Isn’t it fascinating what winning football matches can do to the team, fans and all stakeholders linked to the team? Going into the March Afcon qualifiers, a section of Super Eagles fans were apprehensive of what to expect. Wounds of the back to back draws against Sierra Leone last year had left terrible scars.
Qualification for the Afcon itself was a near forgone conclusion leading up to the game against Benin. And with Lesotho playing out a draw against Sierra Leone just before that encounter, Nigeria had in effect qualified for the 2021 Afcon in Cameroon with the now customary 2-games to spare.
This will be a hattrick of tournament qualifications with games to spare for Nigeria under one coach, something that is unprecedented in the football history of the West African country.
With qualification cut and dried, the next thing was to see how the Super Eagles would perform on the field of play against Benin and Lesotho and fans were not disappointed.
Firstly, Benin were blown away with a sucker punch at the worst possible minute at their own backyard with Lesotho soundly lashed in Lagos 3 days later.
Six points in the bag with swashbuckling performances and an unexpected goal scorer in Paul Onuachu. Super Eagles fans are now in dreamland. That cloud of dispair has now given way to reveal the bright sunshine of warmth and satisfaction with the feel-good factor coming back and everyone dreaming again of glory days returning to Nigerian football.
Go to Cameroon to lift the Afcon trophy ; qualify for the World Cup and reach the quarter finals at least – then the Rohr folklore will be complete and all his critics (including myself) would finally have nowhere else to hide.
But can this team do it? Can they fulfil their potentials under this coach? Are fans just being unnecessarily carried away after two inconsequential victories against two whipping boys of African football (with due respect to Benin)?
When Rohr took over, Nigeria was punching way below its weight in international football. Failing to qualify for back to back Afcons in groups consisting of the same sort of teams that Rohr simply brushes aside these days (without breaking much sweat) brought a stain to the country’s football at that time.
Reputable coaches were not just only reluctant to work for the NFF as an employer but also avoided the Super Eagles (as a brand) like a plague.
But Rohr accepted the challenge and restored the country back to its traditional standings in world football. Nigeria is well and truly back punching her weight.
What I will now like to see is Nigeria punching above her weight.
Defeating Ukraine and Brazil in 2019, overcoming Algeria in the Afcon semi-final and defeating Argentina at the 2018 World Cup would have given rise to and subsequently cemented Rohr’s Super Eagles’ reputation as Giant-killers.
But it was not to be on each occasion.
Now, Nigeria needs to start punching above its weight. And the Super Eagles can do it. The vast majority of the current players are supremely technically gifted with experience playing at the highest levels of football.
In Gernot Rohr, they have a pragmatic coach who now has no excuse for not learning from experience of his several Super Eagles painful near-misses.
The coming months are going to be interesting. Whilst not diminishing the accomplishments of recent matches, the true tests will come against far superior oppositions.
That is when Rohr and his boys will have to prove their mettle, resolve and giant-killing credentials.
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