The Super Eagles As A Vestige Of Nigeria’s Unity

The last line of the Nigeria national anthem – peace and unity – seems to have become just a mere recitation in recent years. Peace and unity seems non-existent in the present day Nigeria. There is hardly a time that the discussion of the unity of Nigeria has reached the crescendo it has gotten to recently, bar during the civil war. So many statements of discord and disunity has been flying out of different things called a mouth in recent months. Even as it seems that symbols and signs of Nigeria’s Unity continue to diminish by the day, the Super Eagles – Nigeria’s men national football team stands out, or so it seems.

The Super Eagles symbolises unity

The statement – ‘football unites Nigerians’ – has become so cliche that even a day old Nigerian must have heard it. While we say it and know it, how significant is it?

The Super Eagles have gathered from their various bases to play two AFCON qualifiers against Benin Republic and Lesotho. In the midst of the various dissenting voices, it seems the Super Eagles have stood aloof.

I playfully wrote on my social media, expressing my surprise that one of the regional ‘warlords’ has not called for his ‘kinsmen’ to withdraw from the Nigerian team since he already declared the independence of his region. It is interesting to note that the various discussions and analysis that have been done on the Eagles has had nothing to do with their various regions. The players have been analysed and rated as Nigerians. When Nigerians raise eyebrows over the non-inclusion of certain players, it has had nothing to do with the regions they belonged to.

From time immemorial, the Super Eagles have been made up of players from various regions and backgrounds. When Paul Onuachu netted to give the Super Eagles victory against Benin Republic last weekend, all Nigerians celebrated not questioning the state or region the goalscorer comes from. In time past when Nigerians have won accolades in football, all Nigerians have celebrated not minding where the players come from.

The Super Eagles have always been made up of people from various regions

The Super Eagles are one of the best teams in Africa and a force to be reckoned with in the world. It is hard to see any of the regional national teams being as strong as the Super Eagles if there is a division. For instance, how much will a South-Western team be different from the Benin Republic team? Or a North-Eastern team better than Niger national team? Together, with the various constituents, the Nigeria national team is stronger.

The stories of many of the players is also the typical Nigerian story. Some of them southerners born and bred in the north. Started their footballing trades and honed their skills in other regions and that didn’t stop them from getting to the top of their careers. It is a message of how a Nigerian can become successful and reach the top of their endeavours in any region in Nigeria.

All and sundry comes together to make the Super Eagles thick

Like in the Super Eagles, if we focus more on bringing our various strengths together, we become stronger as a nation. Like the Super Eagles, if we see our challenges as our opponents and face them together, we have a better chance of winning. Even those born and bred in diaspora join forces with the home breeds to make the Super Eagles stronger, we are all seen as one and derive joy as one.

If the Super Eagles is seen as a microcosm of Nigeria and the lessons are taken and put into practice, Nigeria will be a better place for all Nigerians.

Written by: Babatomiwa Ojo, @10qmedia on Twitter

Super Eagles Squad To The 2022 AFCON: Who Is On The Bus? Who Is At The Boarding Lounge? Who Might Miss Out?

With the AFCON ticket already in the bag, it is not too early to start planning towards what is expected to be a successful outing by the Super Eagles in Cameroon in 2022. Winning Nigeria’s fourth title will be tagged a success. Finishing on the podium might be acceptable depending on how it is done but it will not excite Nigerians.

Some players are still playing for their spots

The Super Eagles play the Crocodiles of Lesotho in their last qualifying match, in what is a dead rubber but for some of the players, it should be more than that. Some of them are already playing for a spot on the 23 that will be chosen for the quest in Hayatou’s country. Barring injuries, drastic loss of forms and change in technical crew, we take a look at how the traveling party is shaping up.

On The Bus

All things being equal, the following players are already in the bus and should be ready to defend the green and white Ankara jersey in Cameroon next year.

Goalkeepers Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho should slug it out for the starting spot between the sticks but both of them should be in Cameroon. Okoye has become Rohr’s darling recently but he still rates Uzoho, both are young and should be in the team for long. Reminiscent of Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide being first and second choice for over a decade.

