The Super Eagles were the first African team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It didn’t happen by luck. But as a people, we need to become more methodological and document our success paths to ensure repeat results.
These are the five key take aways that helped the Super Eagles become the first African qualifier from the so called Group of Death. By creating a winning strategy around these key take aways, we can begin to build the foundations for the 2022 Qatar World Cup (yes we must think long term as well).
The Morning Shows The Day:
The victory against Zambia was the real master stroke in this qualification series. While other teams in our group were slow in racing off the block, we started with a quick dash and this helped us hit the bend way ahead of the others. To borrow a Pidgin English cliche, they couldn’t see our brake lights again. By beating the Zambians at home, we had a better head start than the major contender in the group. We put them on the back foot, had better head-to-head stats than them and saved ourselves our usual last game quadratic equations and scenario analysis to determine qualifications. By beating the Zambians at home, we’ve avoided the kinds of scrambles that knocked us out of Germany 2006. If all other results had been same barring the victory in Zambia, the Super Eagles and Chipolopolos would have been 10-points apiece today.
1.The key take away here is, let’s start the first game in our future qualification series as if it’s the “do-or-die” last game. That early start may make all the difference in the latter stages.
Indomitable Lions can be dominated:
With due respect to the evergreen 1994 Super Eagles team that all ardent fans still talk about with nostalgia, the 4-0 defeat of the Indomitable Lions in Uyo is unrivalled in the history of the Green or Super Eagles. It’s a big deal to beat the Cameroonians in a make or mar match with such margin. These Rohr boys achieved it without the big names that would usually have helped achieve such feat.
2.The key take away here is every generation of footballers would decide its own fate. It’s big matches and the end results that will determine how much nostalgia a generation of Eagles will draw in the years to come. The Rohr boys have earned themselves a special place in history with that result. In the hearts of every Super Eagle ardent, a victory against Cameroon may be three points on a league table but definitely nine points in the heart.
The Super Eagles need a steady nest to call home:
The Akwa Ibom State Government has saved itself from the white elephant trap (see Abuja Stadium) by making the Godswill Akpabio Stadium the home of the Super Eagles. The Super Eagles seem to thrive better when they have a steady home ground. The nomadic style of the Germany 2006 qualification series has been linked to the failure of the team to qualify for that mundial. In the USA 1994 qualification series, the legendary National Stadium Surulere was the host for all the home games and helped build the legendary status of the ’94 Eagles.
3.The key take away is that Uyo can evolve into a fortress and with time become a legend in the mound of National Stadium Surulere. But for now, the pitch needs a good groundsman to turn things around and make it a 21st Century playing field.
The Evolution of Moses & other Foreign bred Eagles:
The Super Eagles for a while has been short of big name stars. False prophets have come every now and then and given a promise of hope but they quickly fizzle only after about 15-20 caps. One of the reasons for quick descent of these false starts is the age falsification culture that has bedevilled sports in Nigeria. While these players may be in their prime based on the information on the data page of their international passports, biological evidence may prove otherwise.
The end result is, we have to scout for new players endlessly and can’t even build for 5-10 years around a core. Victor Moses, has been the MVP of this campaign. Moses achieved this by simply raising his game. That’s been the well kept open secret of past legends from Segun Odegbami (1980 AFCON) to Rashidi Yekini (1993-94).
But unlike previous MVPs, the age of his body is more genuine than the false starts of recent times. And around Moses, we can genuinely build a strong team. The other English bred Eagles, also come with their “only” dates of birth and around these, we can build a core that would take us to 2022.
4.The key take away is that we need to pursue scouting in a two pronged approach. At home, we need to invest in youth football in a conscience and truthful manner. Go for low hanging fruits like street football, and youth academies. The second germane thing is to invest more in diaspora scouting. We’d never have made it to Russia without our current central defence pairing of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun who are both diaspora Nigerians. By tapping into our diaspora, we widen the talent pool and increase the diversity of the team.
No Dodgy Selections in the Rohr Eagles:
This writer is of the opinion that dodgy selections have been the Achilles heels of several Super Eagles squads in times past. It only takes one or two extremely weak players to undermine the effectiveness of the team. With Alloy Agu, the Super Eagles regularly under-performed even with Big Boss Stephen Keshi at his peak and assisted by the highly effective Gentle Giant Uche Okechukwu. Only Christian Chukwu can explain how and why Ifeanyi Ekwueme ended up in a Super Eagles first-11 in several make or mar games. With Ifeanyi Ekwueme, the fans got upset in the stadium and showed it in boos and the team got a lot of negative press afterwards. Rohr showed courage in his team selections across this qualification series. He benched big names with English Premiership credentials like Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho while leaving out others like Isaac Success. Few coaches would have had the courage to do so. Many coaches (foreign and domestic) have fallen for the curse of the big name.
Rohr has not only benched the undeserving big names but also avoided plaguing this team with any obvious dodgy selection. The most suspect selection in the team for now has been Elderson Echejile but sadly there have been few options in that position.
5.The key take away is that at the top level, we must hire coaches ready to do the heavy lifting of scouting for players to increase the talent pool. We must not return to the indolence of simply going for big names and piling so much pressure on these players for unexpectedly under-performing.
By documenting, these take aways, we can begin to challenge our thinking that we were accidentally successful. These five key take aways were the foundation of our success at the qualification series. Are we ready and willing to build on this solid foundation? Time will tell.
Jimi Ogbobine is a Financial Services professional and wrote in from Lagos, Nigeria