Ahead of today’s Super Eagles 2018 World Cup qualifier match against the Desert Foxes of Algeria, former Nigerian international, Mutiu Adepoju, who was part of the team that stopped the Algerians en route USA ‘94 Mundial is optimistic that Nigeria will win the match. Kunle Adewale reports
Matches between Nigeria and Algeria often generate a lot of heat and today’s encounter at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State will not be different. The fact that a ticket to the 2018 World Cup slated for Russia is at stake makes it more intriguing. One man who understands what it takes to cross such hurdle is Mutiu Adepoju. He said, “The mindset of the players should be getting into the field, doing the job and picking the three points at stake which is very important. For them to be in a good stead for a place at the World Cup, the three points on Saturday is very important, most especially after winning their first match against Zambia.”
The North Africans are well noted for their football antics and Adepoju urged the Super Eagles to be wary of that.
“There are so many antics that the North Africans can put up. The team just needs to be careful and not play into their hands. We just have to concentrate on our game plan and also play our own politics,” he said.
The Desert Foxes have been claiming that a number of their star players are injured, but the former Nigerian international said it could be part of the antics of the Algerians. He said he would not be surprised if those players listed as injured feature against Nigeria.
“We should just be ready for any player they ‘throw in the ring’. It’s a game of 11 players against 11,” he noted.
Asked if he has any advice for the coach concerning today’s match, he said: “Gernot Rohr knows what he is doing, he is very experienced. I am aware he too is ambitious and qualifying Nigeria for the World Cup would definitely enhance his CV. I think he is the right person for the job and he’s already doing a great job for the team considering the way he has related with them, his intelligence and the working ethics he brought.”
Headmaster, as he was fondly called by admirers during his playing days, is optimistic that Nigeria would hoist its flag in Russia.
“Why would anybody think Nigeria would not qualify because it is the ‘group of death’? As a matter of fact, that should be a big motivation for the players to go out and put in their best. We just have to be optimistic. All the team needs from us is our support because questioning and criticising would only amount to distraction for the team, which is what they don’t need now,” he noted.
Adepoju would however not admit if these crops of Eagles player have the same zeal and hunger as those of his colleagues that defeated Algeria in the US ’94 qualifiers.
“One cannot really compare this present team with the team I played in, because we belong to different generation. But this team has shown enough hunger by beating Zambia at their home ground. The olden days Eagles were different, the commitment was different, but there is always a new beginning. This new players are going to make something good for us. In all competitions, the first game is always very important and after defeating Chipolopolo in their first group game, the team is now confident of winning their remaining next matches,” the former Real Madrid B Team player noted.
One Nigerian player that has been performing exceptionally well for his club (Chelsea) is Victor Moses and Adepoju is hoping that he would be able to replicate his club’s performance in the national team.
“What he’s doing in Chelsea is very important and I believe when a player is playing very well for his club, it should reflect on his national team.”
Asked if the Super Eagles coach should play him in the same role he’s playing for his club, Mutiu said: “Moses has his way of playing, but coaches are different from one another. Wherever position the coach wants him to play is where he would place him.”
Adepoju came into prominence during the U-20 World Youth Championship in 1989 in Saudi Arabia where he proved how deadly he could be with his head in the box. Soccer fans will not forget in a hurry his two goals against the United States of America in the semi-finals of the competition en route Flying Eagles winning the silver in the WYC.
“My two goals against the United States in the World Youth Championship (Under 20) in Saudi Arabia will remain memorable to me and always recall the moment with nostalgia because my goals took Nigeria to the final of the competition for the first time. The match we played against Algeria was also memorable. Super Eagles 3-2 victory against Spain at the 1998 World Cup was also one moment I will cherish for life and I was one of the scorers for Nigeria that beautiful day. That Spanish side was one of the best in history but we stopped their ambition,” Adepoju recalled.
After his exploit in Saudi Arabia at the WYC in 1989, Mutiu Adepoju joined Real Madrid reserve team, where he emerged as the highest goal scorer in the Spanish Segunda Division in the 1991/92 season which made the Spanish Football Federation to offer him Spanish citizenship but the former Shooting Stars player opted to represent Nigeria at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal and helped Nigeria win the bronze medal after losing to an Abedi ‘Pele Ayew inspired Ghana in the semifinal where the Super Eagles won bronze.
The former Julius Berger of Lagos midfielder however regretted not putting on the colours of Spanish giants, Real Madrid.
“Not playing for Real Madrid senior team is one regret I’ll take to my grave. Though the team had a lot of renowned players in their side, I felt I was still good enough to wear the team’s jersey but then the European rule then forbidding more than three foreign players in a team for any game was hindrance to my ambition,” Adepoju noted.
Recalling his experience in Spain the former Racing Santander said: “On the whole, it was a fantastic experience.
Initially, the first challenges we faced when we got there was the language barrier, we were like deaf and dump, but after sometime, we adapted and picked the language and the peoples’ culture. We spent more than 20 years in Spain; by and large it was a fantastic experience. We had all our children there.”