We commend the Super Eagles for qualifying for the next edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament even though the team still has one match to play. The Super Eagles achieved the feat when they played a 1-I draw against South Africa in the penultimate match of the continental qualifications in Group E.
In the other matches of the Group, the Super Eagles lost 0-2 at home to South Africa, beat Seychelles 3-0 away and beat Libya home and away for the 9 points tally to top the group. With the victory, the Super Eagles’ last match is a mere formality.
The Super Eagles’ qualification for the AFCON 2019 holding in Cameroon is particularly refreshing coming on the heels of our failure to qualify for the last two editions after winning the tournament in 2013 in South Africa. Our qualification and the modest achievements at the FIFA World Cup in Russia showed that we could always qualify for the AFCON and go further to dominate the continent. Our qualification for AFCON 2019 is, therefore, a bold relief.
But we cannot take our qualification for granted. The competition is becoming stiffer on the continent and yesterday’s minnows are strongly catching up. The traditional power houses such as Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria are beginning to find the going very tough indeed.
This is why we must redouble our efforts and strategise for a successful outing at the forthcoming AFCON. As several commentators have canvassed, our preparation should start with our last qualification match against Seychelles which will be played in March next year. That would be about three months to the competition in Cameroon.
Interestingly, the national team coach, Gernot Rohr, has bought into this vision and rejected the suggestion to use the last qualification match to give opportunities to new players in the Super Eagles to showcase their talents. From our past experience, such experiment could lead to complacency in the team.
Between now and the commencement of the AFCON, the FIFA windows should be exploited to ensure that the Super Eagles play enough friendlies as our programme can accommodate. That would be the best setting to try new players. Even though our team is a relatively young one that has shown a lot of promise, there is no doubt that there are some weaknesses in the team. The defence is said to be weak. The wingbacks and the midfield have been particularly fingered to be inadequate. These lapses and others not mentioned must be addressed before the tournament begins.
The attack needs reinforcement and cannot continue to depend on aging players. The good news is that the country has enough talents to draw from and the coach has done well monitoring these talents and incorporating them into the team. The only problem is that Rohr seems to concentrate more on oversea talents than the ones in the local league. He should use both foreign and home-based players.
Before the commencement of the AFCON tournament, however, the technical crew should harness the available talents into a formidable team. The team should be made cohesive and effective for the competition. Like Rohr, we believe that the Super Eagles can win the tournament in Cameroon if adequately prepared. We have won it three times and can still win it.
Therefore, the government must give the team and the coaching crew the necessary support to do well in Cameroon. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) must put its house in order and ensure that the team is adequately prepared before the continental football fiesta starts.
It is good that the NFF has given Rohr two weeks to submit his programme for the tournament. He should go ahead and do so. We wish the Super Eagles a successful outing at the tournament.