The Super Eagles attempted to banish the unhappy memories of the Flying Eagles’ elimination from the World Cup and the Falcons defeat to Australia by beating the Chadian national team 2 – 0 in the opening round of the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifying competition – but only just.
The team grinded out the three points after another uninspiring performance (on a poor playing surface) against a side currently 129 places below it in FIFA’s ranking. It was the usual disjointed pattern of play with no fluidity (characteristic of the Eagles under the current leadership) which will in this case be blamed on the fact that there were three debutants in the starting line-up while only two of the nine were regulars.
The defence was a bit more stable than in recent times though it still experienced some very anxious moments. Amidst reports he will retire after the 2017 AFCON, Vincent Enyeama underlined his indispensability by earning a clean sheet on his record 101st Super Eagles game. Leon Balogun, Kenneth Omeruo, along with debutants William Ekong and Kingsley Madu gave a good account of themselves as did Anderson Esiti who I believe will grow to be very influential sidekick or replacement for Onazi in the midfield.
Ogenyi Onazi did not do himself a lot of good by getting sent-off at a time when the debate rages on about his deteriorating performances. John Ogu was his usual bullish self in the few minutes he came on for the expelled Onazi. Michael Babatunde buzzed around unproductively for the entire first half and part of the second before tiring out, and duly replaced by Rabiu Ibrahim who showed flashes of the huge talent that appeared to have wilted, and making a good case for future invitations.
|Aaron Samuel against the Chadian defenders|
Before being substituted due to injury, Aaron Samuel did not look too comfortable as point man; he is better suited as a support striker. Gbolahan Salami worked his socks off in what could easily be considered his best game in a green shirt and got due reward by scoring a great goal after being set up by substitute Odion Ighalo. The reinvented Ighalo followed up his assist with a questionable penalty.
Coach Keshi got off to a winning start in “Season III” with the Super Eagles, but his tactical nous is still leaves a lot to be desired, hardly inspiring any belief that he can build anything close to the world class team the country craves. The injection of new faces was a welcome development as the team is in need of regeneration, but without the tact to effectively utilize the right players it might end up an exercise in futility as the team will continually underperform and underachieve.
Aside the win, another positive from the game for me was seeing William Troost-Ekong file out for the Super Eagles – more so, as one of four would-be members of the next Olympic team (the others being Omeruo, Madu and Esiti). After successfully securing his international future, I hope Kenneth Otigba, Derik Osede and very importantly Tiago Ilori can be brought in.
In all this, it is pertinent to remember that for all the individual and collective plaudits and paucity that tailed this game, if the Super Eagles is struggling to beat Chad (in much the same way it does against most “smaller” opposition within Africa), clearly no progress has then been made in the team over the last four years; it could very well even be retrogressing. There is still enormous work to be done consequently.