With the jubilant dust of the victory against Egypt yet to settle, the Super Eagles are back rolling their sleeves in training. This time, they face Sudan on Saturday in a match that would secure safe passage to the second round should Nigeria win. In fact, victory in that match will interestingly serve two purposes: 1) allow Eguavoen test fringe players in the last game against Guinea Bissau and 2) improve the chances of facing a less formidable opponent in the second round should Nigeria eventually top the group. And topping the group will largely depend on personnel deployment and tactical constellation utilised to face Sudan. Against this backdrop, the outcome of the Super Eagles' training sessions has thrown up tantalising possibilities. The Super Eagles were grouped in 2 teams, one with the majority of those who featured in the morale booster against Egypt (team red) and the second group largely filled with fringe players with the exception of goalkeeper Okoye (team green). Team Green won 2:1 with goals from Umar and Onyekuru. Nwakali reduced the tally for team green with a swish,swanky and sumptuous effort. These are my observations: 1) Nwakali is likely to feature prominently as he trained with the main team. His goal also put him in frame for consideration. Whether he starts or comes off the bench again remains to be seen. So much puffery surrounded Nwakali's inclusion to this squad but he didn't live up to the hype against Egypt despite his gritty and acceptable performance. Once the pin-up boy of Nigerian football, Nwakali might yet get his time to shine. 2) Onyekuru is pushing hard to play a part in the next match having been overlooked altogether against Egypt. He was as busy as a bee in the training session and was as ruthless as a tiger in clawing his way to goal. He was also as smooth as silk in his all round presentation as he caught the eye with his footballing eloquence. I would not be surprised to see him come on at least as a substitute. 3) Uzoho continues to breathe heavily down Okoye's neck. Noteworthy is the fact that the Cyprus based net-minder trained with the main team. He was sturdy at the back and looked well composed despite conceding 2 goals. Okoye has thus far given no one any reason to doubt his credentials. His creative L-shaped leg save against Marvelous Mo Salah was the difference between a 1:0 and 1:1 scoreline. But, if he falters in subsequent games, Uzoho lies in wait. 4) Sadiq Umar continues to seek redemption. The general consensus was that he didn't fire on all cylinders in his Afcon curtain raiser against Egypt, to which coach Eguavoen said: "He (Sadiq) gave me some few excuses after the game but it's something psychological so we have to talk to him and address it in future games."
Scoring a goal in the training session should have boosted Sadiq's confidence and put him in a good frame of mind ahead of the second game (where he is expected to still play a part).
5) Coach Eguavoen wants to equal his own record and break new grounds. This is to be blemishless in navigating the group stages by being greedy in amassing all 9 points; something he did at the 2006 Afcon, something that will go down in the history books if he pulls it off again. To do that, Eguavoen is whipping up confidence and hunger in the boys in training and hopes to select the right players to interpret his philosophy and achieve his aims and objectives against Sudan.
The victory against Egypt and the manner it was achieved resonated with a large body of Super Eagles fans. They now feel very much invested in what the team is trying to achieve and feel carried along in the process.
A win against Sudan will do more to reinforce the wind of optimism sweeping across the Super Eagles and the fans.
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