By Jacob Ajom
On Thursday, the Nigeria Football Federation issued a statement on the sacking of the entire technical crew of the Super Eagles, “following the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.” The statement added, “the erstwhile Technical Adviser, Augustine Eguavoen has stepped down”
There was nothing new about the statement because many expected it but not many knew it actually would have happened in Kumasi after the first leg of the double header against the Black Stars. The only thing that saved Eguavoen after the Kumasi debacle which the Eagles held Ghana to a goalless draw was the timing as it was considered too close to the second leg which came four days after.
Sports Vanguard gathered that the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation had, since the shock exit of the Super Eagles from the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, been skeptical with the technical prowess of coach Augustine Eguavoen. A source close to the Glass House informed that the President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick had suggested that Eguavoen be relieved of his post as coach of the team because he didn’t trust his capacity to take the team to ‘the promised land’.
“His argument was put to rest when superior authorities prevailed on him. It was reasoned that based on general sentiments, he should let Eguavoen be so that he could take the team through the World Cup playoffs,” our usually dependable source disclosed.
However, the World Cup playoffs confirmed the coach’s weakness and lack of capacity to handle the team. In Kumasi where the Super Eagles presented a team that was thought to be superior to the Black Stars, their hosts dominated and showed more promise than the Eagles. Although the Super Eagles had better chances to have earned a victory, no matter how marginal, lack of purpose and tactical direction saw the team labour to a scoreless draw.
The outcome of that match left Nigerian officials infuriated and they openly expressed concern about the ability of the coach to navigate the team through the second leg against the crafty Ghanaians in Abuja.
“At that instance, Eguavoen’s sack became just a matter of time,” continued our source, who added, “even if the Super Eagles had qualified for the World Cup, he(Eguavoen) wouldn’t have led them to Qatar.”
Eguavoen’s technical quality was exposed by Tunisia in Cameroon, during the Africa Cup of Nations. After a smooth run in the group stages, Tunisia sent the three-times African champions to the cleaners after a 1- 0 victory. There was no other magic by the Tunisians than clipping the Eagles’ wingers. Once the wingers were pocketed, the Eagles were left clueless. Eguavoen had no answer. The same scenario repeated itself against Ghana in the first leg of the World Cup playoff. In Abuja on Tuesday, the Eagles were worse off. With five changes to the team that started in Kumasi four days earlier, the Super Eagles lacked cohesion, no sense of urgency, no tactical approach and no game plan.
Conversely, the Black Stars, with a better dugout had a firmer grip on the game and prosecuted their match plan to the letter. Coaches Otto Ado and Chris Hughton instructed their players to take control of the game and fight for an early goal. The goal came in the 10th minute through Thomas Partey who’s low shot beat Francis Uzoho in goal for Nigeria. “The Ghanaians did not come to Abuja to attack, attack and attack,” a Ghanaian journalist told Sports Vanguard. “The game plan was to score, defend and then starve the Eagles of the ball by keeping possession.”
They scored early and the goal put Nigeria on the back foot until the equaliser came through William Troost Ekong from the spot, midway into the first half. But that was all Nigerians saw of their team. The rest is history.
Some Nigerians went on to criticise the coach on their social media handle. Ayobami @dondekojo wrote on his Twitter handle, “Eguavoen should have been fired immediately after the Tunisia game. Shouldn’t have been anywhere near this team for this disaster.”
Another Nigerian who addressed himself as simply Me @xkalibaer expressed his disenchantment at the sacking of coach Gernot Rohr. Me wrote: “I know I said Nigeria will regret sacking Rohr. We think it is by having a Nigerian on the bench bah? We have never learnt anything. We missed out in 2006 because of the same nonsense.
“We went to AFCON and played with zero technical sense, yet everyone was clapping for beating Egypt”
An Abuja based fan, Jerome Besong said “one major problem Eguavoen has is that he doesn’t seem to have a plan B. Once the Eagles concede first, Eguavoen doesn’t know how to fight back. When he needed power-playing personnel for goals, why bring in the likes of Ahmed Musa? What can Musa offer?”
Coach Eguavoen would have himself to blame because he has lost the opportunity to, not only write his name in gold but may have inadvertently made any argument for local coaches untenable. Quoting him at the pre-match briefing, he said, “I am not under any pressure. I know I represent Nigerian coaches both old and young. We are doing it collectively to Qatar. Once we cross the line tomorrow, everybody will be jubiliating.”
In the end, Nigerians never knew joy. It was all sorrow, mourning and wailing, as the Super Eagles failed to book their place among the best in the world.