The spate of confidence that welled up in Nigerians after the two World Cup qualifier wins over Zambia away and Algeria on home soil seems to have disappeared following the shocking home loss to the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, a team they’ve bested at all serious levels prior to the nations cup qualifiers a fortnight ago; having won almost all duels since Gernot Rohr took over the reigns, the Super Eagles were largely poised and tipped to stroll over the South Africans but it wasn’t to be. The Eagles went into the nations Cup qualifier on the back of a shambolic goalless draw against a team that had never played any competitive game in France and a 3:0 success over Togo, football is a game of results, whatever the incredible records of Rohr was before the horrific showing in Akwa Ibom recently, Nigerians won’t remember. The clampdown on social media and sport shows on TV was humiliating to say the least, maybe it’s not over yet but losing in such manner calls for a thorough X-ray.
Towards the end of the just concluded European football season, the names that interest followers in the Nigerian team labored in futility to nail a starting shirt, the likes of Alex Iwobi of Arsenal, Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City and Ahmed Musa of Leicester City all were reduced to bit part roles at a very crucial point when teams were scrambling for points to finish strong; while it was down to form problems for Alex Iwobi, it was a case of being at a wrong place at an indifferent time for both Iheanacho and Musa, with the latter very certain to move on from the former champions. These are the key men in the Nigerian team of today, their forms automatically tell on the overall ambience of the team, although emerging names are springing up, Henry Onyekuru from the Belgium league, Victor Osimhen from Wolfsburg and some home based revelations but the reason people get high optimism when the Super Eagles is the topic is the mentioned trio of Iwobi, Iheanacho and Musa.
Alex Iwobi was the bomb in the penultimate season at Arsenal, adding goals to his play and making appreciable impact every match day, 2016/17 wasn’t same, having been trusted with starting berths severally, the frustrations that trailed his epileptic displays tastes more like stale wine, at a time Arsenal needed to make statements of intent, win games on a stretch of consistency and banish the horrible questions of weak mentality, that was the time Iwobi lost his place and wasn’t even considered as substitute. When the games were winding down and Arsenal needed to salvage their season with the FA Cup, Iwobi still wasn’t considered, if you’re not essential for your team’s cup final then you have a lot to work on, Iwobi went into the qualifier against South Africa on this back of this situation, needless to echo why he had such a better forgotten day in Akwa Ibom.
Kelechi Iheanacho was the happening thing in Manchester City at the start of the season and at some points when Sergio Aguero was banned or injured, how he lost the confidence of Pep Guardiola needs to be evaluated as it’s obviously down to more of personal thoughts than football, he was delivering on the pitch with probably the best goal to game ratio in Europe and it got even worse for him when the Citizens copped Gabriel Jesus in January, the youngster became anonymous in the team and could count minutes he’s witnessed on his fingers. For Kelechi, his options are limited, Guardiola is in the market to add more competition and with Dortmund and Leicester enquiring about him, his best bet would be to jump ship and seek first team football, with World Cup coming up next year, he can’t afford to bring his rustiness to the table for Nigeria.
Ahmed Musa on his part must be more bewildered than the rest of the lot, bought into the Foxes team with high optimism from CSKA, the dreams of Leicester never happened as one crisis led to the other for the then reigning league champions; the whole drama eclipsed at the altar of Claudio Ranieri who was eased off amidst rumors that he fielded the Nigerian forward in the second round first leg loss to Sevilla in the champions league. It never quite play out well for the fleet footed forward afterwards as he was limited to late substitute appearances and sometimes even overlooked altogether, it was this same situation that surrounded Musa going into the 2:0 loss to South Africa. We could go on and on to name players that were listed for the nations Cup qualifier who went into the game with similar situations, sadly there’s no end in sight if these bunch don’t get to play regular and competitive league football.
Alex Iwobi is not likely to move, but the duo of Musa and Iheanacho must jump ships if they want to help their career and by extension, the super eagles. Every nation has come of age, names don’t play football anymore and the stakes are now very high, Cameroon and Algeria will look to challenge Nigeria for the World Cup ticket despite the fact that Nigeria is very much ahead in the group, getting our acts right will redeem the situation in the nations Cup qualifiers but players must get competitive to stand a chance of making amends, Nigeria has missed two of the last three edition of the tournament, something that seemed impossible in the past, the players that headline our squad must be those that play real time football, not bench warmers, not bit part players, if we must fight, our weapon must be potent…