The first international break of 2021 ended over two weeks ago but there is the need to do a flashback to some of the issues that arose from it and could still be key and central to the other programmes lined up for the rest of the year.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Expectedly, the 2022 World Cup qualifiers started without hitches in Europe while the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON) qualifiers got concluded in Africa without much drama, except of course, the Sierra Leone vs Benin Republic decider which has been moved to the next international break.
For Nigeria, the Super Eagles qualified for the continental showpiece before her last two games but still gave her fans some extra reasons to cheer by winning both games. The victory over Benin Republic in Porto Novo was more important because it was the first time the Beninoise were losing at home in eight years and they detest losing to their ‘big rivals, neighbours and brothers.’
The 3-0 win over Lesotho a few days later was just the icing on the cake. It was a fitting way to end a thrilling campaign hinged on the Super Eagles’ return to their ‘home’ Lagos.
In this flashback piece, I want to highlight the good, bad and ugly points of the senior men national team’s expedition in Lagos.
- The Waterway Cruise.
One of the most eye catching images of the last international break was the Super Eagles making their trip from Lagos, Nigeria into Porto Novo, Benin Republic through the waterways. It was ingenious, a masterstroke.
Travelling in comfort in those luxury ships was a unique adventure for the players, their officials as well as the top shots of the Nigeria Football Federation and Lagos State Government. It presented a unique opportunity to display and savour the aquatic landscape and splendour of the country’s commercial nerve centre.
The media, both local and international, were awash with the stories of the travel and the impact of their reportage should open up that space and mode of travel for more development and business investments.
On their way back from Porto Novo, the team had a brief stop over at a place called Ilase and had a wonderful time connecting with the community. It was so nice to see. The memories of such interactions will remain with the people, especially the young ones, forever.
- The Super Eagles.
Last November, the team had two ‘forgettable’ games against Sierra Leone. Those games were football accidents or mishaps. I knew the coaches and players were eager to correct those mistakes and restore a huge part of their dented confidence and pride….and didn’t they do that in astounding fashion?
In Porto Novo, the Super Eagles dominated their opponents for large spells of the game and deservedly snatched all the points at stake.
In Lagos, it was a controlled but professional performance capped with a handsome win.
For those impressive showings, Nigeria have moved up in the latest FIFA ranking . From a previous position of 36th in the world, she is now 32nd and from 5th in Africa, she is now 3rd.
- Gernot Rohr.
The Franco-German survived a storm after the calamitous double header against Sierra Leone late last year after the Super Eagles could only pick up two points out of a maximum six.
The onslaught was led by the Sports Minister Sunday Dare who cast doubts on the technical competence of the manager and his abilities to lead the national team going forward.
Now, Gernot Rohr has responded with two important victories and a ticket to the AFCON in Cameroon with two games to spare. I had expected to read a different kind of reaction from Mr Sunday Dare. I thought a congratulatory and good will message of support wouldn’t have been out of place for the coach given the level of zest and zeal with which he lambasted him in November.
Since becoming the Nigeria manager in August 2016, Gernot Rohr has qualified for every tournament with at least a game to spare, losing a qualifying game only twice(one on the pitch and the other in the board room).
- Paul Onuachu.
Lagos boy Paul Onuachu was another good story from the last international break. From being on the standby list, he ended up being one of stand out players. Perhaps if Spain based Sadiq Umar hadn’t withdrawn from the squad, Paul Onuachu wouldn’t have been in the squad…what providence!
Presently one of the deadliest target men in world football, Onuachu has struggled to score or impress in the green and white jersey. He works real hard in training and in games but these efforts are hardly recognized so you can now better appreciate how relieved he was after the last games.
Two well taken goals in two games have done his confidence in Nigeria’s colours a lot of good. He is now showing the same level of efficiency in the Super Eagles that we see in his Belgian club Genk. We hope this continues. Without any shadow of doubts when the next set of international games comes around, which will be in less than seven weeks, Paul Onuachu will not be on the standby list, he will be in the main squad, a viable option to deliver the goals for Nigeria.
- Anayo Iwuala.
This Enyimba of Aba petite forward is the revelation of the year so far. To imagine that just two years ago while playing in the Nigeria National League(NNL) for Delta Stars of Asaba, Delta State, he would come to the Super Eagles training sessions when the national team was camped in Asaba for the 2019 AFCON preparations just to catch a glimpse of the players and take some ‘selfies’.
Today, he is a Nigerian international…a Super Eagle. What a remarkable story for the amazing talent.
Iwuala consistently churns out five star performances for his club in the league and continental matches. His profile has been raised by the fact that NPFL games can now be watched on television and followed from any part of the world.
Do we need any lectures on the difference television makes in a league and the opportunities it offers the players? Iwuala provides a case study.
The wise saying that one should always put his or her best foot forward and that one puts up his best performance at all times because you do not know who is watching best describes this young man.
