Saturday, January 19, 2013

SUPER EAGLES: WHAT HAS CHANGED? by Chijioke ''CeeJay'' Ezeali
I grew up loving football thanks to my Dad, and my best team back then was the National team of Nigeria popularly referred to as the Green Eagles before their present tag “Super Eagles”. 

I was born in the 80’s so my first real supportership experience was during the 1988 Nations cup held in Morocco and the memories of that screamer by Samuel Okwaraji against the Cameroonian National side still registers in my heart just like the Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh’s goal against Spain at the France 98’ world cup although I still need to ask Oliseh if it was “Dosu” he shouted after he scored or “I see you” as he ran away from team mates like a mad man that escaped treatment towards the cheering crowd.
The Eagles of that era played beautiful football and on match days the streets of Lagos go empty, stadiums filled, some glued to their television screens, while the restaurants and viewing centers serve as wonderful match venues for others. 

We danced into the night when the Eagles won and sad whenever they lost but personally I cried all the time, that’s how much I loved the Eagles.

In 1994 the Super Eagles really earned the tag “Super” when they were adjudged the second most entertaining team at the USA 94’ world cup behind eventual winners Brazil and the 5th best footballing Nation in the world on the FIFA ranking list under the tutelage of Dutch¬-Nigerian Clements Westerhof and skippered by Stephen Okechukwu”D Big Boss” Keshi.
How do we forget the fantasy football played by the team even when it was their first world cup, George Finidi was arguably the best crosser of the ball at the time in the world.
Rasheedi Yekini was undoubtedly amongst the best strikers in the world, there was no fitter player in world football than Daniel “D bull” Amokachi even Diego Maradona needed to use performance enhancing drugs to keep up with his energy. 
Samson Siasia intelligent chip against Argentina made him look like a veteran whom had played in three previous world cups.Uche ”D gentle giant” Okechukwu and Chidi Nwanu’s presence at the back scared attackers not to talk of them trying to shoot at Peter Rufai or keeper Rufai as I used to call him back then.
Benedict Iroha and Micheal Emenelo(currently Roman Ambrahimovic’s right hand man at Chelsea football club) made the coaches so confused on who to pick because both were excellent left backs, Sunday Oliseh, Thompson Oliha, and Austin Okocha were midfielders of great abilities and technical understanding. 

I remember against Italy before Roberto Baggio broke our hearts the Italian defenders pushed each other forward in confusion on who to mark Austin Okocha because his dribbling skills made them look like school boys.
I must also mention that Austin Eguwavon our right back at the time looked the less talented of the bunch but truth be told, we’ve not had a quality right back since then until date maybe with the exception of Jero Shakporie who had an injury against Holland in a friendly before the france 98’world cup and since then I haven’t heard of him again.

I knew it took the 1994 team three nations cup to get things right with the same coaching crew but the quality of the players were never in doubt even at the 1990 nations cup when they lost their opening game 5-1 to host Algeria led by mercurial Ruber Mager, the Eagles got to the finals of that tournament and lost to the same team 1-0 in the final, an incredible show of fighting spirit, believe, and hard work qualities our present Eagles will do well to emulate.
On January 19th 2013, the African nation’s cup starts in South Africa and Nigeria has been placed in group C alongside Zambia (defending champion), Burkinafaso, and Ethiopia. The big question will be can Nigeria win the tournament? It may be difficult but not impossible, all the keshi led team needs to do is play six perfect games and the trophy is theirs but that’s easier said than done. 

The quality of the Nigerian team has dropped over the years to the extent that they didn’t even qualify for the last Nations cup held in Gabon and Equitorial Guinea and playing small nations like Namibia and Liberia scares us that’s how much the Eagles I know have changed. 

In our present Eagles we’ve got a lot of average players just like the English national team yet some fans expect them to win the nations cup but for me a quarter final berth will be enough for the present team and if they achieve more it will be a bonus. 

The Ivory coast team did not concede a goal from the opening day play during the last Nations cup yet they lost out to Zambia, the Ghanaian team looks solid and compact that’s if they don’t self-destruct, and the South Africans are host, the last time they hosted in 1996 they won with great players like Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish and Doctor Khumalo. 

These teams I rate above the Super Eagles but patriotism runs in my veins so I want the Eagles to do well but regardless of whatever happens the coaching crew should be left in charge for the sake of continuity and team bonding just like Joseph Yobo(the present Eagles captain)acknowledged”…………… 
it’s great to have a coaching crew that understands how we feel as players” and Mr Larry Izamoje(CEO Brila fm) always echo’s the words of a great football personality “only a gang can win a world cup” and I say that no foreign coach has ever won the world cup. 

It’s important we believe and support our own; the Eagles can get it right again even if the present Eagles are lazy, over paid, pampered and less talented than the Eagles of 1980 and 1994 set just remember Rome was not built in a day.                     

Chijioke Ezeali ''Ceejay'' is a creative football writer whose write up touches virtually every part of the beautiful game. He is a football analyst on Superscreen television and he also runs one of the most vibrant football chat group on BBM. His twitter handle is @BrownSmiles001.

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