
For sure, playing in Gabon next year would have helped the team a lot by way of making it more cohesive. But then the country can leverage on all available FIFA free windows to organize friendly matches with quality opposition to sharpen the team and keep it in shape for the upcoming world cup qualifiers.
The world cup is even a more important competition and the country will do well to qualify for it. Teams have been known to build on the ashes of their defeat to bounce back much better. Even Nigeria did it in 2013 after they rose form the disappointment of non-qualification for the 2012 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea to win the next Nations Cup in South Africa. Unfortunately, though, the team has now missed out on the two subsequent editions.
We can therefore take inspiration from our 2013 success to bounce back to the top and stay there. This is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves and bemoan our non-qualification. It is a time to go back to the drawing board and take the right decisions that will benefit the team.
Part of those decisions will be devising ways of ensuring that our successes in the junior cadres are transferred to the senior one to not only ensure continuity but to make our senior team formidable again.
Nigeria is blessed with much talent but the problem has always been not managing those talents well. This is therefore the time to stay focused and launch ourselves back to where we belong – the very TOP. This is certainly not the end of the road.  



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