By Patrick Omorodion
It is a sad spectacle that the 2012 Africa Nations Cup started yesterday with fanfare without the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation. It has dawned on both those who mismanage the game in the country and ardent fans of the Eagles that their darling team are not part of the African fiesta.
Some Nigerians have even vowed that they would simply stick to watching Premiership matches while some others said that with or without the Eagles, they would sit and watch good football presented by those who qualified, especially the West African teams, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Niger and Mali.
While Nigerians are still sulking over the non qualification of their team, they should take solace in the fact that the team’s new gaffer, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has lived up to his word of making the Eagles camp very competitive by involving the home-based players who have shut out over the years.
He, with the support of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF which has no option anyway but to support in the face of the crash of football in the land, opened up a wholly home-based camp with top players from different teams in the local league.
While knocking up the boys in shape, Keshi, himself a product of the local league in his days before he found succour in the Belgian league in the 1980s, inspired them with the promise that they will surely form part of his team to play the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers which begins with the Kigali tie against the Amavubi Stars of Rwanda next month.
The zeal and determination with which the boys carried out instructions passed on to by the crew of Keshi, Sylvanus Okpalla, Dan Amokachi and Ike Shorunmu, showed that the players mean to really stand the big boys from Europe boot for boot in the quest for a jersey which has been thrown up for grabs.
Which other way could they have proved that but with the international friendly they had with Nations Cup bound Angola, Nigeria’s nemesis in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Just assembled for about three weeks, the boys stretched the Angolans to the limit until the visitors ran away with a goalless result,just good enough not to deflate their morale before their opening game against Burkina Faso in Malabo today.
Before that game at the Abuja National Stadium, some Nigerians who have never hidden their displeasure with the home-based players after they failed to qualify for the home-based Nations Cup in Sudan last year were expecting a routing of the team and may have used the fuel subsidy strike as an excuse to stay away from the venue. They were shocked by the result and have not ceased heaping accolades on them since then.
But Keshi would not want an early praise for the players which could scuttle his plans with the boys and quickly begged Nigerians to hold their praise for now. Keshi’s efforts so far with the home-based squad will be appreciated more if the result of the friendly between Niger Republic and home-based Cameroonian side in Yaounde the other day. Niger beat Cameroon 3-1 in Yaounde.
Yes, both Nigeria and Cameroon failed to qualify for the African football festival on-going in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Both countries are rebuilding, with home-based players. Both tested the might of their young teams with Nations Cup bound teams and the result should speak volume of what to expect in the days ahead.
While Keshi lined out his green horns against an Angolan team with pedigree in African soccer, Cameroon had Niger, an unknown quantity in African football, at least going by the history of the Nations Cup or club football in the continent.
Any day Angola is a stronger opposition to Niger and for Keshi’s wards to hold them is an indication that Keshi’s experiment would work out in the long run. At least the so-called big boys from European clubs will no longer hold the country to ransom anytime they are invited for a national assignment as there will be readily available replacements for them.
This is the time to give Keshi all the support he deserves as he rebuilds the Eagles who have been brow-beaten beyond redemption before his arrival. The risk or experiment Keshi has undertaken is laudable and the ball is now in the court of the local players who should not allow the rot in the management of the local league affect their performance but show their God-given talent to Nigerians and the world at large.