By Jacob Ajom
Three-time Champions Nigeria Super Eagles are aiming high when they seek a fourth TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon.
Gernot Rohr’s sack:
Interim coach, Austin Eguavoen has said the quest for a fourth continental title is not going to be easy given the rash of events that characterised the team’s preparations before the football fiesta. Coach Gernot Rohr whose five-year reign was marred by inconsistencies and epileptic performances by the team was sacked by the Nigeria Football Federation barely weeks to the tournament. Many commentators have blamed the NFF for keeping it too late because the German coach had shown a lot of incompetence and was expected to be shown the way out soon after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. His long stay as Super Eagles coach was made possible by the NFF leadership that paid deaf ear to the deafening criticisms of Rohr.
Following his sack, former captain of the Super Eagles and lately Technical Director of the NFF, Austin Eguavoen was drafted in as interim coach of the team. Eguavoen is working with disgraced Salisu Yusuf (Chief Coach); Paul Aigbogun (Assistant Coach); Joseph Yobo (Assistant Coach); Terry Eguaoje (Assistant Coach) and Aloysius Agu (Goalkeeper Trainer).. As he was just about assuming duties, a new coach was appointed. Eguavoen’s brief was made clear some ten days to the tournament as he was mandated to lead the Eagles to Cameroon. The newly employed head coach, Jose Paseiro will go to Cameroon, only as an observer.
Despite the swift manner the NFF handled the issue of who will lead the team to Cameroon, Eguavoen’s job was not made any easier by the catalogue of events that followed. Star boy Victor Osimhen who was the team’s highest goal scorer in the qualifiers withdrew from the squad as he tested positive for Coronavirus.
Even before contracting the virus, Osimhen’s place in the team was not a certainty as he was still recovering from surgery following a horrific facial injury during Napoli’s 3-2 defeat to Inter in the Italian Serie A match.
European clubs’ reluctance to let go African players under them forced the Confederation of African Football into making a concession. According to FIFA rules clubs must release their African players by December 27 to their countries to help them prepare for Africa’s flagship football competition.
CAF issued a directive to national teams of Africa to extend the arrival of their Europe players to January 3 following a deal brokered by FIFA. Africa’s governing body said it is made the concession to the European clubs in the wake of the debilitating effect of the Covid pandemic that has ravaged plans of clubs across Europe.
But some of the European clubs like Watford did not show equal understanding and held back their star players, thereby denying the affected countries the use of their best personnel in their Afcon campaign.
Nigeria and Coach Austin Eguavoen are victims of the cruelty of English Premier League club Watford and Al Shabab FC of Saudi Arabia who held back Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo respectively. The clubs rather blamed the Nigeria FA for not giving them enough notice for the release of their players.
But Eguavoen still has talents, good enough for the Cameroon adventure as he has since replaced Osimhen, Dennis and Leon Balogun with Peter Olayinka, Henry Onyekuru and Simi Ajayi. He was not so fortunate in the case of Ighalo as it had become too late to call up a replacement.
Former Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha has said despite the hazzles, the Super Eagles could still perform in Cameroon. “It was good that all this happened early enough for the coach to make adjustments. And for those who were called up to replace the others, it is an opportunity for them to play themselves to reckoning.”
Okocha said the team is good enough to lift the trophy because they are all professionals, even as some will be attending the Afcon for the first time.”
Captain Ahmed Musa has reiterated that he and his team mates were not in Cameroon for sightseeing. “We are going to make Nigeria proud as we will bring home the Afcon trophy,” Musa promised, before the team departed for Garoua on Wednesday.