Nigeria’s 2-0 loss to fellow World Cup qualifiers Serbia in London this week served as a ‘reality check’ to inflated World Cup hopes, according to team spokesman Toyin Ibitoye.
Wins in recent friendlies over top-10 teams Argentina and Poland had boosted hopes of Nigeria’s 180 million people that this young side are capable of going beyond the country’s best performance of a last-16 finish in 1994, 1998 and 2014.
“We hope to learn from this and correct our mistakes because this team have the ingredients of a great team and what is crucial now is how they react after this setback,” Ibitoye said.
“The loss to Serbia was a reality check.”
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick has in the past talked up the team’s potential to make history by becoming the first African side to win the World Cup this year.
But the defeat by Serbia has brought the Super Eagles back down to earth with less than three months to go before their World Cup opener against Croatia on June 16 in Kaliningrad.
After Tuesday’s defeat, Pinnick spoke of the lessons the team needed to draw from only their second loss in 14 matches under German coach Gernot Rohr.
“The team can only get better because you learn more when you lose, you learn less when you win,” he said.
– Lack of world-class talent –
Respected coach Kadiri Ikhana, who led Enyimba to a first-ever CAF Champions League triumph in 2003, questioned the real quality of a squad lacking world-class talent.
“We do not have top stars of the 90s and that could count against them at the World Cup,” he said.
“Super Eagles were lucky against Poland and, of course, in football you can hardly be lucky twice.
“The team don’t have players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Daniel Amokachi.
“It is only Victor Moses who is creative in the team, while Mikel Obi was not available. The coach has good tactics, but where are the players to execute these tactics?”
Captain John Obi Mikel missed the Serbia clash as he was processing his work permit and so could not leave his base in China where the former Chelsea midfielder plays for Tianjin TEDA.
“He is our leader. He’s influential and very important to this team,” said Rohr.
“Yes, we don’t have players of the past like Okocha and Kanu, but we now have a group of players who work for the team.”
The side will regroup in May in Nigeria to continue their World Cup build-up, where they will take on DR Congo in a friendly on May 28, before facing England at Wembley on June 2.
Their final pre-tournament match will be against the Czech Republic in Austria on June 6, before the final 23-man squad depart for Russia, where they are drawn in a tough Group D alongside Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.