Monday, December 6, 2021

Nigeria – One foot already in Russia 2018!

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Super Eagles’ Captain, John Obi Mikel (left), celebrating with his teammates after leading Nigeria to a 3-1 defeat of Algeria in a Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier played in Uyo. PHOTO: AFP.

After last weekend’s series of matches Nigeria leads the ‘Group of Death’ and looks good to go to the 2018 World Cup.

After only two of 6 round-robin group matches to be played, both victories against Zambia (away) and Algeria (at home), with 4 points separating her from the nearest other team Nigeria is in bright daylight.

The other 3 teams have, so far, effectively canceled each other out with all the matches they have played against each other ending in agonizing draws.

Nigeria now stands alone at the top of the group table with 6 points, a feat earned on merit by playing some delightful attacking football with an emerging new set of players that are restoring confidence and re-positioning the Super Eagles for even greater things to come. Suddenly, the generality of Nigerians are brimming with newly found confidence!

Victor Moses – outstanding star quality
Having said all that, special tribute must be paid to one player that has actually made the greatest difference in the team. His composure, maturity and exceptional performance, particularly in the last match against a very technically sound Algeria, mark him out as Nigeria’s present most outstanding player.

It is not surprising that he is doing very well now in the national team. It has not been so in the past two years. This season he is a key figure in a rejuvenated Chelsea FC that has become an authentic challenger for the EPL championship. So well is he playing that, in a season with a dearth of really outstanding African players, Moses could have been an authentic nominee also for the award of Africa’s best player. I feel really sad that he missed out on the shortlist. Justifiably, in the first half of 2016 he was obscure. In this second half, under new Chelsea coach Conte he has found his form, playing the best football of his life and shining like a million stars!

Playing on the right side of the Chelsea FC frontline he falls back deep into his defense to mark opposing wingers, joins the midfield in pressing and starting counter attacks, runs wide down the right flank to deliver crosses and sometimes even goes for goal himself. For the Eagles, his two goals against Algeria were a true reflection of his present level of play, efficiency and effectiveness.

Moses has become the complete wing back in modern football parlance – a combination of defender, midfielder and forward rolled into one player. He is presently so consistent and effective that he is way up there with any of the best African players in Europe (and they are just a handful at the moment).

If he continues to play the way he is doing presently, and stays free of serious injuries, he would be a prime candidate for Africa’s Best Player award next year.

Foreign Coach Gernot Rohr.
I did not support the idea of hiring a foreign coach for the Super Eagles a few months ago. My position was simply based on principle – a few African countries, including Nigeria, now have a pool of talented, experienced, exposed, intelligent and qualified retired international players, that can serve that purpose and deserve the opportunity to do so in order to accumulate the experience, shore up their credentials and replace the over-rated, over-recycled, unknown foreign coaches that have dominated both our psyche and our national teams because of their perceived superior technical knowledge.

Since Gernot was hired, however, I promised not to join in any conversation about him. Unfortunately, seeing how well the Eagles have started to play under him, how better organised the team has become, how several new players are emerging and making an impact, I shall be failing in my responsibility as a commentator not to acknowledge these and give some credit to the man. There is something he is doing that the Nigerian coaches before him obviously failed to do that is making all the difference.
So, have I changed my mind about foreign coaches and their colonization of African football? No way!

Credit must, however, go to Gernot Rohr even as the elements have conspired at this time to enrich him with young players coming of age at the same time, hewn by the EPL.

That team, from everything we can see so far, is on a trajectory of improvement and strength, not weakness.

For now, Rohr has given the proponents of foreign coaches in Africa a new lease of life.

Finally, only a performance of calamitous dimension by the Super Eagles in any of their remaining four matches still to be played in 2017 could see them relinquish their present stranglehold on the leadership of Group D and stop them from representing Africa in Russia.

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