As a patriotic Nigerian, I want the Super Eagles to win their game today against the visiting Bafana Bafana of South Africa in MatchDay 6 or final match of the 2015 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) now to be hosted by Equatorial Guinea following Morocco’s withdrawal amidst fear of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). But let’s imagine a scenario! What if the score line does not go the way we want it today at the newly commissioned magnificent Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo which has already been tagged as the “Nest of Champions”?
I am very sure a lot of people will call for Coach Stephen Keshi’s head and the players too will incur the wrath of soccer crazy Nigerians who not only want their country’s flag to be hoisted in oil rich country of Equatorial Guinea but to defend the trophy they won in the land of Mandiba (South Africa) two years ago. I trust my compatriots; they will equally lay the blame on the doorsteps of the Presidency for the role it played in Keshi’s recall as national team coach. We all remembered the role played by President Goodluck Jonathan to make sure that the “Big Boss” staged a comeback. Hell will let loose if the Super Eagles fail to qualify for AFCON 2015 and only God knows the events that will follow.
In fairness to Keshi, he has contributed in no small measure to Nigerian football whether as a player or as a coach and nobody can take that away from him. He is a legend by all standards. It was Keshi who opened the gateway to Europe for Nigerian footballers to seek professional contract abroad. Belgium was like a Mecca of sort for our players in the early 90s as they swarmed the Western European country in their numbers for greener pastures. For the records, the former Super Eagles captain is the only of two people along with the late Egyptian coach, Mahmoud El-Gohary to have won the AFCON trophy as both a player and a coach.
But all these records will pale into oblivion because a coach is as good as his last game. Keshi to most people has given his best to the national team and to this school of thought, it is high time the former Togo and Mali coach called it quit with the Super Eagles. He should just finish his “mess” against the South Africans and go back to his family in the United States. Since coming back from the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil, the Eagles have struggled to impress in their games. In group A of the AFCON qualifiers with “soccer minnows” like South Africa, Congo Brazzaville and Sudan, it is a pity that the African champions have labored to qualify for Africa most glamorous football tournament with 7 points and have to beat the Mandela boys in today’s encounter to book their ticket to Equatorial Guinea. We saw how the Congolese came to Nigeria to hand a defeat to the Eagles at the U.J Esuene Stadium in Calabar hitherto their slaughter slab for any visiting team. But for late resurgence of the Eagles in their last two games at Abuja and Pointe Noire respectively, Nigeria would have bidden the 2015 AFCON a painful goodbye.
I was at the National Stadium Abuja on October 15 to cover the live game between Nigeria and Sudan and what I saw that day made me to weep for my country. The players’ approach to the game was nothing but nonchalant as they allowed the Claude Le Roy’s boys to dictate the pace of the game. Fans were so enraged by the players’ attitude that they called for Keshi’s sack. At the press box where I sat with fellow sports writers, a known face on television who I sat close to said that the Eagles have lost touch with modern day football adding that we can only make progress under a foreign coach. As if on cue and though very far from us, it was at this point that some fans came out with placards with the inscription like: “Mr. Keshi must go”, “Sack Keshi now” among others. Since winning the 2013 AFCON in South Africa, Keshi seems to have lost his magic wand as the Eagles’ performance are nothing to write home about.
To support their argument, fans have accused Keshi of being arrogant. They accused the Big Boss of sticking to his own opinion at the expense of better ideas. He was accused of selecting the players to invite to the national team, mediocre that is, when players like Obafemi Martins, Chinedu Obasi Ogbuke and Ikechukwu Uche (who is now back in the national team after almost a two-year sojourn) are dazzling in their respective clubs. They queried Keshi’s decision to take players like Shola Ameobi, Michael Uchebo and Reuben Gabriel to the World Cup with the potpourri of players at Nigeria’s disposal. Part of Keshi’s sins is that he refused to give respect to his employers (the NFF) and instead prefer to deal with the Presidency directly like the Westerhof days. To them, his cup is full and should leave immediately after today’s game.
But it is worthy of note that Keshi brought finesse, determination and discipline back to the Eagles and gave the local players the sense of belonging in the national team. The local players have not had it so good with any Nigerian coach whether local or foreign. Players like Reuben Gabriel, Sunday Mba, Azubuike Egwueke, Chigozie Agbim, Geoffrey Oboabona and Ejike Uzoenyi would forever be grateful to the Big Boss for believing in their abilities and making them AFCON winners as home-based players. It has never happened in the history of this country. Of late, Keshi has also invited Emem Uduok, Gbolahan Salami and Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) newest goal king Mfoh Udoh to the national team.
As we look forward to today’s game, returnee striker, Ikechukwu Uche who plays for Villarreal FC in the Spanish La Liga has assured Nigerians that the Eagles will give their best to secure AFCON ticket. Uche said that the victory against the Congolese team last Saturday was the tonic the Eagles needed to fly over the Bafana Bafana in today’s make or mar match. Uche who opened the scoring in Pointe Noire through a penalty kick stated “The game against the Red Devils was a very difficult match for us because it was a match everybody expected us to win. This huge expectation from Nigerians propelled us to beat the Congolese despite the huge hostility from them. This we will also take to the match against South Africa in Uyo on Wednesday. Now we have to concentrate on beating Bafana Bafana. We won’t be deceived by the South Africans because we know that they are coming with their full squad.”
Former Super Eagles coach, Samson Siasia has also advised the Eagles not to give room to complacency with the warning that “Super Eagles must not allow the South Africans to score first or score at all in the encounter else we’ll be confronted with an ugly situation no one can fathom. The watchword for Eagles is 100% concentration while we try to avoid committing unnecessary mistakes in our backline… In his own submission, former Nigerian international, Waidi Akanni stated that Keshi’s reinstatement has yielded positive result while tasking the Eagles “to show that they are African champions by delivering the AFCON ticket to their teeming fans, who stood by them when the going was tough.”
But for Keshi, whatever anyone says, there is still life after Nigeria even if he is sacked from his post. According to him, his destiny is not tied to the Super Eagles job. “I think you all need to stop this because my destiny is not tied to Nigeria. I came from somewhere (to take up the Nigeria job). It is wrong to say my destiny is tied here because this country is bigger than any individual. If I am not the Super Eagles head coach today, my life will still go on. Also there are other places where I can go if I stopped being the coach of this country,” Keshi said.
But to me, I think Keshi will be judged by the number of goals the Super Eagles will score today and the football brilliance display by his players. This will show that he still has something to offer Nigeria on the long run as a coach. Till then, I rest my case.