The African Nations Championship, TotalCHAN2020, is ongoing in Cameroon but without the Nigeria Super Eagles of Nigeria who failed in their bid for a fourth successive appearance.
Super Eagles B were unable to book their place in the competition restricted for players who play in their domestic leagues after a disappointing outing in the final hurdle against West African neighbours, Togo.
The Hawks of Togo demolished Nigeria 4-1 in the first leg back in September 2019 before wrapping up their first ever appearance with a 4-3 aggregate win at the Soccer Temple, Agege, after a 2-0 defeat.
Former Lobi Stars forward, Sikiru Alimi, who netted both goals in Agege, told ACLSports.com during a chat that while Nigeria’s absence is a bitter pill to swallow, poor planning, welfare, and overconfidence ultimately cost the Super Eagles a spot at the tournament.
Here are excerpts from that chat with the talented Alimi, who gave more insights on how the Super Eagles crashed like never before against the Hawks.
Q: How would you sum up Nigeria missing out of CHAN2020?
“It’s a very bitter pill to swallow considering the fact that we are a big nation and we the players couldn’t make the opportunity count.”
Q: Togo was supposed to be the last hurdle, but something obviously went wrong. What happened against Togo, especially in Lome?
“Well, i would say the game against Togo in Lome was where the game was lost. We came into the game with full confidence and never respected our opponent, not minding the fact we were playing away from home and needed to manage the game and be conservative ,instead we jumped into the game and were lucky we had the lead, which made us too confident and we lost concentration.”
Q: Was this as a result of the game plan or the players failed to adhere to instructions?
“None of the above to be honest. I guess our major problem was the connections (understanding between players) weren’t really there yet because I could remember we resumed camp a couple of days to the game against Togo and you don’t expect players who had not really played together before to perform magic.”
Q: How many days before you traveled?
“To be honest I can’t remember. But it was not up to a week.”
Before the chat, Alimi had spoken about the welfare ahead of the game in Lome, something I brought up once again.
Q: You did say something about poor welfare, kits, amongst many other things as a big issue for the team ahead of Lome. What really happened in this respect?
“Yeah, the welfare wasn’t good honestly in terms of kits – we weren’t treated like Super Eagles. Some had to train with clubs and random jerseys. Such obviously can’t happen with the (main) Eagles.”
Q: How can this change?
“Until the NFF begin to show the same respect given to the foreign based players to the home based also.”
During the second leg at Agege, the Super Eagles had what looked like a legitimate goal ruled out by the centre referee who wrongly called for a foul on the Togolese goalkeeper.
However, video replays would show that no Super Eagles player was anywhere close to the goalkeeper, a decision that came to bite the Super Eagles.
Reminded of this particular scene, Alimi would recall a similar incident in Lome during the 4-1 defeat.
Q: The referee, you mentioned him before our chat, what role did he play in all this?
“Though it’s not good to always mention refs because it always sounds like an excuse for the outcomes, (but) he wasn’t fair enough in that game (in Lome). He was very unfair. We had an appeal for a penalty which he waved on, but at the other end he gifted the Togolese an unjust penalty. Very unfortunate scenario.”
The game in Agege saw the Super Eagles take a 2-0 lead at halftime courtesy of Alimi, but it could have been more, the forward could have had hat-trick instead of a brace, but his composure failed him when it mattered most when he missed a one-on-one chance with goalkeeper Mubarak Aigba while another shot was cleared off the line.
Q: Could you have done better? In terms of personal effort, you played in both matches, could you have done something differently?
“That game (in Agege) I was too eager, my mind was on 3, instead of me to count 1. The 3 goals margin was all I was thinking about. But there’s always room for improvement. We learn daily and it’s now part of experience.”
Alimi has since joined Tunisian club, Stade Tunisien, where, according to him, ‘it hasn’t really been easy’.
“Life here (in Tunisia) hasn’t really been easy, but obviously I’m coping fine.”
The forward concluded the chat with a passionate and emotional message for Nigerians and Super Eagles fans who have been denied an opportunity to watch their favourites from the NPFL especially after that wonderful run to the 2018 final in Morocco.
“I really want to apologize on behalf of the whole team for the failure, though they demanded more from us because of the love and passion for the game. Surely, the CHAN team would do better next time.”