Super Eagles Begin Moves To Secure Victory Against Egypt
The Eagles begin camping today ahead of their crucial 2017 AFCON double-header against Egypt on March 24 and 29. With scarcely enough time to prepare for the qualifiers, the Eagles are surely operating on a wing and a prayer.
The Super Eagles camp for the crucial 2017 Africa Cup of Nations double-header against Egypt opens on Sunday (today) in Abuja.
Nigeria host Egypt in Kaduna on March 25 and visit the Pharaohs in Alexandria four days later. Egypt top Group G table with six points, two more than the Eagles, who are in second place, while Tanzania and Chad are third and fourth respectively.
The winners of the 13-group qualifiers — 12 with four teams and one with three teams (plus the host nation which play friendlies with the other three teams) — and the two best overall runners-up will qualify for the tournament scheduled for Gabon next year.
Having failed to qualify for the last edition, Nigeria’s qualification hopes were in tatters when Sunday Oliseh resigned as coach of the Eagles in February. The Nigeria Football Federation responded promptly, bringing back ex-coach of the team Samson Siasia alongside Emmanuel Amuneke, Salisu Yusuf and Aloy Agu, to prosecute the double games against the Egyptians.
Interim coach Siasia on Thursday invited 42 players for the all-important qualifiers excluding the likes of outstanding Mainz defender Leon Balogun, Belgium-based William Troost-Ekong and Granada’s Isaac Success while West Ham’s Victor Moses is back to the Eagles after more than a year in the international wilderness. Also joining the team is powerful striker Aaron Samuel, who recently joined Russian club CSKA Moscow on loan from China.
Siasia also gave call-ups to several of the national U-23 team players, who he led to win a first ever African U-23 title in Senegal late last year. They are Azubuike Okechukwu, Usman Mohammed, Segun Oduduwa, Sincere Seth, Oghenekaro Etebo, Emmanuel Daniel and Stanley Dimgba.
But the coach also stuck to regulars under Oliseh like Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, Efe Ambrose, Shehu Abdullahi, Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa and Moses Simon.
But Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is not “emotionally ready” for a return to the squad after a bust-up with erstwhile coach Oliseh.
West Ham striker Emmanuel Emenike insisted on staying away from the team while regulars under Oliseh like Russia-based Sylvester Igbonu and Rabiu Ibrahim were left out by the new man in charge of the national team.
However, Siasia seemed to have had a rethink, when he extended an invitation to Balogun, bringing to 21 the number of overseas-based players called up for the games.
Also on Friday, Siasia declared that only those who show guts and grit, and ability to adapt to conditions, would be fielded against the Pharaohs.
He stated that there would be no sentiments or consideration of previous ability as only the training sessions in Kaduna and Alexandria would be used to decide the 18 players for each game.
Football agent Clinton Nwankwo however objects to the 43-man list, saying the team doesn’t have the luxury of time ahead of the crucial double-header.
“Over 40 players for two games? That’s too much. He should have invited only 30 players and these should be the ones playing in their clubs’ starting 11. There is no time to play friendly matches to try formations ahead of the match against Egypt. The coach should prune the list in subsequent games, if he is still in charge,” Nwankwo said.
But Siasia in an interview with thenff.com, said, “I am excited at the debate that has been generated by the team list. You can never satisfy everyone. The important thing is that we know the players we want for these big games and we have invited them, and we believe in them to deliver.
“These are two matches that we have to win. There would be references to what someone had done in the past or current form at club level. If you are doing well at your club at the moment and you can’t show ferocious form in training and ability to adapt to the environment, then you would have no place (in the team).”
The 1994 AFCON winner said he had been speaking with all the players on the list and had received assurances that everyone was ready to give his all in both games.
“We continue to ask for the support of every Nigerian as we count down to the two matches. Our people should believe that we can do it, and we will do it,” Siasia said.
However, irrespective of the quality of players or preparations put in place ahead of the battle against the record African champions, ex-international Bolaji Douglas says events before and after Oliseh’s exit can play a role in the outcome of both games.
“My fear of course is how much damage we did to our chances with the events of the last couple of days. To say the events would not affect the team would be a lie. Instead one can only hope that the players do not allow it to distract them from the task ahead,” Douglas said.
“I can only wish the coach good luck. One has to remain optimistic in the face of the sad debacle leading to this match. I am sure he (Siasia) will do his best and one can only hope and pray that his best is complemented by the players and of course those saddled with the running of our football.”
Football administrator Shuaib Gara-Gombe believes the Eagles are not well-prepared for the encounter against the Egyptians.
When asked if the Eagles were on the right path as camp opened in Abuja, Gara-Gombe replied, “No, we are not at all. I don’t see any miracle taking place. We passed this route before and we ended up not qualifying. The same scenario is playing out again under the same Siasia. So what has he not done before that he wants to do now to get us a qualification ticket?”
He added, “Miracles and prayers don’t win games when you are badly prepared; we missed qualification long ago. That match cannot be manipulated; it can only be won on the field by a better prepared side and with the right psychology and motivation.
“We are not doing well right now. Cape Verde are now first in Africa according to the latest FIFA ranking. Where are the Eagles?”
AFCON winner in 1994 and Siasia’s ex-teammate, Edema Fuludu, admitted that the time was short for the coaches to properly prepare, but he added that with the right tactics, the Eagles, three-time African champions, could still fly high above the Pharaohs.
Fuludu stated, “Yes the time is short but I believe no invited player will arrive short of match fitness. Therefore, the technical crew should dwell on tactical approach to this crucial match taking into cognisance the players with the characteristics to fit their match plan. I think Siasia will deploy our traditional 4-3-3 formation with specific instructions on how it will work.”
Former BCC Lions captain Douglas is praying fervently for the Eagles to get the desired results describing a second non-appearance for the Eagles at the AFCON tournament as a “tragedy.”
He said, “It is a hard call for me (on who will win both matches). Both countries have pedigree in the competition. Egypt are trying to get back to where they were before. As for Nigeria, we have a couple of prospects doing well at club level but I am not sure about our form when it comes to the Super Eagles.
“I think we are trying to build a new team and it will boil down to who wants it more and can surmount all it would require to overcome over the two legs. Of course, my heart is with the Super Eagles, missing the last Nations Cup was bad enough, missing two in a row is a tragedy.”
Even though he has his fears about the Eagles defence, Nwankwo insists that the new technical crew must strive to get information on the Egyptian team before they can stand a chance of beating them.
“My advice for Siasia is to watch the tapes of the Pharaohs and come up with a good formation. The Egyptians are a good team. But with the array of players we have, we can beat them.
“I am concerned about the Eagles’ defence but their attack is okay. If you watched our previous games, you would notice some lapses. We should learn to defend our goals even if we win by 1-0. It is the three points that matter,” Nwankwo said.