17 November 2012

Nigeria: Befitting Gift for Eagles New Boys

It is an open secret that Nigerian football is now notorious for blowing hot and cool. Few days after the country's female national team the Super Falcons put up its woeful performances at the just concluded Africa Women Championship in Equatorial Guinea to cause Nigerian football fans so much pain, the Super Eagles on Thursday morning restored the nation's pride with a well deserved 3-1 victory over South American opponent, Venezuela.

Therefore, it is apt to say why the humiliating performance of the Falcons was the country's lowest moment, the performance of the Eagles came in timely as a soothing balm. Eagles victory over Venezuela was not the first for the country but for some of the players who filed out for the Eagles, it was their first appearance for the country.

Apart from the win being a morale booster as the team gets set to begin preparations for the January 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, it was a befitting gift for the new Eagles. For players like England based Shola Amoebi and USA Major League player, Bright Dike, there wouldn't have been anymore befitting welcome gift than the victory in Florida.

As it is normal with all international friendlies, it was an opportunity for the Super Eagles coach, Keshi to test more players as he tries to assemble a quality team for the Nations Cup next year. Expectedly, Amoebi who recently made up his mind to play for his fatherland after procrastinating for many years, was handed a chance to make his debut for the Eagles and he grabbed it with gratitude.

While he nursed the ambition of playing for England at the senior level, he played hide and seek with Nigerian football authorities. This time, the story was different as he honoured Keshi's invitation and provided an assist for Eagles's third goal.

At the end of the match Amoebi received words of commendation from Keshi who could not hide his feeling. "Shola was awesome the moment he got into the pitch. He showed his experience in the game and even when he was provoked his calmness was amazing. He was talking to the other players on what to do at a time we were under pressure and he was resilient, we sure need his experience for big tournaments. Look at the way and manner he shielded the ball, evaded being brought down before passing to Mba, who also gave it to Onazi for our third goal, Shola is a special player".

Apart from Amoebi, the victory was also a befitting gift for Chinedu Bright Dike who plays for Portland Timbers in the Major League Soccer in the USA. He was drafted into the team when some of the foreign based pros like Mikel Obi and Victor Moses pulled out of the friendly. He started in the match and came close to scoring on his debut but was denied by the goalkeeper. He also got kind words from Keshi who said "He's quick, aggressive and always coming back to defend and it was difficult for anyone to say this was the first time he was playing for Nigeria. I'm so happy that Bright did not disappoint and we will see when camp opens what he can do for the team".

Apart from the duo of Amoebi and Dike who are based abroad, Sunshine Stars Solomon Kwambe and Umar Zango of Kano Pillars had their debut for the Eagles and the victory was a welcome gift for them. Although it was a long wait for Zango who came close few occasions in the past, Kwambe did not wait that long.

Of the two NPL stars, Kwambe had more playing time against Venezuela and was able to justify his inclusion in the team. He crowned his spectacular showing on his debut with the assist which produced Nigeria's opening goal. Pundits are of the opinion that if the Benue State born right-full back sustains the tempo when camp resumes in December, he would be on his way to South Africa for the Nations Cup.

Even though he was not playing for Nigeria for the first time, Lazio wonder kid, Ogenyi Onazi got enough playing time to show what he is capable of doing. To show his appreciation for such an opportunity, the former Golden Eaglets star scored Eagles third goal when assisted in the dying minutes of the match by another 'new boy', Newcastle's Shola Amoebi.

Although he had his debut against Liberia last month in Calabar, Onazi came on in the closing minutes of the match and so it was a bit tight to assess him based on the few minutes he spent on the field. But on Thursday in Florida, he had enough time to make a bold statement.

Although the victory will certainly lift team spirit, football pundits say it calls for more sober reflection than celebration. Many analysts were not particularly satisfied with the defence line anchored by Azubuike Egwuekwe and Godfrey Obobana.

The Sunshine captain, Obobana literally struggled throughout the match and was guilty of gifting the opponents the ball in the vital area. His slip provided Venezuela's consolatory goal. As usual, Egwuekwe showed why he is always a huge suspect in the defence by continually losing his man.

Despite the lapses in the defence line, coach Keshi who confirmed that the Eagles defence was shaky, gave the team a clean bill of health as he said apart from towering Egwuekwe, all the players gave a good account of themselves. Speaking on Egwuekwe, he said "We just asked him to hold on and he did very well, otherwise every other person in the defence line was very good".

The Promised Land may not be anywhere in sight but Eagles recent performances have inspired some measure of confidence in even the team's unrepentant critics. However, it is at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations that the team's tenacity and real worth would be tested. The Nations Cup is usually the stage on which the best of African football is played.

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