opinionBy Jonathan Isaiah
The Super Eagles of Nigeria put up a class performance to crush the Lone Star of Liberia 6-1 in the 2013 Nations Cup qualifier to South Africa. After missing out on the last edition there was pressure on the coaches and players to qualify for the next edition of the Nations Cup in order to redeem Nigeria's battered image in football and sports generally. It was a performance to remember as most Nigerian fans have forgotten when last they watched the Super Eagles win by such margin.
Already, there are talks of the Super Eagles winning the Nations Cup next year in South Africa and returning back to its glory days of the mid 90s when Nigeria won the Nations Cup in 1994 and qualified for the World Cup for the first time in its history and were ranked fifth in the world. That remains Nigeria's highest FIFA ranking till date.
But talks of the Super Eagles finally living up to their billing is rather too premature at this level. Even though they are no longer minnows in African football, the Lone Star offered nothing in attack and their game plan of defending was shattered when Efe Ambrose headed in the opener in the opening minute of the game. Even though they failed to put two or three passes together their foray into the Nigerian defence produced a goal.
That goes to show that the Super Eagles would struggle against a more formidable attacking side. The defence of the team is still the Achilles heel and Keshi needs to get the defence right and functioning if Nigeria is to have any hope of lifting the Nations Cup since 1994.The defence without Joseph Yobo's organisational skill looked shaky even though the full backs were rarely threatened throughout the game.
One would have wondered how the Eagles' defence would have fared against the likes of Ivory Coast or Ghana. Vincent Enyeama who used to be one of the leading lights of Nigerian football seemed to have lost his form due to some less than impressive performance. He was blamed by some of the fans for the 2-2 draw against the Lone Star in Monrovia and in the game against Liberia in Calabar, he was partly to blame for the Lone Star only goal as he would have done better for a goalkeeper of his calibre.
Its time Keshi started looking for quality defenders before the Nations Cup kicks off in January barely three months from now. One would wonder if Joseph Yobo gets injured before the Nations Cup. It will be a big blow to the Eagles and the form of Enyeama needs to improve before the Nations Cup.
Meanwhile, some positives can be taken from the game. First, is the return of the prodigal son Mikel Obi to the Eagles. Since Keshi took over as Eagles coach, Mikel has not played under him. He finally agreed to play this game against the Lone Star and many Nigerians were impressed by what they saw. Mikel played arguably his best game in Nigerian jersey and showed some glimpse of the form that saw him finish runner up to Lionel Messi as the best player in the 2005 Under 20 World Cup.
He had control of the midfield and brought stability to the midfield and many fans will be hoping he will do same when Nigeria faces tougher oppositions. The Eagles created a whole lot of chances which is a good sign. Another positive that can be taken from the game is that the attacking trio of Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and Emenike could be one of the best things that has ever happened to Nigeria.
They combined effectively throughout the game and with time could form one of the best attacking trio on the continent. The likes of Osaze Odemwingie, Chinedu Obasi, Victor Nsofor and Obafemi Martins days in the team may be over with these three in contention coupled with Ik Uche who has been Nigeria's most consistent performer in the past two years. Nigeria's attack may be good to go but Keshi has lot more to do.
Keshi also etched himself into history books as the first coach to qualify three countries to the Nations Cup having done so with Mali, Togo and now Nigeria. After the game against Liberia, he said some work still needs to be done for the Eagles to be considered as the favourite to lift the Nations Cup next year. He said: "I'm really glad that we won by such a scoreline.
But this doesn't mean we have arrived just yet. Of course, we took away some very positives from the game and I won't also say we didn't have some shaky moments. Now that's where we will be working on before the Nations Cup proper in South Africa next year." He also stated that the team needs more games in order to be more competitive. "We need more games before the Nations Cup to keep us together as a team and form a high-level bond and blend because the Nations Cup will present a totally different ball game all together.
Remember that there are no home and away legs in the Nations Cup. You've got to be decisive at such big stage if you want to compete with the big boys on the continent. One game you're either in or out. But it will be an interesting championship as we look forward to the draws."