By Paul Bassey
One of the questions I was asked when I came back to Nigeria was, “who was your favourite Eagle?”
I said Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amesiemeka Stephen Keshi Daniel Amokachi…… the reporter cut in. “sir, I mean in the current squad” I thought the question was unfair. I said that it was easier for me to talk about the players in the context of the matches played and any attempt to single out players may not augur well for the team’s unity.
The reporter said I was dancing round that he believed I should be able to say something on all the players as a way of looking ahead.
I surrendered, in a way. I said I should be allowed to mention but a few.
Stand in Keeper Vincent Enyeama used the Nations Cup to reestablish his position as number one in the country. During the qualifiers, Enyeama was accused of series of blunders that spelt doom for his future. Coach Keshi was pressurized to drop him, but he thought otherwise.
In a chat we had on our way from South Africa during the Nations Cup draws, he told me that he was interested in making the goalkeeper gain back his confidence and that though he will give others a chance or two, Enyeama was still in his plans.
Fate was to play a significant role in this arrangement. Enyeama was not part of the trip to the US against Venezuela, he was on the bench when we played against Cape Verde in Portugal when a muscle pull ruled out Ejide and Enyeama stepped in. Vincent is considered as one of the few goalkeepers that do not panic when confronted with a back pass. Solid.
Godfrey Oboabona, I can talk about. As CAF Champions League consultant to Sunshine Stars Football Club of Akure, I was exposed to the potentials of this industrious player who still has years of football in him. There is no doubt that what Godfrey lacks in experience, he makes up in determination and energy.
Kenneth Omeruo was one of the revelations of the competition.. Strong, fearless, youthful and eager to go, he benefitted from Yobo’s “unavailability” to stamp his authority as a key member of Keshi’s future plans.
Sunday Mba, perhaps the most celebrated member of the team, thanks to two key strikes, goals that we say in sporting jargon “ Came from the blues”. Possesses a never say die attitude. Not one to shy out of a fight.
Efe Ambrose was another player that won my heart. Eager to overlap, his display of confidence on the ball was a delight to watch. Always wanted to be on the starting line up. I credit his foreign exposure.
I thank Victor Moses for opting to play for Nigeria and I am also happy that he has been rewarded for his show of patriotism.
During the Nations Cup, I found out that Moses was not a 90 minutes player. Was it the weather? Food? What?…but while on the field he gave his all and his sublime skills were a delight. Roll back to the semi final when he tied a Malian defender in knots, left him for dead before crossing for Echiejile to head home. Glad that some of his colleagues acknowledged him as the author of that opening goal.
Mikel Obi. The enfant terrible of Nigerian football finally came good. African football watchers credit him with a lot of creative work in the midfield that resulted in the stability of the team and subsequent forays that produced the desired results
Elderson Echiejile. Before now a Super Eagles material on the fringe. Workaholic. Burst of speed and energy unlimited, perfect run to connect Victor Moses cross against Mali for our first goal.
Emmanuel Emenike’s “let fly”goal against Cote Divoire remains my Nigeria goal of the tournament. I replay it again and again. The Ivorien keeper must have heard something fly pass his ear. He never saw it. Unfortunately Emenike was not hundred per cent fit as injury even kept him out of the final.
I must confess I was not a fan of Ogenyi Onazi before the final. Here is a lad who used the competition to explain why he is in Lazio.
Nosa Igiebor is also a midfielder that will serve Nigeria for a long time to come. Has latent talent, is naturally gifted and on his day can shine like a million stars.
The last player I want to mention today is Brown Ideye. We may not have seen enough of Brown during the Nations Cup, but he did enough to guarantee the attention of the coaches for future call ups.
Today, I will rest this review that has been controversial as it has been exciting even for me as the writer.
I wish I will find time to publish the several rejoinders, (for and against) that I have received on some of the issues raised which are strictly personal. Some have called me a Keshi hater, forgetting that we are products of Saint Finbarr’s College The college with the greatest football history in Nigeria ( Another controversy ?) There are others who need to be told that the moment Coach Siasia was dropped, I was the one who moved a motion on the Technical Committee floor for the immediate invitation of Stephen Keshi and there has been no regrets ever since
Otunba Mike Ikazoboh dubbed it “rubbish talk”. Hon Akpofa Mathew (08038155929) will wish it does not stop, drawing a lot of lessons from it, while F. Chigbufe ( 08033236649) called it “ objective and heart warming analysis”. Win some, lose some.
It is the future that counts. I am already looking forward to March 23 and the resumption of hostilities, this time the world cup qualifiers. Again we have also waited for too long to make an impact. Over to you Big boss and the glory boys.
As I join my colleagues to mourn the passing on of Joe Ighile, the humble and gentle Sports boss of Channels TV, See you next week.