A Tribute to the Champions of Africa: The Super Eagles
The last time my proud nation won the African Cup of Nations way back in the mid-90s, I was seven. Growing up into an Arsenal-loving home was a breath of fresh air but there was always that feeling of togetherness when watching those men donning the green jersey of Nigeria.
The colorful spectacle of those fans with a combination of green and white outfits, the cliche songs from the trumpeters, and of course, the amazing feeling every goal brings.
After Emmanuel Amunike’s brace against Zambia in the final of Tunisia 94′, the Nigerian team under the tutelage of Clemens Westerhof was tipped for great things and the world stared and wondered after seeing their exploits in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
In the nation’s maiden World Cup, Rashidi Yekini put his name in the history books for more reasons than one. He scored his country’s first ever goal in the tournament and in 58 caps for the Super Eagles, Yekini scored 37 goals making him the nation’s top goalscorer of all time.
Despite topping a group that had the likes of Bulgaria, Greece and Diego Maradona’s Argentina, the nation’s fairytale adventure ended through a Roberto Baggio brace and that was the year Nigeria had its highest ever FIFA ranking in history – fifth place.
In subsequent World Cups, Nigeria had a series of near misses – the 4-1 drubbing in the hands of Denmark in France 1998 and the poor showing in Korea/Japan 2002. After missing out of the 2006 World Cup courtesy of the annoying head to head rule, Nigeria qualified with consummate ease to the 2010 showpiece in their native Africa and great things were expected of them.
Unfortunately, Vincent Enyeama’s heroics against Argentina came to nothing, as his country messed up against Greece and of course, South Korea. Nigeria’s appalling showing at the World Cup made the government of the nation take football laws into their hands, as the president banned the country from all international competitions for two years, incurring FIFA wrath in the process.
After rescinding the ban, Nigeria employed Augustine Eguavoen as the caretaker manager before he paved the way for the self-proclaimed “messiah” of Nigerian football, Samson Siasia. The former Super Eagles attacker had achieved a lot of milestones with the Nigerian youth setup, so it was believed that he’ll be the one to take the team from the doldrums.
After failing to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations, Siasia was given the boot and after a lengthy deliberation on looking for the man to take the team forward, the NFF decided to hire former captain, Stephen Keshi, the man that led the club to Nation’s Cup glory in 1994.
After a series of qualifiers and warm-up matches that weren’t too encouraging if I must say, Keshi released his 23-man squad list that brought mixed receptions among Nigerian supporters back home.
While a considerable chunk lauded his courage in axing some big names as well as giving some home-based players a chance, another faction of the Nigerian supporters waited for half a chance to point their fingers at the manager if the team flopped.
The last-gasp draw for Burkina Faso in the first game made many supporters gnash their teeth and even though the draw against defending champions, Zambia, wasn’t deserved, the Eagles failed to kill off the contest with John Obi Mikel throwing away a golden chance from the penalty spot.
After a Victor Moses inspired win over Ethiopia, the Eagles were faced with the daunting task of playing the tournament favorites, Ivory Coast, for failing to win their group.
Unbeknownst to the Eagles, their dramatic administrators, the Nigerian Football Federation, were so pessimistic that they went to book return tickets for the Eagles before they even kicked the ball.
On the pitch, Emmanuel Emenike blasted in what seems to be a contender for the goal of the tournament but his effort was canceled by Ivory Coast’s Cheick Tiote early in the second half. When it seemed as if the Ivorians were on the ascendancy, it took a home-based player in the form of Sunday Mba to make surging run into the heart of the Ivorian rearguard before unleashing a deflected rocket past the shaky Boubacar Barry.
At 34, this was probably Didier Drogba’s last chance to feature in Africa’s elite competition, but he has been giving a new lease of life after securing a move to Turkish giants, Galatasaray, from Shanghai Shenhua.
After the humbling defeat to Nigeria, Drogba congratulated the victors of the quarterfinal clash and tipped them to go all the way,
“I was very impressed with the Super Eagles’ performance against us (Ivory Coast). It’s proof of hard work, relentlessness and the sign of a world-class team in preparation. I don’t really see any team that can withstand Nigeria for the rest of the tournament. They keep improving by each game and level of the competition.
The fact that the team arrived with a number of home-based players means we have to give them praise because that tells us there is football even within the continent,”.
From just hoping for the boys to put up a good show in the tournament, the expectations of Nigerian supporters changed, so it was up to Stephen Keshi and his men to see if they could match the new task set before them – winning the Nations Cup for the third time in the country’s history and Mali stood in their way.
In one of the most breathtaking displays of the tournament, the Super Eagles gazumped the Eagles of Mali and besides, there was only room for one set of eagles, so it had to be the Super version. -___-
Many football neutrals had hoped for another rival clash between Nigeria and Ghana but the Eagles date with destiny came last night, as they were 90 minutes away from making their nation proud, 90 minutes away from getting what their play deserved and 90 minutes away from playing in this summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil alongside football juggernauts like Brazil, Spain, Uruguay and Italy.
In a somewhat nervy encounter that had chances few and far between, Warri Wolves’ Sunday Mba scored the all-important goal that will put his name on the back pages for years to come. I won’t be surprised if I hear that he’s signing a new contract with a club in Europe – it’s no less than he deserves for his performances in this tournament.
While Mba will be the name on everyone’s lips, there were many heroes that emerged from this Super Eagles class of 13′ and I’ll like to share my thoughts on a certain amount of players that were worth their weight in gold.
Vincent Enyeama was a class act throughout the tournament and I was elated seeing him win a major tournament for a nation he has served admirably for 11 good years, notching up 77 caps along the way. His experience shone through the tournament and he even afforded us the opportunity to see some trademark saves with each passing game.
Efe Ambrose was a standout performer in the right hand side of Nigeria’s defense and he marauded that flank with such authority, balancing his attacking and defensive play. It’s also astonishing to know that Kenneth Omeruo is just 19, and he exuded the confidence of a veteran alongside his 22-year-old partner, the home-based Godfrey Oboabona of Sunshine Stars.
Alongside, Uwa Echiejile, Nigeria’s back four had one of the meanest, if not the meanest defenses in the tournament, conceding only four goals.
Nigeria’s midfield triumvirate of John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi and Sunday Mba worked in tandem with one another, covering a lot of ground as well. While Mba was tasked with supporting the attacking trio, Mikel and Onazi were vital cogs in the engine room of the team, linking up play superbly between attack and defense.
Nigeria’s attacking trio of Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye and Victor Moses showed off the fluidity of Stephen Keshi’s attacking philosophy that involved good off the ball movement as well as switching of positional play with each passing game. To their credit, Emenike topped the charts with four goals, Moses got two and Ideye got one.
After everything, Nigerians can stand proud as their football team has brought the glory days back to the nation, and we can only hope that this would be the beginning of an era of dominance in African football.
Here’s to the Super Eagles – the Champions of Africa.
You can download the Gooner Daily BlackBerry App to receive notifications on your Smart Phone when a post is published.
You can follow Gooner Daily on Twitter @goonerdaily. I’ll follow back
Feel free to visit Gooner Daily’s Facebook page and click on the like button.
You can also join Gooner Daily’s Mailing List to get notifications of new posts by email by clicking on the Follow button