By Nurudeen Obalola:
SIASIA MUST GET HIS ARITHMETIC RIGHT THIS TIME
As good as Samson Siasia has been at age-grade level, he still has a lot to prove at senior level.
After having won silver at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, plus the CAF U-23 Cup of Nations trophy, there is little doubt that Siasia works well with youngsters.
But the former Super Eagles forward was not a raging success in his first spell as Nigeria senior head coach.
The interim Super Eagles coach would not have a better opportunity than now to show us all that he can cut it at senior international level.
And, as against his previous, ultimately unsuccessful first attempt, it is more straightforward this time.
Back then in 2011, Siasia failed mostly due to not understanding the basic arithmetic of the qualification process.
Although that failure was collective as his backroom staff could have helped out, it was Siasia who paid the ultimate price with his reputation sullied.
Going into the last qualifier for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles needed to defeat Guinea in Abuja by two clear goals to guarantee passage over their West African rivals.
However, a 2-1 win was also enough to see both teams through depending on results elsewhere.
Luckily for Siasia and his men, the other match which could affect the Nigeria result finished earlier than the Abuja game. As the other game in the other grouo ended, the Super Eagles and Guinea had the perfect score line – 2-1. Both sides were going through with Nigeria as group winners and Guinea as one of the best group runners-up.
So, how could anything go wrong?
Unfortunately for Siasia, no one on his staff was paying attention and the Eagles kept pouring forward for the third ‘insurance’ goal.
Siasia and his men were probably the only ones at the Abuja National Stadium not aware that 2-1 was enough for qualification.
The whole press tribune made efforts to check result of the other game, and even when the internet network around the stadium went off, people made phone calls to monitor the result.
Nobody on the Siasia team seemed to care, even the ones with all kinds of modern gadgets parading the sidelines. All they wanted was a third goal.
The desperate chase for that third goal left the Super Eagles wide open at the back and Guinea scored a late equaliser on the counter-attack and condemned Nigeria to their first failed AFCON qualification bid since 1986.
What made that failure to qualify more painful was that the Nigerian sporting press, led by Complete Sports, had gone to great lengths to educate all concerned about what the Eagles needed to do to qualify.
I remember having to write TWO different pieces detailing how the Eagles would qualify with all kinds of ifs and hows. As a matter of fact, I reminded my boss, Mr Dare Esan, that we had done the analysis before when he instructed me to do another one just two or three days before the game.
The Editor insisted that I must do it because people who read the first one might have forgotten.
The Group Managing Director, Alhaji Mumini Alao, also wrote in Soccertalk what the Nigeria Football Federation, Siasia and the Eagles needed to do for the team to qualify.
We heard later that some people felt we were teaching them how to do their jobs, so they apparently ignored all the advice, analysis and basic arithmetic meant to assist them achieve their goals.
Hopefully, the present set of administrators and the Super Eagles staff will take a different view and accept all the help that they can get.
Anyway, the calculations are much simpler this time. While the Eagles might still need to monitor results elsewhere later in the campaign, it is still very much in their own hands.
The back-to-back matches between Nigeria and Egypt in March give Siasia the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of 2011 and put himself in pole position for the permanent Eagles post. And repair his reputation.
With Egypt two points ahead in the qualifying group, the minimum for Nigeria to overtake them is to get four points from the two games.
Siasia has been quoted as saying he wants all six points from those two games. That would be fantastic and it is not impossible. But it is easier said than done, and even getting four points against the dangerous Pharaohs is a tall order.
A win in Kaduna and a draw in Alexandria would take the Eagles back to the top of the group with two eminently winnable matches against Tanzania and Chad left.
It is important for Siasia and whoever is working with him to realise that if the Eagles get that win in Kaduna, there is no need to go gung-ho in Alexandria in the chase for three more points. One would do, all three would be a massive bonus.
Even if the Eagles are only able to take three points from the two games, two wins against Chad and Tanzania should do the trick as Nigeria would end the campaign with 13 points, which should make them the best group runners-up and earn them a place in Gabon 2017.
The most important thing is to beat Egypt in Kaduna and, under no circumstances, drop any points against Chad and Tanzania.
It’s simple arithmetic, really.
IWOBI, IHEANACHO LEAD EAGLES GENERATION NEXT
Alex Iwobi seemed to be a strange inclusion in Arsenal’s starting XI for the Champions League tie at Barcelona on Wednesday night.
Some of us were scared that the Nigerian youngster would get swallowed by the intimidating Camp Nou atmosphere and the quality of the opposition. But the 19-year-old, given the nod ahead of England international Theo Walcott, acquitted himself quite well even as Arsenal predictably got beaten.
Iwobi was so good there is a good argument for him as Arsenal’s best player on the night. He went toe-to-toe with Lionel Messi and his superstar colleagues and showed no signs of being affected by the occasion.
In fact, you went away with the feeling that if Arsenal had three or four players like Iwobi on the night, they might have put up more of a fight. They would still have lost, but still.
Iwobi oozes quality, has the ability to take on defenders, has an eye for a brilliant pass and is not afraid to shoot.
In the youngster, a nephew of the legendary Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Nigeria have found a gem. But there are also a few others like him.
Obviously, Kelechi Iheanacho’s qualities have been highlighted enough.
Then there is the Roma teenager Umar Sadiq, who has already scored in Serie A at such a tender age.
Isaac Success is already a La Liga regular and he is so good that he will probably no go down with Granada if they get relegated.
Victor Osimhen showed his enormous potential at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup where he broke all the scoring records. This time next year he will be turning out for Wolsfburg in the Bundesliga.
Chisom Chikatara, Dele Alampasu and the 19-year-old Porto defender , Chidozie Awaziem, who has been a revelation in their senior squad since January, are all young Nigerian players with plenty of promise.
Nigeria’s talent pool has dried up a bit in the past few years, but these bright young players plus plenty of others in the Nigeria Professional Football League have given us hope that a fresh supply of water is not far off.
The future is not looking bad, especially if the NFF get their act together and get a proper coach to maximise the potential of these budding talents.