The ‘Oyinbo wall’ – William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are still Rohr’s preferred choice, both should be in Cameroon. Chidozie Awaziem is Rohr’s Mr Utility, he should be in the team. Zaidu Sanusi seems to have tied down the left-back spot. Ola Aina’s versatility also makes him a sure choice.

Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo and Oghenekaro Etebo will go as Rohr’s midfielders. The team is shot of options in this area, the aforementioned three will hardly be displaced. Alex Iwobi is one of Rohr’s trusted players, he should be in the team.

Musa should lead the team to Cameroon

Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze are Rohr’s trusted weapons in attack, they should be in the team. Ahmed Musa is captain and should be back playing by then, he should be in the team.

At the Boarding Lounge

These ones are part of the team but they are not yet in the bus and may have a boarding ticket or may not have. They are likely to be in the team but not as sure as the first group. Their inclusion also depends on the availability of some other players and or their own forms.

One of Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa might be the third choice goalkeeper due to their experience and familiarity with the team.

Jamilu Collins, Tyrone Ebuehi, Kenneth Omeruo, Kevin Akpoguma, Shehu Abdullahi and Semi Ajayi might battle for four or five slots as backup defenders. Ajayi and Shehu might miss out here but still make it as backup midfielders. Hence, only one of this six might miss out.

Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu are Rohr’s favorites and should make it, but it might depend on the availability of some outsiders, Henry Onyekuru is another option amongst the wing-forwards. One or two of the three might miss out. Kelechi Iheanacho and Paul Onuachu should make it as backup forwards but they can not be too sure yet. Michael Olise’s name was on the last list, albeit on standby, means something is brewing. The highly rated Reading youngster plays for France at youth level and is eligible for England. He will likely make the list if his switch to Nigeria is confirmed.

Kelechi Iheanacho is doing enough not to miss out on back-to-back tournaments

The Outsiders

The chances of these ones are bleak but never say never, an upsurge in forms for them and a drop in form by the more likely players will open the door for them.

Sebastian Osigwe and John Noble can make the party, especially Noble, as there is a chance there is at least one home based player in the squad, especially if Ezenwa does not return to form.

Adekunle Adeleke, Bryan Idowu and Kingsley Ehizibue must hope something happens to like three or four of the regular defenders to have a chance.

Frank Onyeka could still get a chance to impress in midfield after a disappointing debut last year.

Anayo Iwuala must keep working and hope fortune smiles on him

Anayo Iwuala, Peter Olayinka, Emmanuel Dennis, Josh Maja, Chidera Ejuke, Simy Nwankwo, Sadiq Umar, Cyril Dessers and Taiwo Awoniyi are waiting in the wings for a place among the forwards.

The Gatecrashers

Between now and January next year, some players not available now will become available while some players will emerge from seemingly nowhere.

Ademola Lookman might make it if he switches allegiance to Nigeria on time. Ovie Ejaria might get a chance to impress before January, if he seizes it, he might be one of the midfielders.

At least one player not mentioned at all might make it, it happens. A largely unknown gatecrasher might emerge.

For some of the players, the audition begins with the game against Lesotho. It is however good that the team is spoilt for choices.

Five Lessons From The Super Eagles Win Against Benin Republic

The Eagles went to Benin by sea, outplayed the Squirrels on land and soared in the sky. Unlike in 2020 when the Eagles did not win any of their matches, they kicked on 2021 on a winning note. With qualification for the 2022 AFCON already sure before kickoff due to Lesotho’s draw against Sierra Leone, the Eagles had to play for pride and they didn’t disappoint. Here are five lessons we learnt from the match.

Rohr’s Team Has A Spine

When everyone is fit and available, Gernot Rohr already has the spine of his team. Even if Rohr has been accused of upsetting the balance of the team too regularly at times, Rohr has some constant players that should always be in his starting XI and it was further demonstrated in Benin.

The team is beginning to have a spine.

