With two resounding victories within a spate of two days, the new-look Super Eagles restore their fans’ faith and confidence in a team that has under-achieved over the years
It was half time and the Super Eagles of Nigeria was only leading the Wayla Antelopes of Ethiopia by a lone goal during the Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 African Nations Cup qualifying match played in Abuja on March 27.
Expectedly, there was palpable apprehension among the Nigerian fans, who had trooped to the stadium to watch what is believed to be the new Super Eagles. “Make una dey sell whips too oh in case these boys no perform,” quipped one young man outside the stadium, just after he had bought a N300-match ticket from the vendor. He is not alone. Equally worried fans also began to say mock prayers binding every satanic force preventing the Eagles from scoring goals and winning convincingly.
Their prayers were soon answered. What happened in the next 45 minutes can be described as a miracle. Three further goals – one more from Peter Utaka who scored the first goal and a brace from Ikechukwu Uche (who just returned to action after an 18-month injury layoff) ensured the Eagles strolled to a convincing 4-0 win.
And the fans went ecstatic. They sure have good reasons to be. The Eagles had never won by four clear goals in years. For Samson Siasia, Super Eagles chief coach, it was a promising start. “We did what we were supposed to do and scored four goals. I am pleased with my players and we would keep moving from here,” he noted at the post-match conference. Many agreed that this evolving Eagles team, which was a blend of youth and experience, played with more hunger and passion to win. This is a clear departure from its recent inglorious past. The new trend was further established two days after when the Eagles team beat Kenya three goals to nothing in a friendly match.
However, some have expressed caution over the team’s ability to produce consistent match-winning performances, especially against tougher oppositions. Siasia noted the same when he said that it would be a different ball game when the Eagles face other teams. “From my assessment, as long as we keep doing what we are doing, what I foresee is we can only get better and when we meet another team it will be a different ball game,’’ he said.
The Eagles handler also has the support of fans. “I think it’s still early days but then it is a wonderful start, which is a sign of what is to come. I can’t remember the last time the Eagles scored four ‘unreplied’ goals,” said Sayo Owolabi of Inspiration FM, Lagos, while alluding that Siasia made the right decision to include new and younger players into his current squad. “Nigeria is blessed with abundant talent and if Siasia and his crew can blend them well; the Eagles team are billed for the top, only time will tell,” he noted. For Osasu Obaiyuwana, that time could be at least three years or more for Siasia’s work to be better assessed. “Honestly, he (Siasia) would need time to mould this team,” said Obayiuwana.
A different looking Eagles team who played against Kenya in the friendly match two days after seemed to buttress his point, as the coach was still experimenting with the crop of players at his disposal.
Currently two points behind Guinea in Group B of the African qualifiers, Nigeria has three more matches to play — two of them away against Ethiopia and Madagascar respectively, and then Guinea at home. Slated for the first week of June, and days after they play Lionel Messi-led Argentina in a friendly, the match away to Ethiopia might just provide a sterner test for Siasia’s team.
But for now, many football-loving Nigerians just want to bask in the euphoria of a new Eagles team that would achieve better results. It is also more likely that tens of thousands of fans would gleefully follow the team wherever it plays both within and outside Nigeria. This much was evident in the March 27 Nations Cup qualifier where security personnel had a torrid time containing the building human traffic of ticket-holding fans from surging through the stadium gates.
Luckily for Edward Adebayo, he came two hours earlier, and so was spared the rush into the stadium. Interestingly, he brought along his wife and a year-old son. “This is my first time of watching the Eagles play and sure, we are going to have fun!” he said excitedly. “We are going to win by three goals to nil,” Adebayo said confidently as he made his way to the stands. As it turned out, he was right except that his prediction only happened two days later in a different match.