The exploits of the Super Eagles of Nigeria at the last Africa Nations Cup are still fresh in our memories. Like many outstanding teams of the past, they must now focus their attention on the new challenge ahead of them. Getting soaked in or carried away by past successes had been the albatross of potential greatness in some of our past teams.
I could recall the euphoria that followed our triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the United States of America after the ‘Dream Team’ won the gold medal of the men’s football event. It was as if Nigeria had won the FIFA World Cup. Being the first African country to achieve that feat didn’t help matters as we were celebrated by all and sundry.
The next major football event after that great outing in Atlanta was the FIFA 1998 World Cup in France. We qualified from the group by sensationally defeating one of the tournament’s favourites (Spain) with a Sunday Oliseh’s ‘howitzer’ in the first group match. We however went to sleep thinking that Denmark would be easy hurdle to cross in the round of 16. I read some commentaries then that Nigeria was already ‘destined’ to play Brazil in the quarter-finals.
We however faced a determined, organized, strong and tactical Danish team that ripped Nigeria to pieces and sent us packing from that tournament. We were counting on our past achievements, gloating over yesterday victories and could not seize the moment to create a fresh history.
It is true and incontestable that the Super Eagles are the champions of Africa. Also true is the fact that we are yet to qualify for the next big one which is the 2014 Mundial in Brazil. The ‘Big Boss’, Stephen Keshi and his boys must realize that qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil next year is a task that must be accomplished. He has (by the grace of God and hard work) made history with the collection of the players he took to South Africa. He must be determined to do even greater exploits for Nigeria in the days ahead.
Looking at the list of invitees for the encounter against Kenya this Saturday and his explanations regarding the non-invitation of some players from the triumphant Super Eagles showed someone who is determined to do well again. I have always written about the need to make the Super Eagles a highly competitive team. When players know that only the best would feature on any given day; it drives them to excel.
Gone (and forever so) should be the days when people stroll into camp and pick up first team shirts due to past reputation or influence. Let the Super Eagles be the sign post of how things should be run in our country. Irrespective of tribe, religion or whatever; only the best should feature for our national teams!
As they prepare to face the Kenyans on Saturday in Calabar, one thing must be clear in the minds of the team and its handlers: Victory is always possible for the prepared. The team also has the assurance of the full backing of all Nigerians unlike the recent past when only few people gave them any chance to go all the way at the Nations Cup. They should therefore not disappoint and must do all necessary to beat the Kenyans.