For the Super Eagles which won the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time, last Sunday in South Africa, the tough questions are emerging. Does the victory of the largely new team signal an end to the career of the big names that missed the South African party? KUNLE ADEWALE writes
The celebration after Nigeria’s victory has been quite ecstatic. This is understandable. But the celebration must be put behind fast so the equally huge task of taking the country’s football to the heights it once occupied can commence.
Former national team captain and 1980 Nations Cup gold medalist, Henry Nwosu, said: “Eagles’ victory in South Africa will definitely take Nigerian football to the next level. Our rating in the FIFA ranking will also improve; the same positive effect will be seen in the ratings of Nigerian players internationally, and also in terms of their market value. The morale of the players have also been boosted,” he said.
Continuing, Nwosu told THISDAY: “The victory does not mean Nigerian football has reached the promised land. Keshi himself has said he is still in a building process and many players will still be injected into the team and some will be shown the exit door. After all, nobody gave the team any chance of winning, but with hard work and luck on their side, they conquered Africa and they can catch in on that to win more laurels ahead.”
In his submission, former commissioner for sports in Ogun State, Bukola Olapade, said the Super Eagles victory should be viewed beyond a sporting context. “For a long time now no good news has been coming out of the country and the success of the team will go a long way in laundering the battered image of the country.
“Be that as it may, we should not over celebrate. This is the time to reflect on our football and decide on the shape we want it to take. That we won the Nations Cup does not erase the fact that there are problems and issues that must be addressed in our football and, indeed, Nigerian sports generally, which should not be swept under the carpet,” the former commissioner noted.
For former Super Eagles defender and manager of Shooting Stars Football Club, Ajibade Babalade, a new vista has been opened for Nigerian football with the Super Eagles victory.
Former Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Federation, Taiwo Ogunjobi, said Nigeria’s victory was well deserved. “I am happy for Coach Stephen Keshi and all the players and I hope that we can continue in this spirit in the World Cup campaign,” he said.
Nwosu, who was Keshi’s colleague at St. Finbarr’s College, Lagos, said the Eagles victory in South Africa is a victory for local coaches, saying the Nigeria Football Federation will begin to appreciate local coaches better.
CAF and FIFA instructor Adegboye Onigbinde said: “I am happy that Keshi was able to beat my record. This has vindicated me on my hard stance that Nigerian coaches are better. I continued urging him to be focused when he reached out to me because distractions could get him off the tracks. It is a victory for him and all African coaches,” he said.
Nwosu also said the Nigeria Premier League has also benefitted from Eagles victory as six players from the local league were part of the team and one of them scored the decisive goal that gave Nigeria victory on two occasions.
“It only goes to show there are abundant talents in our league if only we can take the pains to find them and groom them to be world class players,” the former Eagles captain said.
Asked to comment on the future of established players like Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins and a few others who did not make the team, Nwosu said they are still relevant to the country’s football despite the fact they were excluded from the victorious squad.
“Everybody cannot be part of the team. The fact they were not part of the Nations Cup team does not mean they cannot be invited for future competition, especially a player like Osaze. But one important message which this victory has sent out is that the days of automatic shirt in the Super Eagles is over. The jostle for shirts will be keener than ever, with the players knowing that no player is indispensible,” the recipient of the Member of the Order of Niger noted.
When Eagles won the Nations Cup in 1980 the team’s attempt to defend the title ended woefully as Nigeria failed to get past the group stages at the 1982 edition in Libya.
But Nwosu does not see this repeating itself. “After our victory in 1980 most of the experienced players retired which really affected our title defence. But I don’t see that happening to this team because the bulk of them are still very young and there are many competitions still ahead to prepare them for the title defence in Morocco in 2015,” he said.
The team’s assistant coach, Sylvanus Okpala, dismissed suggestions that the coaching crew might become complacent as a result of the Nations Cup victory. “Though we are still savouring our victory in South Africa, we are not blinded by the victory as we still have many rivers to cross. Gone are the days when we go for competition for the sake of participation. When we go for a tournament we are there to do well, most especially now that we are the cynosure of all eyes.
“The Confederations Cup is our next target and we are going to Rio with the same winning mentality we took to South Africa,” Okpala said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by the players who say their next target now is the FIFA Confederations Cup scheduled to hold in Brazil in June. They see it as a bigger event than the AFCON because it is a “Festival of Champions”, as it is also called, and they hope to make Nigeria and Africa proud.
As African champions, Nigeria has been grouped with World Champions Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti in Group B of the Confederations Cup in Brazil.