Can These Eagles Redeem Themselves? By Mumini Alao

WHEN I wrote the original article titled “Super Eagles, Shame On You!” some days back, I wasn’t thinking of doing a sequel so soon. My commentary was a condemnation of the team’s unpatriotic protest over alleged non-payment of their camp allowances and bonuses at the AFCON. I never realized that a bigger shame was waiting around the corner for Nigeria.

On Sunday evening, June the 30th, 2019 in Alexandria, Egypt, it happened. The “mighty” Super Eagles were outclassed, outrun, out-thought, our-skilled and comprehensively beaten 2-0 by a Madagascar side making their debut at the AFCON. It was the biggest upset of the tournament so far. Shame On You Again, Super Eagles!

It is no excuse that coach Gernot Rorh dropped some of his regular starters Kenneth Omeruo, Alex Nwobi and Wilfred Ndidi because the team had already qualified for the knockout stage. Even when the latter two were introduced in the second half, they simply couldn’t punch a hole in a well organized, cohesive and tactically astute Madagascar team.

The less that is said about Leon Balogun’s howler that gifted away the first goal, the better. Some commentators say John Ogu should take the blame for making the pass to Balogun, but I disagree. Balogun had enough space and time to RUN TOWARD THE BALL and clear it to safety but, apparently, his match-rustiness from sitting on the bench all-season at Brighton caught up with him, thus allowing the Madagascar steal the ball and put it away.

But it will be unfair to blame Balogun alone. After that goal in the 13th minute, the whole team had enough time to turn the game around but they simply couldn’t trouble the opposing defense nor put a shot on target. It was an all-round pathetic display by Nigeria which was rightly punished by a fortuitous second goal from a deflected free-kick in the second half.

The general talk is that the Eagles underrated their lowly-rated opponent. In my opinion, the problem goes deeper than that. At the start of the tournament, I wrote that the Eagles were NOT one of the favourites for the trophy and they would need to practically “Cross the Red Sea” for any consideration whatsoever. If Rorh cannot find a formation or formula or the creativity within his squad to unlock opposing defenses which clearly has been Nigeria’s biggest challenge so far at this AFCON, the Eagles may well get ready to be buried at the Red Sea in their next game.

Were that to happen, it is very unlikely that Rorh will survive the inquest that will follow. Already, the knives are out for him within the Nigeria Football Federation hierarchy for the role he played during the players’ ill-advised bonus protest. Unfortunately for him and his players, they currently do not enjoy the support of the majority of the fans who have been disappointed by their performances. Indeed, I dare say that their performances so far do not deserve any bonuses and their earlier protest for payment has set public opinion against them.

Can the Eagles redeem themselves? That is the $10,000 question that they have to answer on Saturday in their Round of 16 match. At the time of writing this, it wasn’t clear whom they would face between our eternal rivals, Cameroun or Ghana in Group F.

To put it mildly, either of those two carries a big threat of defeat and early elimination for the Eagles. On the flip side, they also provide a great opportunity for Rorh and his boys to reclaim the love and support of the Nigerian fans if they manage to surmount that threat and progress further in the tournament. The Red Sea beckons!

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