I wasn’t in doubt that the Super Eagles could grind out a win against Central Africa Republic in the reverse leg of the 2022 World Cup qualifier in Douala, Cameroon.
But I doubted if it was going to be a wallop.
I was proved right, but the credit is the Eagles brought to bear experience and exposure over their opponents.
One thing that highlighted the two games for Central Africa Republic was that their players were very expressive, they didn’t blindly respect the Eagles, they held their own. They made a mark by beating away from home one of Africa’s football powerhouses.
The two games are metaphorical for Nigeria. They reflect the strength of the current Eagles generation. Particularly in the second leg, the game should have ended like 4-0. Plenty chances were created but fluffed, attacking the goal wasn’t with the flair, the flamboyance and the surefootedness that were the characters of the Eagles of many years past.
The game has obviously changed. It’s now with new nuances that are not also static. Individuality has made way for collectivity. The strength of the current Eagles is collectivity, but there’s something about Nigeria and individuality historically. It’s been in our gene in all spheres of life.
It can’t be taken away from our football. It’s been our fortress when we won major continental and global events in the past, at both junior and senior levels. It’s been the best advertisement of our football by our players even in European football. Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Rashidi Yekini and many others are still remembered today in the European clubs they played for owing to their individual flair.
Permit me to digress. In World Cup history, the best moments for Africa have been with her teams whose manifest strengths were anchored on individuality – Algeria in 1982, Cameroon in 1990, Nigeria in 1994 and Ghana in 2006.
Nigeria’s best footballers have been those with specific talents- Yekini was a hard shooter, Odegbami, Okocha, Edobor, Ilerika and many more were great dribblers. Keshi, Omokaro, Eboigbe, Okechukwu were hard tacklers, rock solid in the defence. Ekpo, Oliseh were two of our greatest passers of the ball, Ozogula, Wakilu Oyenuga, Mutiu Adepoju were masterful headers.
In goal, Rufai, Okalla, Onagoruwa, Erico, Enyeama, Ogedegbe were towering icons. Many other names I can’t mention here should forgive me.
One of the fundamental diseases of Nigerian football is our progressive failure to rediscover the system, the environments and the will that produced all these.
European leagues have been easy markets for successive national teams coaches to shop for players who ironically we regard as our best legs because our local leagues have abysmally failed to develop our authentic talents, retain them and attract them with fees comparable with the best in Africa and an environment similar to what obtains in Europe.
If anyone dismisses this as a tall order, the question is, are the economies of South Africa and North African countries bigger than Nigeria’s?
The class the current Eagles generation is searching for is in this. The present collections will not give more than the Douala performance usually, more of the last Thursday’s Lagos shock are waiting.
Top-class performances will come once in a while, but won’t be consistent to define the character of the team.
No matter the class of the team’s coach, intrinsic qualities of the players are very key.
BY BIODUN ALABI