By – Montage Africa Magazine
I am of the opinion that Nigerians are generally proud people that is why we are easily the first people to notice in a group of other nationals. One way we show that pride is in our sports, especially football or soccer like our American friends will rather have us call it.
The Nigerian Super Eagles over the years have been a source of joy and pride to us, for me and most people in my generation it all started around the early 90s when we as a nation won the under 17 world cup in 1993, the African cup of nations the following year and had qualified for the world cup for the first time ever. I remember that even though we came in as the underdogs, we gave great national teams like Argentina and Italy a run for their money and though we narrowly lost to Italy in the round of 16, we were rated highly after the competition. Our style of football was considered one of the most interesting, we had a style of play and our 4-4-2 formation using the wings worked beautifully for us. So imagine our joy when in 1996 we won the Olympic gold medal with spectacular players like Kanu Nwankwo, Jay Jay Okocha, Celestine Babayaro, Victor Ikpeba, Wilson Oruma and Teslim Fatusi. The team had youth, speed, endurance, was technical, was spectacular and patriotic. We were ceded the most likely african team to win the world cup with players like Emmanuel Amunike, Sunday Oliseh, The bull Amokachi and Finidi George who was at one time the best number 7 in the world (trust us Nigerians, we remember these things), the world was ours for the taking.
However, the story of the Nigerian Super Eagles is a testament to the phrase “things often do not go as planned”. We saw our beloved team loose luster as the years went by, our fortunes dwindled, our style of play became boring, the goals reduced, we began to struggle, we changed and recycled coaches, disbanded teams only to reassemble a new team that looked like the last and soon the praises stopped.
Allow me to fast-forward and not dwell on the past for long. The year is 2015, the big boss Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has just been fired (again) and a new boss is in town – Sunday Oliseh. He is new, different, UEFA certified, speaks intelligently, young, analyses the game of football beautifully (at least from what I saw on Super Sports), came in talking the talk and promising to take the Super Eagles back to its glory days with a distinct style of play. Even though it all sounded like things we have heard before, for some reason many Nigerians believed him and so when his first match as head coach came against Tanzania, we were expectant to see if he was truly our messiah. The team list for the game was a mix between the usual names and a number of new ones like the goal keeper Carl Ikeme. At the end of the game we were left disappointed, the same boring and disorganized game that has trailed the team continued, the game ended in a goalless draw but a lot of us were like ”Hey, give him a chance, he is just starting”.
The following match a friendly against Niger republic which we won by two goals to nothing, it still did not do it for us because we practically struggled through the match and as usual it was really hard work to stay awake through the game but we took the victory as a consolation. Next came the excruciating match against DR Congo, the Leopards of DR Congo literally pulled the wings off the Eagles. We ran around that field like a chicken running from a hovering hawk, it was a painful match to watch, we lost chance after chance, we got the same halfhearted performance from Mikel Obi (sometimes he frustrates me especially when I think of how great he could have been). Sunday Oliseh kept making substitution after substitution but nothing helped, the game ended in a 2 – 0 defeat (his first loss as head coach). The loss coupled with the issue with our beloved Vincent Enyeama only made matters worse, the criticisms came pouring in, and the Cameroun friendly match was only two days away – the future was already looking bleak.
The match against the Cameroonians is what inspired this article because in the words of Sunday Oliseh, it was a scintillating victory. Yes we won 3 – 0, yes Mikel Obi played a beautiful game and commandeered the midfield dictating play, assisting the offense and defense at the same time, yes, new captain Ahmed Musa made those runs and gave those crosses, yes our back line was tight with Leon Balogun doing a remarkable job at central defense, yes new kid Moses Simon scored another goal to add to his tally and showed that raw talent and hunger for attack, what was most heartwarming to see was how we played as a team. We passed the ball around, held possession, controlled the game, the players seemed to have a good understanding of each other and it was the best we had seen the Super Eagles play in a long while, even if we had lost and the boys played the same way they did it would have been an impressive performance because it showed what we had lacked for a while now – synergy. A high point for me during the match was at the point we were 2 – 0 up and the fans started singing our famous “all we are saying give us more goals…” and shortly after Odion Ighalo headed in the third goal, it was beautiful.
It might be too soon to leap for joy and say we are not there yet but one thing is certain, there is a renewed optimism for the team and we only hope that Coach Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh is able to hammer the team back into shape, we know the road ahead is long and I wish them the very best. On a lighter note from a Delta boy “we no fit carry last.”