Nigeria’s Super Eagles; The Nations Cup bronze specialists
The Super Eagles hold the record of the highest number of bronze medals won by any team at the Africa Cup of Nations-seven. Can the two-time African champions, now tagged bronze specialists, prove their critics wrong this time at the 2013 edition in South Africa by winning the trophy? ’TANA AIYEJINA reports
Nigeria’s Super Eagles once occupied a place of pride in African football. That was between the 1980s and the mid 1990s.
During this period, the team won the Africa Cup of Nations twice (1980 and 1994) and reached the final twice (1984 and 1990). In 1992, the Eagles ended up in third place after beating Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions 2-1 in the third place match.
That was the third time Nigeria won the bronze medal at Africa’s top football showpiece having finished earlier in third place in the 1976 and 1978 editions of the competition.
The Eagles ended up in second place in 2000 after coming back to the competition following a CAF ban. Thereafter, the team won bronze in the next three editions in 2002, 2004 and 2006. After a disappointing quarter-final exit in the 2008 edition in Ghana, the team ‘bounced back’ again to third place at Angola 2010.
After winning bronze for the seventh time, Nigerian analysts dubbed the medal ‘Golden Bronze.’
Truly, Nigeria has not been able to realise her true potential despite the array of talents produced by the country. Whereas Egypt has won the Nations Cup a record seven times, the likes of Ghana and Cameroon have also won it four times respectively.
This has prompted keen followers of the country’s game to argue that Nigeria could have done better than the two wins it recorded since the inception of the competition in 1957.
After failing to qualify for the 2012 edition, the Eagles, once tournament favourites, have been tagged underdogs by the media and followers of the African game, a development which skipper Joseph Yobo said suites the squad.
However, there are varied opinions on whether the Eagles can go on further by winning the trophy itself.
Coach Stephen Keshi’s side begin their Group C campaign with a tricky tie against Burkina Faso’s Stallions on January 21 before playing champions Zambia and Ethiopia on January 25 and 29 respectively.
Adokiye Amiesimaka, a 1980 Nations Cup winner, doubts the chances of the present squad changing the status quo but he insists Keshi should be allowed to manage the team irrespective of victory or not in South Africa.
“As a Nigerian, I would want us to win the Nations Cup. Our recent 1-1 draw against Catalonia in a friendly match was not bad considering that we played against a team made up of superstars but against Cape Verde, it was not so good,” he said.
Amiesimaka added, “Friendly matches are virtual competitions relevant for experimentation concerning players, tactics and team strategies and so results may not matter much. We are hopeful that we would have learnt our lessons from those games.
“One can only hope that we blend to enable the coach adopt strategies that will help the team achieve maximum results.
“Overall, I don’t think we are good enough to win the gold now. I doubt if we can do better than we have done in the recent past.
“But Keshi is bold for trying out products of our not so qualitative domestic league thereby sending useful message to administrators to do something about it as therein lies the future of our football
“We must focus on the league. We can’t keep relying on players produced from other leagues. We may not expect much from this team but Keshi should be allowed to build it with the necessary support of administrators.”
Another 1980 Nations Cup winner, Segun Odegbami, shares the same view with Amiesimaka.
“I don’t think this is the time we will win,” Odegbami said. “It’s not impossible to win the cup but it is unlikely. We don’t have a team yet; we just identified some new players on the eve of the Nations Cup.
“I think we are going to win next time, not now. By then, Keshi would have had time to build his team. It’s surely going to be a long rough road.”
Even though former Nigeria defender, Taribo West, is not expecting ‘miracles or signs and wonders’ from the team, he believes the Eagles can come out triumphant on February 10.
“This team can go beyond winning the bronze medal. They are building and progressing with every game, which means they can become champions,” the hard-as-nails former centre-back, who helped the Eagles reach the final of the 2000 edition, said.
“The likes of (Victor) Moses, (Godfrey) Oboabona and (Nosa) Igiebor have brought creativity to the squad. It makes them unpredictable,” he added.
Former Nigeria midfielder, Etim ‘Maradona’ Esin says the lure of winning the cup as a player and coach would spur Keshi and his team on.
Keshi led Nigeria to victory at the 1994 edition in Tunisia, though playing bit role on the way to the final.
Etim said, “Keshi won it as a player and he would certainly want to win it again as a coach. He is someone who can drive others to success.”
Edema Fuludu, a 1994 winner of the competition says the team needs a ‘psychological push’ if they must reach the final.
The former Turkey-based player said, “I watched their games against Catalonia and Cape Verde and they didn’t play to expectations of Nigerians. We want a team we will have confidence on in South Africa.
“Keshi has selected the best players from his perspective but I have my misgiving because one or two players shouldn’t be in that squad.
“This Eagles have to work extra hard to win. Our team cannot be qualified as strong yet. We saw how Ghana played Egypt in a recent friendly game.
“The Eagles need a lot of psychological push to get to the final. But first things first: we must leave the group stage before talking of winning the trophy.”Punch