By Nurudeen Obalola:
IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM FOR SUPER EAGLES
We could go on for weeks lamenting Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time in four attempts. Or we could look ahead and find some positives as we plan for further campaigns.
I reckon I’d rather go with the second option.
Obviously, the proper thing to do is to examine the causes of the failed qualifying campaign and seek solutions. But still we have to look on the bright side.
With very little electricity, fuel queues miles long and the naira galloping to N1,000 to one dollar, there is enough going wrong in the country already for Nigerians to worry about.
Why add the Super Eagles’ failure to the headache when we could easily give it a positive spin?
When it’s time for the World Cup qualifiers, we can as well resume our worrying.
For now, let us find something to celebrate amid the doom and gloom.
For one, we no longer need to worry about Alex Iwobi.
Just days to the first leg of the AFCON qualifier against Egypt, English newspapers started running reports that Iwobi could still dump Nigeria for England. Even when the Arsenal youngster was already in Kaduna for the Nigeria match and was the first player to arrive from Europe!
And when he had food poisoning, there were fears that Iwobi might actually be considering a volte-face, as unlikely as it appeared.
Thankfully, all doubts have been removed and the talented teenager is now a full Nigerian international.
And what an asset the Super Eagles have secured for the future. Iwobi showed in the few minutes he played over the two legs in Kaduna and Alexandria that he is ready for international football.
He fitted in the team like a glove and showed absolutely no signs of stage fright, emerging as one of Nigeria’s best players, the one who could make a difference in tight situations.
Iwobi is not the only emerging talent in or around the Super Eagles that should excite Nigerians and make them look forward to the future with hope.
Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho did not light up Kaduna against Egypt, but it is clear he will form an integral part of that emerging Super Eagles talent pool.
The forward did show glimpses of his undoubted talent in that Kaduna match, his shot ricocheting off the post and ending up at the foot of Oghenekaro Etebo to score Nigeria’s only goal.
As I’ve written before, the likes of Granada’s Isaac Success, Abia Warriors’ Chisom Chikatara and teenage striker Victor Osimhen are all hot prospects who will thrive in a good set-up.
Etebo himself is one to look out for, even if he struggled in an unfamiliar central midfield role against Egypt, especially in Alexandria.
He announced himself to Nigerian football fans with his fierce shots and impressive ability to run with the ball and cause damage at the African U-23 Cup of Nations in Senegal, which he helped Nigeria win and he was top scorer.
Even though the much-criticised Stanley Amuzie might have been a bit out of his depth against Egypt, you could see glimpses of potential in the left-back.
With a little more discipline and polish, Amuzie has the ability to become a top full-back who will serve Nigeria excellently for a few more years.
The goalkeeping department is another area that should give Nigerians cause for optimism. Even in the absence of Africa’s best goalkeeper in the past few years Vincent Enyeama, the country is still blessed with an outstanding pool of goalkeepers.
Carl Ikeme is perhaps the best thing Sunday Oliseh left behind as Super Eagles coach, but he is not the only top keeper available to the Super Eagles.
Chippa United’s Daniel Akpeyi was Nigeria’s best player in Alexandria after standing in for the ill Ikeme. The former Warri Wolves keeper was a proper brickwall against the Egyptian attack for most of the match with some outstanding saves until a deflected shot beat him.
Even if Akpeyi is unavailable, Enyimba’s Theophilus Afelokhai and Femi Thomas are goalkeepers who can do a job on the big stage, while U-23s goalkeepers Emmanuel Daniel and Dele Alampasu aregood prospects.
So, while Nigeria may be a bit dodgy at the back, especially in central defence, the overall picture is not one of a talentless group like some claimed in the wake of the AFCON qualifying failure.
At least we might never see the likes of Izunna Izuchukwu, Sylvester Igboun, Rabiu Ibrahim and Haruna Lukman in the Super Eagles again.
That should at least make us smile. The future isn’t all that bad, is it?
There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
KEEPING SIASIA NOT A BAD IDEA
One thing guaranteed is that you get attractive football with Samson Siasia.
Even as it was a bit frustrating watching the Super Eagles fail to win against Egypt in two matches, there were moments of beautiful football from the Nigerian team.
They passed the ball confidently out from the back, formed some neat triangles going forward and were good in possession in midfield, mostly in the first leg.
The Eagles had some spells in the Kaduna match where they looked irresistible going forward with some of their combination plays, and the Egyptians had trouble coping.
Of course Siasia’s record in senior qualifiers has not been too good, failing to qualify for AFCON the two times he has tried, although he took over midway on both.
On the first occasion, Austin Eguavoen had already done most of the damage before Siasia replaced him for the 2012 qualifiers. The second time, Sunday Oliseh had already failed to beat Tanzania.
On the strength of the football, and in the current circumstances where the NFF claim they are not flush with cash, it makes a lot more sense to retain Siasia for the long term than to hire a foreign coach.
Apart from being too expensive, foreign coaches tend to prefer working from Europe and at this point in time Nigeria need a stay-at-home coach to continuously plan and monitor the local talent.
All Siasia needs is tactical aid in forming a solid defence and for him to realise that his teams have to learn to mix it up and play more direct football when the going gets tough.
If truth must be told, after going round all the Nigerian coaches available at the moment, Siasia appears to be the pick of the bunch.
It’s time to stick with him and give him total support.
IFEANYI UBAH SHOULD GET LIFE BAN
I was initially satisfied that the League Management Company sanctioned FC IfeanyiUbah owner, Ifeanyi Ubah, for his role in the fracas that happened between his club and Heartland last weekend.
But that was before I saw the video of the incident just as I was writing this column.
Ubah looked nothing like a millionaire in that video, chasing after the Heartland keeper Ebele Obi and raining punches on the young man, apparently intent on doing physical damage.
After seeing that video, I strongly believe the LMC were way too lenient with Ubah with the 10-match ban and N2.5m fine. He should be banned from football for life and the club taken off him. There should be no place in football for thugs, that these thugs are millionaires or billionaires does not matter.
Also, whoever presented the initial report that misled the LMC to just initially reprimand Ubah must be forever blacklisted from LMC duties. Such person can never be trusted to give true evidence again.
We are making great strides in our league through the good work of the LMC; people like Ubah should not be allowed to drag us back.