While the likes of Chidozie Awaziem, Kenneth Omeruo, Semi Ajayi and some others can always come in to do a good job in central defence, the oyinbo wall – William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are still the best pair at centre-back. The pair produced a dominant display that further buttress this against the Squirrels.

With Wilfred Ndidi shielding the defence, the team plays with more authority and assuredness. Samuel Chukwu and Victor Osimhen are a menace in attack.

Some players can come in to add to the flesh and make the team thicker but the aforementioned players are the spine of the present team.

Rohr’s Tactical Switch

Gernot Rohr has been regularly accused of being too rigid but he was different on Saturday. Maybe due to Alex Iwobi’s absence or as was planned, the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho played behind Victor Osimhen in attack. It looked like a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 at times, due to how Iheanacho floated between midfield and attack but it became an outright 4-4-2 when Paul Onuachu replaced Iheanacho.

Given the plethora of attacking options at Rohr’s disposal, it has often been suggested that Rohr should deploy a 4-4-2 system to have more presence in attack, especially when the Eagles are playing more on the ascendancy.

It paid off on Saturday, maybe Rohr will consider to be more pragmatic with his formations and set-up going forward.

A Case For and Against Iwuala

Anayo Iwuala has received lots of plaudits for his impressive 10 minutes cameo against the Squirrels. He showed promise but that may be as good as it gets depending on his next career moves. It is difficult to see him get more playing time when the regular players are fit and available. The Super Eagles are spoilt for options on the left hand side of attack. The likes of Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa, sometimes Alex Iwobi plays there when they are available. With reports of Ademola Lookman also ready to play for Nigeria and the likes of Chidera Ejuke, Emmanuel Dennis and some others still on the fringes, Anayo has a lot of work on his hands.

Iwuala has a lot of job to do to stay in the team

As also noticed before the match and during the match, Anayo seems too star-strucked and does not feel at home in the team yet. He has to come out of his shell quick to prove he belongs in the group. As we have also seen with some home based players that have made it to the Super Eagles in the past, a move to an obscure league in search of needed greener pastures might just end his Super Eagles career before it takes off.

Onuachu Leading The Race

There has always been a battle for who will be the Super Eagles backup striker when Idion Ighalo was first choice and now that Osimhen is. There has been Simy Nwankwo, Paul Onuachu, Cyril Dessers and some others. The last time the Super Eagles played some friendly matches last year, Onuachu was on standby behind Dessers but got drafted into the team due to some withdrawals. He started and wasn’t impressive again.

Aribo has to improve greatly or an upgrade is found

He was also initially on the standby list for this match despite his impressive record in the Belgian league. Some withdrawals, he got in the team again and also got on the pitch and on the score sheet. With Sadiq Umar, Cyril Dessers, Josh Maja, Peter Olayinka, Taiwo Awoniyi and some others waiting on the wings, Onuachu has stolen a match on them with the winning goal against Benin.

The Super Eagles Still Need A Creative Hub

Joe Aribo has come into the team to be the ball-carrier in midfield and the owner of the number 10 jersey. He is a decent footballer and got off to a good note with two goals in his first two matches but the team can do with an improvement.

Especially in the first half when the Eagles had most of the ball, they comfortably passed it between the defenders and the deep midfielders as there was no one to make the brave incursions. The centre-backs resorted to switching it up to the flanks most of the times. While Aribo is good and a valuable addition to the team, the team needs a better ball user to play in that position, especially against better teams.

Written by Babatomiwa Ojo, @10qmedia on Twitter.

Three Things To Watch In The Super Eagles Match Against Benin

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are set to do battle against the Squirrels of Benin in their penultimate AFCON 2022 qualifying match. Even though the Eagles went to Benin by water, they are expected to soar in the sky and prey on the squirrels.

The Eagles have been positive in training

It is the Super Eagles first match of 2022 and the first since the abomination that happened against Sierra Leone. The team has a lot of points to prove as qualifying is seen as assured. One point needed in two fixtures against Benin and Lesotho should not require carrying a bowl of sacrifice to the Eagles Square.

