Although they exited at the round of sixteen as usual, the Super Eagles of Nigeria bowed out head high after a superlative and scintillating performance against the Les Blues of France that was more technical and tactical in their approach to the game which saw the Didier Deschamps-tutored side overran their Nigerian counterparts by two goals to nothing in the last sixteen minutes of the highly explosive encounter.
Safe for injury sustained by “Lazio bomber”, Ogenyi Onazi in the 60th minute of the game through Blaise Matuidi who escaped with a yellow card, Nigeria football fans believed that the Super Eagles would have defeated the 1998 world champions if Onazi has lasted for the whole 90 minutes. But France manager Deschamps said what happened was that the Nigerian team was very tired towards the end of the game after playing with so much energy and vigour in the first half. According to him “I noticed that the Nigerians were playing were playing with plenty of power but that they lacked the kills. I asked my boys to keep the ball on the turf, knock it around among themselves to tire out the Eagles. They did that perfectly. It was the reason why we won. After one hour, I decided to change Oliver Giroud and Benzema in my attack. I brought in boys who could hold the ball. I introduced players to run down the Nigerians and you could see that they were falling all over the pitch and gasping for breath.”
With the above comments from the master of the game himself, it shows that Nigeria prosecuted the tournament with average players who failed to come to terms with reality until they were bundled out of the World Cup by a more experienced and exposed French team.
Although Stephen Keshi broke the records of being the first Nigerian coach to win a World Cup game and the first local coach to qualify the country for a round of sixteen game, what readily came to mind was that though most of the players ply their trade in the European leagues, they have not really understood the technical aspects of the game well. For the three times that the Super Eagles had qualified for the second round of the World Cup, they were sent packing by the Europeans. In 1994 at her debut appearance at the mundial, the Italian national team taught the Super Eagles a football lesson through the legendary Roberto Baggio who scored two goals in the match. At the 1998 edition hosted and won by France, Nigeria were bundled out by Michael Laudrup-inspired Danish team and France has done again it in 2014.
How did Nigeria get it wrong? Unlike the Europeans who starts preparations for the next World Cup immediately after the end of one tournament, Nigeria and most African countries do not usually commence their World Cup on time but only two months to an event of such magnitude when the European countries would have perfected their plans and strategies and even know the players that are going to be selected for the world most glamorous sport fiesta. Instead, Nigeria always bank on luck and prayers as if other countries are creatures of Satan.
But football games are won by hardwork, experience and team work and not the Nigerian way. While Keshi and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) were still at loggerheads on who should be invited to the Eagles camp, counties like England and Italy had released their final 23-man list to the tournament. England mixed experience with youth as the likes of Stephen Gerrard and Frank Lampard were included by the manager, Roy Hodgson. Though the three lions crashed out at the first round, football analysts in the world believe that the team is for the future and they expect a vey matured team in 2018 World Cup to be hosted by Russia. It took the intervention and appeal by football loving Nigerians before Keshi agreed to include Stoke City of England striker, Osaze Odemwingie in his team and incidentally happened to be the cornerstone of the team as he gave his best in the competition. Villarreal FC of Spain striker, Ikechukwu Uche was not as lucky as he was dropped by the Nigerian manager. His absence no doubt was felt at the mundial as his replacements Shola Ameobi and Uche Nwofor could not find their rhythm in Brazil.
Nigerians argued that if players like Miroslav Klose of Germany, Rafael Marquez of Mexico, Gerrard and Lampard of England who are all in their 30s could make it to the World Cup, Keshi should have included in his team experienced players like Obafemi Martins, Obasi Ogbuke, Taye Taiwo among others in his team to the land of Samba. Klose has justified his inclusion in the team as he scored a goal in Germany’s match against the Black Stars of Ghana but is now joint top scorers with Ronaldo de Lima of Brazil with goals and could even become the all-time leading goal-scorer at the World Cup if he scores a goal in their quarter-final match against France this Friday.
In addition to this, Nigeria’s bench in Brazil was nothing to write home about as none of the players introduced from the bench in the four games that the Super Eagles played at the tournament could not changed the course of the games. With Onazi out of the game against France, Gabriel Reuben who came to replace him (Onazi) was anonymous for the thirty or more minutes that he played. The Super Eagles lost the game from the bench and John Mikel Obi who could have lifted the team in such a game failed to find his bearing. Nigerian coaches have a lot to learn from a team like Belgium who introduced power-playing striker and Chelsea FC loanee, Romelu Lukaku to silence the US national football team in the highly explosive match.
Lukaku made a quick impact as he provided an assist and scored a goal as Belgium qualified for the quarter final. The Eagles and their coaches went to Brazil with the belief that as African champions, they can beat any team at the World Cup. They were shocked by the Iranians who held them to a goalless draw in their opening game. They must have learnt their lessons.
But despite this setback, the Eagles can still hold their heads high by qualifying for the second round of the World Cup when football power houses like Italy, England and Spain crashed out in the first round. Who could have thought that a team like Spain with their array of stars will not make it to the final of the 2014 World Cup? Players like Vincent Enyeama, Michael Babatunde, Kenneth Omeruo, Ahmed Musa and Ogenyi Onazi deserved to be commended as they gave their best to the national team. A former Nigerian international Tijani Babangida while speaking with the Peoples Daily said the Super Eagles gave their best but it was not enough to see them through to the quarter final. He said what Nigerians expected was at least a quarter or semi final ticket from the Super Eagles going by their pedigree in world football. “Their performance was very disappointing of course. We were thinking that the Super Eagles would break African record by reaching the semi final. They played perfectly but the technical aspect was lacking.
This is what the white people always capitalize on to beat African teams, find one mistake and discipline them before they wake up from their slumber,” he said. The former Ajax Amsterdam of Holland dashing winger said that for the country to move “we have to inject new players into the team and the issue of whether Keshi is going or will stay would have to be resolved by the football authorities because I believe the coach has done very well since taking over at more than close to three years now.
He has transformed the players to play their hearts out for Nigeria.”
Also in his comments, a football commentator and adviser to Nigerian defender, Kenneth Omeruo, Chika Akujobi the Super Eagles played very well in Brazil and added that the boys will need to upped their game at the global stage. “The team didn’t do too badly in Brazil, they gave all they could. I heard many comments, some positive and some negative, but that is football for you everywhere in the world. I hope we have learnt some lessons from this World Cup and continue to improve our budding talents in Nigeria. It’s all about development and planning. What we should do now is to go home, take stock of all that was good and bad and work seriously in those areas to improve for the future, “he said.