By ONOCHIE ANIBEZE
Joseph Yobo was not happy that Eagles did not win the Nations Cup match in Kigali last Wednesday. But he was relieved in a sense. He was confident the team will be better in subsequent matches.
The superb performance of Azubuike Egwuekwe who paired with him in the central defence and the great support Godfrey Itama provided from the right back position were a great relief to Yobo who before now was said to suffering exhaustion in every game that he consumed after every game for Nigeria.
Yobo was always stretched almost to exhaustion level in Eagles matches because teammates in the defence lacked the pace and skill to hold attacking teams. His was always the yeoman in eagles defence and was naturally picked as man of the match in many games. In Kigali Yobo also had a good game. But this time he enjoyed great assistance from Azubuike, Itama and Kano Pillars’s Reuben who changed Dickson Etuhu in the defensive midfield and helped to check the forays of the Rwandans who mounted pressure on Eagles in the last minutes.
Reuben also unleashed a terrific shot that was goal-bound before it hit a defender who had to be attended to by the medical team for that action. He defended and attacked too. Before then Dickson Etuhu never tried to attack the opponents’ area even when there was space to do so. He passed most of his balls back like Mikel Obi.
Yobo has welcomed the changes Stephen Keshi and his technical crew were introducing into the national team and could be said to be the number one supporter of the new resolution to give home-based players greater roles in the national team. This followed his experience in Kigali.
“The home-based players did a great job and we are happy that the coach is now using them in games. We played together for the first time and in subsequent times we know that it will be better,” Yobo said after the match. At the post match media chat he had described Eagles as lucky not to have conceded a goal and maintained that they could have done better.
Back to the hotel he told this reporter that “we had the chance to score in the first half because they respected us and were cautious in their attack. But later when we didn’t score they developed confidence and their confidence grew with every minute that towards the end they could have scored.”
While on the flight back to Nigeria Ade Ojeikere said this to Stephen Keshi:
“In the past Yobo drank seven bottles of water after each game. But this time, he did not need to do so because of the support he got from the local players. He is very happy that you are introducing some changes.”
Eagles coaches have vowed to allow local players greater chance to play in the national team but the players must merit their places in the team.
For the first time since the exit of Clemens Westerhof six home-based Eagles were fielded in a Nations Cup qualifier and four of them played and excelled.
Nigeria Football Federation President Aminu Maigari who approved the programme for Keshi said that his board would not relent in what the likes of Paul Bassey of CAF call “revolution in our soccer.”
“The training and exposure of local players will continue and we must attain great heights in football again,” Maigari said in Kigali after the game.