I hope the league managers maintain the quality and stay consistent with the live broadcasts of NPFL games so that more talents like Anayo can be unearthed.
Now the real issue is for how much longer will this Super Eagles player be around on the domestic scene?
Agents are already falling over themselves trying to find his transfer value. Stories are all over the place about the number of foreign clubs seeking to snap him up.
The argument has never been about the availability of talents good enough to play in the Super Eagles on the domestic scene, it has been about the ability of our clubs to keep these players. Until our clubs are able to keep our best players here will it be wrong to assume that our best players are abroad? This is the real issue.
I wish Anayo Iwuala the best of luck. I hope he makes the right decisions and is guided along the right paths so he can fulfil his potentials and make a success of his career…whether as a home or foreign based player.
- Francis Uzoho.
After a lengthy layoff owing to injury Francis Uzoho got back into playing for the Super Eagles again.
He had a good game against Lesotho and kept a clean sheet. His return portends a very healthy competition for the starting goalkeeper shirt in the team ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers starting in June.
Uzoho needs to also get back as the first choice at his Cypriot club to help his push to be back as Nigeria’s numero uno.
- Victor Osimhen.
Another Lagos boy Victor Osimhen needed the break to recalibrate. A few years ago, this Napoli FC of Italy striker was hawking in the streets bare footed but he is now Nigeria’s golden boy.
After a rough start to the season in Italy owing to injuries and a breach of Covid 19 protocols, Osimhen now seems to have found his range again.
His goal against Lesotho made him the joint top scorer of the AFCON qualifiers, following in the footsteps of Odion Ighalo who was top scorer during the qualifiers and finals of the 2019 tournament.
- Alex Iwobi.
Iwobi’s case was on a different level, a psychological one.
Coming into the international break with a lot of promise and getting jolted by a negative medical report like testing positive to Covid 19 in Benin Republic on the eve of a crucial game can be devastating. Iwobi had to leave the team in Cotonou to go on isolation.
Kudos to the Nigeria Football Federation and Lagos State Government for getting him to do another test in Lagos which returned negative.
More comforting and heartwarming is his getting the all clear by the Confederation of African Football(CAF)to play in the last qualifying game against Lesotho.
It was not all positive vibes around the Super Eagles during the international break. There were some unpleasant issues too.
- Distraction at the team’s camp.
Players and officials complained that their camp was too open. Ideally, the team loves to camp in a hotel with controlled or restricted access to them or their activities at the gym, dinning area or meeting rooms. It appears they didn’t get that in Lagos.
It may not be a bad idea for the future if the Nigeria Football Federation and the Lagos State Government can find a camp or hotel where the team could be lodged in a wing or on a floor that is not easily accessed by unwanted visitors, guests and unauthorized persons.
Although the team enjoys the presence of police escorts and traffic officers, it still had to navigate some bottlenecks to get to the training pitch.
As stated in an earlier piece, the best option is to have a training facility close to the camp. This facility must be of same quality as the main pitch of the match venue.
- Poor Crowd management/Matchday experience.
All the hype and build up to a game should lead to a pleasant matchday experience for the fans. The three hours spent at the stadium should be fun and satisfying for those there.
A great matchday experience is full value for money spent in buying the match ticket. This will help to generate good turnout for future games.
For all the hardwork done by the Lagos State Sports Commission, the Lagos State Football Association and the Nigeria Football Federation, there were still pockets of ugly scenes of poor crowd management, bad handling of accredited journalists and guests…and this is with only 30% of the stadium capacity allowed by CAF. What happens if it is to operate at 100%?
And the truth is that the Super Eagles would need these fans at some point in time because the 12th player they are.
From #SuperEaglesBackInLagos I know the Lagos fans want the #SuperEaglesStayInLagos…to achieve this purpose the ticketing, crowd and traffic control plus other issues highlighted above must be better.
Welcome home Musa.
I was so excited to read about Super Eagles captain Ahmed Musa agreeing a deal with his former club Kano Pillars.
When Aclsports.com broke the story I heaved a sigh of relief because i believe it would be a massive boost for the image of the league as it will be a stabilizer for the career of the Nigerian international.
I believe many more Super Eagles players who find themselves in Ahmed Musa’s situation will see the NPFL as a viable option to keep their careers alive.
I want to use this opportunity to task Ahmed Musa to make more positive impact on Nigerian football through this engagement with the league, particularly the young players, by being very professional on and off the pitch.
I wish Mus-mus aka the Governor, as I call him, the very best of luck.
National Sports Festival 2020.
The Edo State 2020 National Sports Festival has come and gone. It was not the dream NSF and it wasn’t the worst either. The pandemic impacted heavily on what would have been the economic gains for the hosts.
It is high time we did a revaluation of the essence of the games and handle it with all the seriousness it deserves or we scrap it.