By Patrick Omorodion
Before Stephen Okechukwu Keshi mounted the saddle as Super Eagles Chief Coach, the team’s rating in the eyes of ardent Nigerian football followers was nothing to write home about. This was especially after his predecessor, Samson Siasia committed the unforgettable, failing to qualify the team for the 2012 Africa Nations Cup, the first time in 25 years.
Not even the Eagles’ poor performance at the 2008 Nations Cup in Ghana which earned them the nickname, Super Chickens, from the Ghanaian press, elicited such dislike from their Nigerian fans like they received after the Syli Nationale of Guinea denied them the 2012 ticket on home soil at the Abuja National Stadium.
It is with this poor rating on his mind that Keshi started a rebuilding process with home-based players and a sprinkle of foreign-based players. This process also gave the fans some hope that all is not lost afterall, especially after the new team posted some respectable results where the locals proved that they were not all brawn and no brain but skillful and determined.
Even in the two friendly matches they lost to Nations Cup record holders, Pharoahs of Egypt and Peru, the home-based lads proved that with more exposures like they are getting already, they could displace some of the former regulars in the team and form the fulcrum of Keshi’s main team.
Though Keshi had not made public his starting line-up as at the time of this report, the home-based players are sure to make up a sizeable percentage of the team to battle the Namibians who are already boasting they will pick a vital point or the maximum points against their supposedly stronger opponents today.
On their way to Calabar aboard a Nigerian airliner, the Namibian coach, Bernhard Kaanjuka would not subscribe to the confidence talk of Wigan goal-getter, Victor Moses that the Eagles will overrun his side. He told Vanguard’s Group Sports Editor, Onochie Anibeze that “You have a bigger team but I can tell you one thing, Nigeria will feel us on the field.We are not afraid of Nigeria. We respect them but will make them feel us on the field.”
In another interview with Sports radio, Brila FM monitored in Lagos, Namibia’s Technical Director, Klaus Starck was not as optimistic as Kaanjuka when he said they were not expecting to qualify for the 2014 World Cup but to put up a respectable performance in the group.
He described Namibia as a young team who are still learning from big teams like Nigeria and hoping to mature and be able to qualify for the World Cup in future.
“Nigeria is a big team with big players playing in Europe. We are not here to beat Nigeria but we want to ensure we don’t lose by a wide margin. We are going to put in our best but you know in football anything can happen,” he said.
No matter the opposition today, the Eagles must assure their fans that they are on their way to full recovery from the low level they have sunk both in Africa and the world that has made them fall out of the top 10 teams in the continent for the first time and a disgraceful 63rd position in the world, behind the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone, of all teams.
Goal-keeper trainer, Ike Shorumnu has assured that the goalkeepers are in top shape to deny Namibia any chance of getting a goal in Calabar. In the midfield however, with the absence of Chelsea of London hero, John Mikel Obi, Keshi must work on the home-lads who are likely to work with Norway-based Fengor Ogude to ensure they reduce the pressure from the Namibians against the Eagles defence.
As a product of the Clemens Westerhof’s school, Keshi is expected to adopt the wing play from where pacer, Ahmed Musa could float crosses for Victor Moses, Ike Uche or returnee, John Utaka, who are likely to start against the locals, to do the damage.
Keshi himself knows the task at hand and has called on Nigerians, not only to support and pray for the team, but exercise patience with them if the goals don’t come early in the game as they expect. Nigerians like retired Brigadier-General Emmanuel Okaro, Austin Izagbo and former Green Eagles winger, Dr Felix Owolabi have equally called on the fans to be patient with Keshi as he continues the rebuilding process to give them a formidable squad in the nearest future.