Ahead of the 2011 CAF U-23 Championship in Morocco, and given the litany of disappointments that have greeted Nigerian football in recent times, football loving Nigerians opine that Eguaveon, the team’s coach, has no reason to fail
By Kennis IKE
The 2011 CAF U-23 Championship was originally scheduled to be hosted by Egypt. However, two months to the tournament, Egyptian authorities told the sports world that it was no longer capable of hosting same due to the current security cum political challenges bedeviling the nation. Consequently, Morocco won the hosting rights in October. This tournament, incidentally, doubles as the qualifiers for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Hence, the best three teams in the tournament will become automatic qualifiers for the Olympics next year.
As it stands, there are eight teams that will battle it out in the tournament and Nigeria’s Dream Team is among them. The tournament is scheduled to take place between November 26 and December 10. Nigeria are pitted against the host Morocco, Algeria and Senegal in Group A, while Egypt, Gabon, South Africa and Ivory Coast are in Group B.
To say that Austin Eguavoen, the current national coach of the U-23 Dream Team, is sitting between the devil and deep sea is not an exaggeration. The reason is obvious. One, Nigerians have grown tired of disappointments and one-step-forward-five-steps-backward inclination of Nigerian sports, especially football. The dismal performances of Super Eagles as well as that of the female senior team in recent times, especially with regard to qualification to major tournaments, leave much to be desired.
On Wednesday, November 16, the former player and coach of the Super Eagles named his 21-man players as follows:
Goalkeepers: Dele Ajiboye, Olufemi Thomas and Theophilus Afelokhai.
Defenders: Kingsley Udoh, Markson Ojobo, Usman Amoda, Emmanuel Anyanwu, Edet Ibok, Suswam Terna.
Midfielders: Osas Okoro, Ayo Saka, Odah Onoriode, Obiora Nwankwo, Nosa Igiebor, Lawal Raheem.
Attackers: Jude Aneke, Kayode Olarenwaju, Stephen Worgu, Babatunde Micheal, Uchechi Daniel, Gbolahan Salami.
Those on Standby: Semiu Liadi, Papa Idris, Olabiyi Rasheed, Olaitan Otubanjo, Atu Irumekhai.
But in spite of talents demonstrated by a few of these players, Eguavoen does not seem satisfied with his squad. According to reports, the former right full back bemoaned and continues to bemoan the unavailability of some of the foreign-based players such as Haruna Lukman, Ekigho Ehiosun, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighala, Anthony Ujah, among others.
Though Eguavoen has been quoted to have said that his squad will deliver, our findings reveal that he is not confident with the team, given the sudden absence of the players he had hoped in. He was quoted to have regretted not having these ‘big players’ in his squad. This, to many football lovers, smacks of lack of confidence. The argument in the football circle is that if Samson Siasia, whom NFF recently sacked, could get to the final at the last Beijing Olympics without the likes of Mikel Obi and Taye Taiwo, then Equavoen needs not panic if he has planned well.
Another negative dimension in the Nigerian football in recent times is the mixture of religion and sports. It is good to seek the face of God in everything one does, football not excluded. But to depend on religious prophecies or prayers by men of God or Imams entirely in major competitions without adequate preparation is simply laughable. This has no doubt done more harm than good to the sporting industry in Nigeria.
Final Word: Eguavoen must know, or be made to know, that losing a right to the 2012 Olympics will not only cost him his job, but will also keep him in the labour market for a fairly long time. What is now left for him is to know his starting line-up, make the right changes and inform his team to be ruthless in front of a goal post. He must be less sentimental and be more tolerant so that Nigerians will not call for his head.