The Super Eagles, for quite a while, have been uninspiring.
Not taking anything from their success at the 2013 African Nations Cup. But since then their wings have been clipped- the team didn’t qualify for that of 2015 and won’t participate in 2017 also. Their showing at the Brazil 2014 world cup- they won a game in the group stage and were knocked out in the round of sixteen.
That said. Over the weekend the Super Eagles played their first game in the Russia 2018 qualifiers against Zambia. Winning 2-1 in Ndola, Zambia. Nigeria now leads, after picking this away win, in a group that includes Cameroon and Algeria.
This game and the recent accomplishments of a few team members is instructive of what we’ll get down the line.
It’s too early to celebrate three points out of a possible eighteen, as the team’s consistency or otherwise will determine its own fate, as always. And as pointed out, the team has been uninspiring over time (not for a lack of talent). It boils down to the team not having a playmaker- a maestro that can create magical moments out of nowhere.
Besides the team at USA 1994 and Atlanta 1996, in recent history the team has had to place its hopes on one key player or the other to deliver when everything else goes wrong. Of course, there were individually brilliant players that delivered in 94 and 96, but they were not crutches for the rest of the team.
In recent times, the Eagles has had talented players, but there’s not been one capable of soaring over and above when contrary winds blew. At least since Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo, in their prime.
The closest in recent times is Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi. But fans have had to rue Mourinho’s decision to make him a defensive midfielder after joining the club in 2006. He’s not been the same since.
The heroes of the match against Zambia, Kelechi Iheanaco and Alex Iwobo seem to be the right mix the team has been missing.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi have generated some excitement for the Nigerian football fans recently. It’s one thing to play for top tier teams in the English Premier League, then another to play consistently for said teams. And you get that with these young lads.
Iheanacho, so far, scored 10 goals in 30 appearances in the 2015/2016 season for Manchester City. For the national team, he has four goals in six appearances.
Iwobi, on the other hand, got promoted to Arsenal’s senior team this season and is already a regular for Wenger’s side with two goals in eighteen appearances for the club and one goal in six appearances for the Super Eagles.
Iheanacho and Iwobi were shortlisted for the Golden Boy award- an award for top young football talents in Europe. And that says a lot for these young talents who are just twenty years old.
Being the heroes of Nigeria’s first game in its run for qualification for Russia 2018, you tend to see why they are are generating quite a buzz.
But football goes beyond individual skills, it requires being technically sound also. Playing consistently for world class teams will further develop these young lads and they can translate their experience when they put on the green and white jersey of the eagles.
Being young, skillful, in world class teams and yet to hit peak performance- you see why they are the future of the Super Eagles.