16 February 2013

Nigeria: The Return of the Super Eagles!

Recall from last week: It is the evening of the eve of the final match of Afcon 2013. I am looking at my crystal ball, and I see an eagle hovering high up in the sky in majestic splendor, its squinted eyes riveted on a target below - a gold trophy.

Suddenly, like a meteorite falling from the sky, the eagle dives down headlong, its wings spread out, its two feet hanging menacingly loose.

It smothers the trophy, almost covering it from sight with its flapping wings.

With powerful claws, in one seamless movement, it lifts the crown and soars back high into the sky just as darkness descends upon the face of the earth.

In that same moment, the pounding hooves of a galloping stallion punctuate the scene, it's breath a labored panting, its nostrils flailing, spewing smoke and fire, and dripping spittle.

It screeches crazily to a shuddering halt, looking helplessly and hopelessly into the darkening sky at the retreating eagle, the prize between its feet, flying away and fading into the distance, into the night, into the darkness.

My crystal ball goes blank and then black for the last time. The drama that has gripped the whole world is over. The eagle has won!

The sound of trumpets pierces the night in concert with the melody and eerie sounds of the vuvuzela! Vuvuzela? Yes, South Africans are celebrating, but not the coveted crown that has been taken away by the eagle. They are celebrating the success of a great feast of football that has successfully, again, taken place over the past three weeks in their land, setting records in attendance and profit beyond expectations.

So they celebrate, merging the sound of their vuvuzela with the rhythmic drumming, trumpeting and singing of the celestial supporters from the West - from Nigeria!

In great titanic battles, the eagles tamed the lions from Ethiopia, dodged the coppered bullets of the warriors from Zambia, over-powered the old lumbering elephants with giant ivories from Cote D'Ivoire, gave hunting tutorials to the smaller eagles from Mali, and then finally outran and outsmarted the stallions from Burkina Faso.

It has been a great fight till the very end, but the king of birds has used its strength and speed and agility to dominate all opposition and rise again and seat on the throne at the summit of African football.

It is a deserved and well-earned victory, and even the angels have joined the rest of the world to mark the return of the Super Eagles in the melodic chorus: 'Fly Eagles Fly'.

Keshi's experiment worked!

The triumph of the Super Eagles is well earned and merited.

Looking back and going through the entire championship they were easily the strongest team. They improved from match to match even as they started shakily largely because of the bad pitch they had to play on and the lack of faith openly demonstrated even their own closest officials and people.

But a champion team is one that still manages to win even when it sometimes plays badly! Keshi knew this and stuck to his strategy to win first and complain later.

National coach, Stephen Keshi's experiment, was to build a new team made up generally of younger players, of several players from the domestic league and of only professional players from abroad that are playing regularly in their foreign clubs. He was going to shun and discard old players that had had their time and 'failed' and were only going to be a source of indiscipline and unnecessary distraction for the team. It succeeded.

Keshi returned the team to the good old days of a calm and efficient goalkeeper, of wingers that are really athletes running at defenders and tearing up defenses with speed, power and precision shooting, a midfield of tireless runners organized by a maestro (Mikel Obi), and an impregnable defense of big, strong, efficient and hard-tackling players. The Westerhof football philosophy was written all over Keshi's assembly. He has learned well.

Best team in Africa

After Afcon 2013, the Super Eagles have really returned as Africa's undisputed African football kings. The team will reign for some years to come. Through out the championship, they were never under any threat of a defeat. They did not lose any match. They were not dominated by any team. They were so vastly superior that they outran, outsmarted and overpowered every opposition.

They were simply the best and the strongest team at Afcon 2013.

Some highlights

The coach of the championship is undoubtedly Stephen Keshi. Several teams really impressed. They include Cape Verde Islands that proved that the size of a country has little to do with the quality of their football; Burkina Faso, that showed that a team of committed and hardworking fighters can go places; Ethiopia, that showed that the Tiki Taka style of Spanish (Barcelona FC) football is not only a delight to the eyes but is berthing also in Africa; and Mali that showed what impact one great player in a team can have.

South Africa did well in hosting another great football festival.

Poor officiating raised serious questions about the integrity, competency and ability of African referees. Many matches were marred by decisions that could interpret as incompetency, bias, or even corruption.

The television coverage of the matches, the technical analysis on Supersport channels, and the racy commentaries were a great credit to the development of television broadcasting in Africa.

Overall, Afcon 2013 has been a great advertisement for African football.

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