By Tayo Balogun
No, I know the Super Eagles did not win, that the match ended in a score draw, that the Brazilians had 70% possession of the ball, had ten more corner-kicks than we had. But it is also true they are ranked 31 places above us by FIFA. While they are 3rd, we are 34th. Until August, they were actually Number One.
The collective players worth of Brazil is one billion Euros more than ours. Most of their players are playing in the first class clubs of Europe. They are the South America Champions while we are the third best in Africa. What is more, eight out of ten Nigerians expected the Brazilians to beat us. Before the match, my barber, waged that if we do not lose by at least two goal margin he would cut my hair (never had much, anyway) free for three months.
That is the fact sheet on the Brazil/Nigeria international friendly played last Sunday in Singapore. In essence therefore, it was like anticipating the result of a match between Liverpool and Watford or the dreaded Juventus taking on Genoa. But aside from these; there are other facts. First, our national team has been rather stable these past few years while Brazil has not been.
At the last World Cup where we did not do quite well, we learned some lessons. Against Croatia, the naivety of our young team was punished. VAR and ill luck cost us the match with Argentina. Our team despite what its detractors say has continued to improve. We lost possible inputs by missing out in two FIFA U17 and Under 20 competitions but we have managed to bring in nearly ready made talents from Europe. So while we have a relatively young team, it is not exactly inexperienced as most of them are regularly exposed to better training facilities than we have at home. Those who were expecting the Eagles to be routed do not know much about the indomitable Nigerian spirit that never settles for less and ranks itself amongst the best that could be anywhere in the world.
So what happened on Sunday? The Brazilians wanted a win having been winless in four previous matches. Folks at home didn’t want the matches against Senegal and Nigeria since they believed both matches were soft targets to secure a win. Their plan was to open up the Eagles, capitalize on what they believed was a somewhat shaky defence line and score goals.
On the other hand, the Nigerian team planned to curtail the South Americans and catch them on a counter-attack. What the stats revealed reflect the strategies adopted by both teams. The Brazilians wanted a win. We wanted to prevent them from maximizing their attacking abilities and possibly catch them on counter-ttacks. The summary?
We succeeded. They failed.
What then is the way forward? The current strategy of reinforcing and reinventing the Super Eagles should continue. I believe there are talents in abundance to be found in our local leagues. What our football administrators need do is to fish them out and ease them into the national teams. The Nigeria Football Federation must recreate itself to serve in integrating local talents into the main Super Eagles team. For quite sometime now, we have been failing to qualify for FIFA under age competitions. This is absolutely unacceptable given the talents that abound in this country. We have always relied mainly on graduates of age group competitions to feed the senior national teams. If this steady stream of supply is cut off their would be a decline in the performance of the Super Eagles.
We are on a roll now and if we maintain the momentum, we just may become a veritable world power in football in a few years. There is a keen competition for places in the squad. This situation must be maintained such that at the next World Cup we would be able to launch our arrival as a world power in football. It is from that prism that the match against Brazil should be viewed. Our team is a work in progress but from emerging bits and pieces, it is promising to be what we would be proud of and have always been praying for. Those who want Gernot Rohr to leave should tarry a little. Now is perhaps not the time to rock the boat . Rather, it is time to steady the ship.
While we are still at this, we must enjoin the NFF to do everything it can to help our Dream Team qualify for the next Olympics. We have stayed too long out of reckoning. Similarly, our Golden Eagles must do well at this month’s U17 competition in Brazil. We have won the Championship five times and have produced stars there from. We cannot face relegation.
May the LORD bless our nation!