In the prelims of the ongoing Africa Nations Cup, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were the toast of the competition courtesy of Austin Eguavoen’s work within a short time. Interestingly, the same boys Gernot Rohr failed to deploy properly are the ones at the ongoing AFCON.
It was learnt that the training schedule of Eguavoen is unique with no repetition of technical sessions in the first 10 days. The former Eagles skipper also engaged the players in one-on-one talks to prepare them for matches. In the last group game against Guinea Bissau, only three regular players – William Troost-Ekong, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi – were in the starting line-up, yet the Eagles showed pattern and desire to excel.
Sadly the Eagles crashed out of the competition in the last 16 stage as a more technically better Tunisian side edged out Nigeria 1-0. However, we insist that between January 11 and 23; Eguavoen was able to expose the deficiencies of Rohr by creating a pattern for the Eagles. He said from the beginning that he would explore wing play and Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze exploited that while the entire team showed a discernable pattern of play in the short time they were in Cameroon. Unfortunately, the dynamism expected in a difficult situation was missing against Tunisia because the Eagles were predictable. Despite the early AFCON ouster, we hold the view that Eguavoen is a ‘breath of fresh air’ compared to Rohr.
The NFF will have to ensure this tactician must be part of the technical crew of the team if not the overall head for the crucial Qatar 2022 playoff against the Black Stars of Ghana in March. Going forward, the NFF should think about results and more of reality rather than rushing to embrace a foreign coach at all times.
The AFCON halftime report of Eguavoen was excellent but the ouster of the team was also a shock. The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations started with cautious play by most of the teams and this led to a drought of goals. Many of the first rounds of games were not as interesting as expected and this brought a question mark on the quality of the games on the continent especially as it was only the host country Cameroon that managed to score two goals in a match after the first round of games.
The Indomitable Lions defeated Ethiopia 4-1 in the start of second round of games and that ignited the tournament After the slow start, the ongoing AFCON has exploded with surprise results and upsets of sorts. No one expected the Black Stars of Ghana, fourtime champions, to record two defeats and just one draw in three games.
Surprisingly it was debutants Comoros that sent the Ghanaians out in the decisive match with a 3-2 win. Africa’s number one team on FIFA’s rankings, Senegal, also struggled all through the group phase with just one win and two draws with only one penalty goal scored by star player, Sadio Mane. The defending champions, Algeria, did not fare any better. The Desert Warriors surprisingly lost 1-0 to Equatorial Guinea after playing 0-0 with Sierra Leone in their first match and in the decisive last game against Cote d’Ivoire, the Desert Warriors were sent out of the competition as the Elephants won 3-1. And so the AFCON has opened up in terms of standards.
The Super Eagles entered the competition with loads of problems. There was a coach (Rohr) fired prompting an Interim Manager to take over at the eve of the competition while the NFF again rushed to engage another foreign coach, Jose Peseiro, just few days after naming the AFCON technical crew led by Eguavoen. Ideally, we believe the NFF should have allowed Eguavoen to pick assistants for himself but rather the federation set a template for him and as an employer, he took it.
These issues were too much for Eguavoen and his boys to contend with. The team did not also have the best of preparations with the club versus country row prevalent in Africa and the injury crisis rocking the Eagles; it was tough to name the final list for Cameroon 2021 taking place in 2022. Winning the first three games came as a surprise before the 1-0 defeat suffered against Tunisia. However, we are aware that the exit of the team was early but not many expected the bright start recorded, especially the 1-0 victory over Egypt. And so overall, the team was not woeful in Cameroon, rather the techniques of the North Africans were superior to that of Nigeria in the last 16 encounter. Eguavoen had his faults and the players too refused to lift their game beyond the ordinary. We should also not forget that the Eagles went to Cameroon without three of their top strikers – Victor Osimhen, Paul Onuachu and Odion Ighalo. Emmanuel Dennis who was available to play was also prevented from joining the Eagles by his English Premier League side, Watford, while centre midfield man, Oghenekaro Etebo was also injured. Going forward, we expect better planning from the NFF while the new foreign coach should not be rushed to join the team. With the decisive World Cup playoffs against Ghana coming up in March, the NFF should decide fast on who and how to prosecute the two-leg encounter.