As we saw at the last AFCON and even in the first leg, where the Eagles had to dig deep to win, the Squirrels are no easy prey. But they should still be prey to the Eagles, no matter how hard. We look at three things to look out for in the match.

The battle for the right-back slot

Since Ambrose Efe lost his spot in the team, there has hardly been any consistent right-back, despite the plethora of options Gernot Rohr has at his disposal.

Ola Aina has been in good form for Fulham, though sometimes he has played at left-back and other times part of a back three in a 3-at-the-back system. His best performances for the Super Eagles have also come at left-back. Tyrone Ebuehi is in good form at Twente Enschede but has never enjoyed a consistent run in the Super Eagles. Abdullahi Shehu used to be Rohr’s man in this position but seems to have lost his place to more natural right-backs. Chidozie Awaziem excelled in the role at the last AFCON but he his naturally not a right-back. Luckily Kevin Akpoguma is unavailable to add to Rohr’s headache. He was Rohr’s choice in the position in the last two matches but he struggled and it was clear to see, it isn’t his preferred position.

Akpoguma’s unavailability might be a blessing

It will be interesting to see who starts in the position against the Squirrels. Defending well and supporting the attack from the fullback positions will be key to how the Eagles play. Rohr seems to have settled for the in-form Zaidu Sanusi as his first choice left-back, it will be nice to start having some clarity on the opposite flank as well.

Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo in midfield

Rohr’s formation is most times a 4-2-3-1, with two holding midfielders. Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo are Rohr’s men in this position. The two are always constant when they are fit and available. However, since Joe Aribo burst into the scene with a different style of approach to the aforementioned two, Rohr has never had the three together in the team before.

Aribo may drop out of the Starting XI

With all three available, it will be interesting to see who drops out or if they all start together. Without Ndidi in the last home match against Sierra Leone, the midfield was badly exposed in the second half, leading to the team’s collapse. It seems certain Ndidi will start, to shield the defence. However, Rohr may have to choose between Etebo and Aribo. Etebo will give the team a better defensive balance but Aribo carries more goals threat and contributes more to the attacking forays. It will be interesting to see what Rohr goes for.

Iwobi and Iheanacho combination

Kelechi ‘Senior man’ Iheanacho is in very good form and should be allowed to carry the momentum into this match as it should be beneficial. With Victor Osimhen expected as the lone center-forward, it is likely Rohr decides between Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi to play in the hole behind the striker. Iwobi has been Rohr’s man in this position but hasn’t been consistent at club level.

Iheanacho scored for the Eagles in his last start

However, Rohr can and should consider playing the two of them together. One of the Super Eagles best away matches under Rohr was away at Zambia during the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. The Eagles won 2-1 to get that qualifying campaign to a good start. Iheanacho and Iwobi scored on the day. Their combination that day was the bedrock of the Eagles victory. Their movement and passing accuracy was too much for the Zambians to handle. It was Iheanacho in the hole and Iwobi on one of the flanks. With Samuel Kalu out, Rohr can shift Iwobi to the left to accommodate Iheanacho in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their movements and passing will be key to unlocking a Benin defence that is expected to sit deep. As we have also seen in recent weeks at Leicester, Iheanacho thrives when he has a striker ahead of him.

Nigerians expect the Super Eagles to secure the AFCON ticket in Benin, anything short of that will raise further questions.

Our projected Starting XI: Okoye: Aina, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Sanusi – Ndidi, Etebo – Chukwueze, Iheanacho, Iwobi – Osimhen

Four Lessons From The Super Eagles Collapse Against Sierra Leone

Before you close the book of oddities in 2020, include the Super Eagles. That it came to pass, on the 13th day of November 2020, just as at about when the sun was going to sleep on the rafters of the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, Benin, the unexpected happened. To the bemusement and amusement of every Amaju, Dare and Shuaibu, Sierra Leone came from four goals down to draw against the Super Eagles.

It was supposed to be an exhibition of our new Nike ‘aso ebi’ jersey and the affluence of our players, but it ended in disgrace. Enough blames to go round but then what are the lessons to be learnt before this type of abomination happens again, starting from the return leg in Freetown in four days.

