My Nations Cup Storyand Super Eagles Chances
By Ehi Braimah
FOOTBALL is like opium taken by football fans around the world –the evidence abounds inevery stadiumenvironmentand around a televisionset screening alive match.Now, you can also watch a tension-soaked match on your tablet or smart phone, as long as it is internet enabledand the appropriate apps are downloaded, many thanks to rapidly growing technologies!
Nigerians are very passionate about football and the English Premier League(EPL)as well as other leagues in Europe have driven this passion to anall-timehigh. For those who do not know, I’m an Arsenal FC fan – a Gunner for life!
The excitementis usually palpable – chantsof ahhs and oohs rent the airarising from additional surge of adrenaline;energeticvictorysongsand gloomy faces of defeat tell the inevitable stories after 90 mins.Sometimes, a team can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as in the casesof Liverpool versus Barcelona and Ajax versus Tottenham – twonerve wreckingsemi-final Champions League matches that produced miraculous comeback victoriesby Liverpool and Tottenhamthatset the stagefor an all-England clubs finalin Madrid, Spain.
The Super Eagles of Nigeriaare set to participate at the next Africa Cup of Nations scheduled to hold from June 21 to July 19, 2019 in Egypt, with their group matches holding in Alexandria. Having missed the last two tournaments hosted by Equatorial Guinea in 2015 and Gabon in 2017, what are the chances of the Super Eagles now that the competition has been expandedinto a 24-team format?
Thefighting spirit displayed by Liverpool and Tottenham is what the Super Eaglesneed tobecome relevant again in African football.Nigeria has won the Nations Cup three times – in 1980 when we hosted the competition; in 1994 in Tunisia and 2013 in South Africa.
I was right inside theFNB Stadiumsix years agoin Johannesburg, South Africa,when the Super Eaglesguided by the late “Skippo” Stephen Okechukwu Keshi – may God Almightypreserve his soul —lifted the Nations Cup trophyas champions of Africa beating Burkina Fasoby a lone goalin an epic encounteron February 10, 2013whenthetournamentfeatured 16 countries.
Since 1957, Egypt has dominated African footballbywinning the Nations Cup a record seven times but the remarkable back to back wins in 2006, 2008 and 2010 standsthePharaohs out astheKings of African football. Cameroon and Ghanaon the other handhave won the Nations Cup four times each and the continental rivalry between these three countieshas become legendary.
It is being speculated that Egypt is‘hosting to win’again– that’s what they didin 1959, 1986and 2006. Thisshould be a source of concern to the other teams including Nigeria, merely looking at thehistorical records. Expectedly, MohammedSalah, theconfident striker and leading goal scorer who plays for Liverpool in England, will lead the attack for Egypt.
In trying toassess the chances of the Super Eagles and understand how our national teamcan overcome the formidablechallenge posedbyEgypt,Cameroon and Ghana,I called Bode Oguntuyi, a sports reporter of note and long standing colleague, to share his views on the matter.His view is that the Eagles will not be disgraced at the tournament but they will have to work very hard.
Nigeria will play alongside Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar in Group B at the tournamentin Alexandria. This is a group Nigeria should win without breaking too much sweat, with the toughest oppositionlikely to come from Guinea.
Recent statistics suggest thatthe Eagles should not under ratetheGuineans. The two countries were in the same qualifying group for the 2012Nations Cup, and the Syli Stars prevented the Eagles from taking their place at the main event followinga harrowing 2-2 draw in Abuja after the Guineans had won the first leg 1-0 at home.
Then, at the 2016 Africa Nations Championships, Guinea handed the home based Eagles another 1-0 defeat in the last group game to move into the quarter-finals while Nigeriaheaded home.For the Eagles to remain super and qualify from their group in Alexandria, Coach Gerard Rohr and his players should beware of theGuineansbecause, apart from Egypt further down the road, the Syli Starswill be out to stop them again.
Going by their current form, Bode expects theEagles to qualify from theirgroup but where they finish on the table may determine how far they go in the tournament.“If the Eagles take care of business and finish top of the group,they will be handed the relatively easy draw of playing the team that has the best third place finish in any of Groups A, C or D. But ifthey finish in second place, they will have to square off against the second placedteam in Group F which hasGhana and Cameroon,”says Bode.
I’m sure the Eagles would like to avoid a confrontation with Ghana and Cameroon so early in the tournament, a very good hint forGernot Rohr.
The competition gets tougherfrom that point on, since the chaff of the tournament would have been burnt off and only the teams with a real chance of winning the the trophy would be left.By the time we add Guinea and Egypt into the mix, the Eagles and the coaching crewshould know from Day Onewho their tough opponents would be and assess their chances critically.
Michael Porter, the world renowned professor of strategy, says strategy is all about winning by gaining competitive advantage.For example, having an influential midfielder or a top strikeror a goalkeeper with a safe pair of handscould be a good advantage.Mikel Obi was an influential midfield supremo at the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa, andI expect him to lead by example again in Egypt, especially now that he is the team captain.
Realistically, it should be considered a successful tournament for the Eagles should they make it to the semi-finals. After that, any other achievement is a bonus. The reason for this is simple:despite the impressive results of both the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers during which they won their tickets with a game to spare, the team is stillin transition. But because they are the Super Eagles of Nigeria, you underrate them at your peril.
*Braimah is a public relations and marketing strategist based in Lagos