The Nigerian Super Eagles loss to the Desert Foxes of Algeria has left a pain in my mind that will not go away. This is for me and I believe majority of Nigerians. No pastime unites Nigerians like football. For those 90 odd minutes, all differences were sunk and Nigerians in oneness cheered their team in all hope of victory. Alas. The Super Eagles' dream of winning their fourth AFCON title was turned into a nightmare after a Riyad Mahrez late strike gave the Algerians a crucial 2-1 win. With only seconds to the final whistle, it was a disaster. Desert Foxes of Algeria are now set for the final against the Terranga Lions of Senegal on Friday.
It was a disappointing finish to a tournament Nigeria had hoped to win particularly given our track record at the last World Cup and the intense preparation that preceded the clashes in Cairo. We lost in matches we ought to have won. The Super Eagles did their best to win, but their best was just not good enough. The Algerians we all agree, were a superior side. We also lost to a series of avoidable defensive errors and one hopes that our football power house would review the losses in preparation for the future, taking solace in the team being young, fresh, and inexperienced.
The Super Eagles Coach Gernot Rohr already weakened our corporate resolve when he told the press that all we had hoped for was a third place and he felt that our optimum ambition in the tournament had been attained. This was after the victory of the Super Eagles over Bafana - Bafana, a game in which the Nigerian team showed class. How could he set such a discouraging bar? Saying so determined a mindset. It was obvious from the onset that Nigerians had gone into the pitch to play the same style of football played against Bafana - Bafana, the very style the Desert Foxes entered the pitch prepared for. Belmadi the Algerian coach said after the victory, "We had to make a plan for Nigeria. We knew that they like to use the pace of Musa and Chukwueze. They like to be direct in their approach,We tried to close those spaces. Musa's pace is so impressive. He was the most dangerous player in this team. I also knew that their defenders are very good, but not very fast. If you run at them, they struggle." This is technical depth for height from a good coach. Although this was evident from early in the game, the Super Eagles persisted to play their style to no success. Rohr and his technical team reading the game from the sidelines, did not force a strategy review, indeed the replacement of Chukwueze seemed tactically in error. The rest is history.
Nigeria easily has the best football team on the African Continent, made up of individual superstars. Because majority of them are high earning "limited liability companies" as international players, it is always impossible to forge a synergy in the team, particularly driven by patriotism and love of country. I had noted before the match against Algeria that the one weapon the Desert Foxes had against Super Eagles was a mindset of determination to win. How do you motivate dollar multi-millionaires to give their all to the game? Even after the half time, the Super Eagles did not return to the pitch with a changed strategy, insisting instead to penetrate the Algerian defence from the wings using Ahmed Musa and Chukwueze. The Desert Foxes returned to the pitch, more fired up. Nothing clicked for the Super Eagles.
Philanthropists, notably Femi Otedola and Aliko Dangote had tried to motivate the Super Eagles with a promise of $75,000 for every goal scored in the semi final. It has turned out Ekong scored an own goal and can not earn this, leaving Odion Ighalo who scored from a spot kick. Was this offer a sign of bad luck? Of course not. It just says that the offer played on the Nigerian attitude of greed, that we can give our hearts to anything if the motivation is financial. I can not rob the boys of fears that they have no insurance against injury or forced retirement. Within the ambience of the tournament was the tragic spectacle of one of our greats, Christian Chukwu, aided by the same Otedola to secure treatment abroad. What this implies is that the Nigerian Football Association has an act to get right with regards to philanthropist funding, fund raising and a robust welfare package for the players. More importantly is the task to develop the right mindset in the team - a challenge not helped by the political wrangling in the country, the exchange of hate banters between Nigerian leaders, and the general atmosphere of insecurity which in truth all combine to make it difficult for one to be a proud Nigerian.
Nigeria's biggest undoing in football is the inability to develop a team that practices to play as a team, each player knowing and agreeing with the other. Our coaches do not develop a team from home talent. They tour the fields and study internationals and we thus end up with a select star studded team that lacks synergy. Synergy is never a prematch preparation. It is developed through an arduous process of playing together for a long time, in order to forge different game plans that allow flexibility in the midst of competitive play. This is what our international stars know to be the secret behind the success of the teams they play for abroad.
The Super Eagles play Carthage Eagles of Tunisia for the third place today. Knowing Tunisia, the team enters the field with plans to extend the Algerian strategy that saw to the downfall of the Super Eagles. We sit, hearts in mouths in hope that even the third place does not elude our team. Gernot Rohr must work on the psyche of the team, to put the fluke loss to Algeria behind them and strive to defeat Tunisia. Best wishes.