4-4-2; A Blessing, A Curse

Coach Gernot Rohr sprang a surprise with a 4-4-2 formation, and to his credit, it made the Eagles play at their attacking best. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze swammed the Leone Stars defence to devastating effect. The quintet produced the four goals and were on a roll. With what looked like a four-man attack when the Eagles were on the front foot, the Eagles were left with two men in the middle and it looked like a 4-2-4 formation.

The Eagles were on a roll in the first half

Even when the Eagles were on top of the game, it was evident that everytime the Leone Stars went on the attack, they got to the Super Eagles defence easily. The two men in the midfield did not do enough defensively, Joe Aribo was all over the place and Oghenekaro Etebo was overwhelmed. It is a formation that maybe could have worked better if there was a Wilfred Ndidi, who is an expert at screening defences. It is a formation that helps the Eagles attack well but it needs more disciplined midfielders.

Akpoguma Should Not Play At Right-back

Why should a center-back play at right-back when there were three right-backs on the bench? It seems Rohr or the NFF assured Kevin Akpoguma of a starting berth when they convinced him to switch allegiance to Nigeria. Or how else does one explain that in-form Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi were kept on the bench for a player that did not convince in the position in the last two friendlies?

Akpoguma offered nothing in attack and did little in defence, were he should be more comfortable. While Zaidu Sanusi on the left gave the team an attacking outlet and contributed an assist, same can not be said of Akpoguma, who couldn’t utilize the space Chukwueze left out wide whenever he drove into the middle.

Maduka Okoye Is Not Ready

While the young goalie can’t be blamed for the capitulation, he did little to help the situation. He looked short on confidence and did not command his area very well.

Okoye did his reputation no good

He did well in the last two friendlies and duly earned a starting berth against Sierra Leone but he was probably overwhelmed by the occasion. He should have done better for at least two of the goals he conceded. Starting with the second leg in Freetown, Rohr may have to leave Maduka out while he continues to learn the ropes.

Rohr Remains Poor At In-game Reactions

Even without a coach, the Super Eagles should not squander a four-goal lead against Sierra Leone. However, the job of a coach is to make amends when it seems it is going bad.

For all the good job Rohr does with the team, his game management has always been in question and it came into play again. At the point when the Eagles started capitulating, Rohr did little or nothing tangible to stem the tide. None of his substitutions were tactically made to shore things up. He still made like-for-like changes and did not make a change to shore up the midfield that had collapsed. It also brings to the fore, his rationale for not inviting enough midfielders to camp in the first place. He was short of midfield options and could not improvise anything to block the loopholes. While he is not a bad coach and should be applauded for the good job he has done, the NFF must demand he improves or else he gets booted out.

It is not all gloom, the Super Eagles should still qualify for the AFCON but there are bigger picture. The AFCON proper and the World Cup qualifiers are the bigger stage and the Super Eagles can not afford to replicate this sort of performance on those stages.

Super Eagles Goalkeeper Concedes Four in League Debut

Super Eagles and Sparta Rotterdam shot stopper had a Eredivisie debut to forget last weekend as a he drank goals against Hereveen like bottles of beer. The young goalie was preferred in the starting lineup over Benjamin van Leer, a reward for his impressive performance against ADO Den Haag in the KNVB Cup last Wednesday. It was however a debut he will not want to remember as Sparta lost at 4-1 against Hereveen.

Maduka, second from right, with other Super Eagles goalkeepers

Sparta Rotterdam’s defence was free like a highway especially in the first half as Benjamin Nygren, Jan Paul van Hecke and Henk Veerman found the net to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.

In the 57th minute, Veerman broke the offside trap and calmly slotted into the far corner to add pepper to the injury and make it 4-0 but Lennart Thy scored a consolation for the home team from the spot in stoppage time.

Okoye will slug it out with the more experienced Daniel Akpeyi and Sebastian Osigwe for a spot in the starting lineup in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches against Sierra Leone. Okoye will fancy his chances after impressive displays in the last Super Eagles friendlies.