The South Africans saw it coming, and they boasted about it all week, warning Nigeria. Then they delivered on their promise. A 2-0 victory over the Eagles in Uyo gave the Bafana Bafana a perfect start to the 2019 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers. Nigeria lost a competitive game to South Africa for the first time in history. It didn’t happen overnight, it has been long in the making.
If South Africa hadn’t defeated the Eagles, Cameroon would have. When I wrote a few days ago that this game is not about South Africa, it was a heartfelt message. Now, we know the real level of our Eagles. Officials of the Nigeria Football Federation, and the coach of the Eagles, Gernot Rohr, have developed an attitude of ‘our way or the highway’ where the matter of the national team is concerned. Some of the decisions have been questionable:
You can’t build a national team around young foreign based players. Don’t read this wrong. There is nothing bad in inviting foreign born players to the Eagles, but they can’t form the core. Every national team needs continuity and experience. Older players are needed to bring up the younger ones, before being eased out. The lack of experience showed. Eagles had no leaders on the pitch, and found the well organised South Africans hard to break down. Our young lads resorted to ineffectual park-play (we call it ‘set’ in local parlance) when the going got tough.
You need a sprinkling of home based stars. Especially when the going gets tough. The late Stephen Keshi also made the mistake of initially loading his team with foreign based stars. Then, home based boys rescued the Eagles in an away game (Rwanda, I think) and he became an apostle of home based players. Even if he played only a couple per time; he played them. South Africa came with a team made up of youngsters and old heads, the Eagles had a two-week camp in France, while they had a short camp at home.
It is time we recognize that the solution to our national team problem does not lie in Europe. It is time to refocus on making our league even better, and stop chasing every youngster with Nigerian name.
Our national team coaches must watch more League matches. We hear every time that the Nigerian assistants of Eagles’ foreign coaches monitor players in the league. That may be true; but how much say do they have in team selection? Imama Amapakabo was dropped on the eve of the trip to France, that doesn’t look like he has much influence. Rohr must watch more League matches. The players in Europe are easy to monitor, the ones here, he needs to physically watch. Enough of the perfunctory once-in-a-while appearance at the stadium to silence ‘noise makers’. The coach cannot know how talented a player is from disjointed observation.
Still, the loss to South Africa is a timely wake up call. Now we know we cannot parade our growing youngsters in front of a Cameroon that will be desperate for points. There is still also, enough time to turn things around in the Nations Cup qualifiers. But the pontificating from the NFF and Gernot Rohr must stop.