By Ebenezer Bajela.
Known for their strength and fearlessness, Eagles are a special breed of birds that have been a symbol of war and power since Babylonian times and little wonder Nigeria’s national team adopted the name Super Eagles.
Once regarded as one of the best teams on the globe, the Eagles were ranked fifth best team in the world by FIFA, after reaching the second round of the 1994 World Cup on their debut, which was preceded by a conquest of Africa, as they lifted their second AFCON title in Tunisia.
For the country’s teeming and football-crazy populace, those were the good old days. Today, the country’s men national team is a shadow of its old self.
Despite the array of stars and talents in the country, the team’s performances on the pitch, unmerited invitation of players and the pedigree of the team’s coaches have been questioned by stakeholders over time, while off-field activities like politicking, corruption and struggle for the soul of Nigerian football by the bigwigs amongst others also clipped the Eagles wings, with the media severally describing them as “Super Chickens” when they put up terrible performances.
Again, the Nigerian football faithful watched agonisingly as 118th ranked minnows Guinea-Bissau snatched a 1-0 win over the Eagles, ranked 35, at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja last Friday.
Despite the team claiming a a 1-0 win against the Wild Dogs in the reverse fixture at the Estadio 24 de Setembro, Bissau three days later, some fans were unfazed, following the side’s lethargic display under coach Jose Peseiro.
It was the Eagles fourth consecutive defeat, which last happened 42 years ago. Peseiro’s tactics have been absurd, his choice of players for games ridiculous, players played out of preferred positions and a patternless approach to games.
But some retired Eagles stars are optimistic that there’s light at the end of the tunnel amid the scathing criticisms against Peseiro and his men, saying if the right things are done, the side will fly again and become super.
“How do you explain what happened in Abuja when they trained in darkness? This has a way of playing with their psyche but not withstanding they also have a role to play. The boys just need to raise their game and once the NFF motivates the players very and have a blend of players from the home league with the overseas-based players, I am confident that they will fly again,” Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games gold medallist Abiodun Obafemi said,
“Truly, I believe the Eagles can fly again. Let’s forget about the FIFA rankings, Morocco may be the number one in Africa going by their current form, but we are one of the most feared national teams in the world because of the array of talents that are doing well; we have the most in-form striker in the world, talking about Victor Osimhen. In France, we also have a couple of our boys doing very well and Paul Onuachu wasn’t doing badly in Belgium before he joined Southampton.
“Opponents double their efforts when they play Nigeria and the reason why we are struggling at the moment is that our desire doesn’t match that of our opponents. Other factors I think are the weather and motivation.”
Mutiu Adepoju, a 1994 AFCON winner, said if the Eagles, who are reportedly owed nine months of bonuses and allowances, are properly motivated by officials they would bounce back to reckoning.
“It baffles me that players who are playing very well for their various clubs are struggling here. I think they need to be cared for and properly motivated. I also believe that if everything is done and if their welfare and their wages are taken care of, they can fly again.”
A keen follower of the Eagles Alex Ebhodaghe said, “The talent is not the problem but I think attitude is and I believe once the NFF and the coaching crew can get it right, the Eagles can go back to what they used to be and that is being the best in Africa.”
Not giving up on the Eagles, Rita Akintoroye, a fan, is confident that with the right coach and players, the national team can reclaim its lost glory.
“I think the problem we are having with the national team is that some players who are not supposed to be in the team are still there,” she told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“Osimhen is a very good finisher and we also have Ademola Lookman who is not doing badly for Atalanta but the problem is they are not getting the services they need. Even if you have Cristiano Ronaldo in this team, he won’t be able to do much because they don’t have players to complement their efforts.
“Also, I blame the coach because he should have noticed all these during trainings. If he couldn’t invite the right players, obviously he doesn’t deserve to be our coach. I believe once these are taken care of, the Eagles will be a team to be dreaded again.”