By George Aluo
ANY follower of the round leather game called football would agree that it is a sport in which anything could happen when it comes to the outcome of a match.
The best side in the world could lose to a rag tag team on a bad day. Soccer history is replete with such results.
But last weekend at the Uyo Nest of Champions where the Su- per Eagles played host to South Africa, virtually every Nigerian soccer fan was ready to put his or her money on an Eagles victory.
So many factors informed this confidence ahead of the AFCON 2019 qualifier.
First, this was a Super Eagles that seemingly prepared well for the match after two back to back international friendly matches in France and several weeks of camping in the European country.
Secondly, the Eagles are in the hands of a coach, Gernot Rohr that everybody has been heaping praises on as being a good tacti- cian. The Franco-German tacti- cian who was hired last year by the NFF was yet to lose a match after eight outings.
Thirdly, the Eagles are popu- lated by a bunch of young and immensely talented players that are rearing to go.
Fourthly, the Eagles were going to play on a good turf in Uyo…the Uyo turf remains the country’s best.
Fifthly, the Eagles were sure of getting good support from the stands given the passionate way Uyo fans rooted for the team in previous outings there.
One can go on and on to reel out reasons why South Africa would fall yakata as they say in local parlance.
Another factor that could not in any way have been overlooked by the fans and pundits alike is the fact that the Eagles were going into the game with the rich his- tory of not ever losing to South Africa in any competitive game.
Losing to Bafana Bafana was therefore not going to happen at a time when we had a team that had gone eight matches unbeaten under our “new Westerhof”, Ger- not Rohr.
Interestingly, football lived up to its billing -that of being an unpredictable game, when the chips were down at the magnifi- cent Uyo soccer nest, otherwise known as the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.
After a goalless first half, South Africa struck first in the 53rd minute when Dan Akpeyi failed to deal with a close range header by Tekole Rantie. The boys of Stuart Baxter went ahead to consolidate their lead and put the game beyond Nigeria when unmarked substitute Percy Tau strolled past fumbling Akpeyi to slot in the second goal.
What went wrong with the Eagles? This has been the ques- tion on the lips of every Nigerian soccer fan, some of whom are yet to come to terms with the result several days after the match.
President General of the Ni- geria Football Supporters Club, Dr. Rafiu Ladipo was too dazed for comments, even as Christian Chukwu, one of the country’s soccer legends said he was still to believe the outcome of the match.
Several reasons have since been advanced by analysts as to why the Eagles failed to fly. The Prince of Monaco, Victor Ikpeba had after the match said the boys were not in the right psychologi- cal frame of mind after rounding off the season in their various clubs. “They have all switched off,” Ikpeba said.
Chukwu on his part blamed it on the over reliance on foreign based players, insisting that the coaches should build the team around home lads. Friday Ekpo, another Nigerian ex- internation- al agrees with Chukwu.
In Ekpo’s words: “There are so many good players in the domes- tic league that can do better.” Ekpo was quick to add that the Eagles in the game against South Africa played without a com- mander in the middle of the pack.
“The team didn’t have a com- mander. Somebody that would organise things, especially in the midfield where John Mikel Obi always holds sway. They also played with two defensive mid- fielders in Ogenyi Onazi and Wil- fred Ndidi, so there was nobody to throw the killer passes to Kel- echi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi,” Ekpo added.
A lot of pundits have also hinged the blame of the Uyo show of shame on the team’s goalkeeper, Dan Akpeyi who many have continued to insist is not good enough to be the na- tion’s number one.
As a visibly angry fe- male fan Eno, put it after the match…”Chigozie Agbim is even better than this Akpeyi.”
Many believe Akpeyi should have done better when he came one on one with Tau acres away from his vital area. He (Akpeyi) should simply have impeded the South African striker. The worst that would have happened was for him to get carded and South Africa getting what would have been a harmless free kick. That way, Eagles would still have re- mained in the game, searching for a possible equalizer with as much as 10 minutes left of play.
A look at South Africa’s first goal shows that Rantie directed the header to an angle already covered by Akpeyi. An average goalkeeper should have conve- niently pulled off a good save. The encounter was one in which Akpeyi did not make any save. It was the woodwork that ended up saving Nigeria the embarrass- ment of not conceding at least three other goals. On three oc- casions, the South Africans hit the woodworks after Akpeyi had been beaten flat.
On the whole, Nigerians be- lieve the defeat was an eye opener…a wake up call for the Eagles ahead of the more crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier against reigning African cham- pions, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
Cameroon showed they are still very much on fire last week- end when they beat Morocco by a lone goal at home at the Amadu Ahidjo Stadium, Yaounde.