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EAGLES: BEGINNING OF A NEW DAWN?

Today at the Chief Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City, the Super Eagles would take on the Zebras of Botswana in an international friendly on a FIFA free day. It will be Coach Stephen Keshi’s first game in charge of the national team. Then on Tuesday, barring last minute changes, Eagles would be in Kaduna to trade tackles with the Chipolopolo of Zambia, another 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finalilsts.

The matches would provide opportunity for the anxious Nigerian football fans to catch a glimpse of what their new coach is capable of doing with the Eagles. Although the two visiting countries may not boast of the pedigree of leading football nations like Spain, Holland, Brazil, Argentina and Italy, they would no doubt provide enough tests for the Eagles and their new coach.

Following the dismal outing of the Eagles in the just concluded qualifiers for the 2012 Nations Cup, what is uppermost in the minds of Nigerians is changes that would usher in a new team for future challenges.

Consequently, most fans were of the opinion that at least seventy percent of the present crop of players should go with Coach Samson Siasia who got the boot shortly after the team failed to pick Gabon/Equatorial Guinea ticket.

For such fans, it was a huge disappointment when the Nigeria Football Federation released the list of 28 players invited to prosecute the two international friendly matches. Over ninety percent of the names on the list are familiar faces.

The slight change is the return of players like Vincent Enyeama and Dickson Etuhu who were sidelined by Siasia following his squabbles with them. Apart from the two prominent returnees, new names like Ugo Ukah and Edward Ofere also made the list. But the fact remains that it is a case of the same old brigade.

Although the list of invited players emerged shortly after Keshi was appointed Eagles coach, the NFF Technical Committee is completely responsible for it. Therefore, it can be said that for the two matches at hand, Keshi is going to work with inherited players.

Considering the fact that the list did not emerge from Keshi himself, it is difficult to say what his plans are as far as rebuilding is concerned. It is hard to say if he would toe the path of Nigerians who want majority of the present Eagles to be shown the exit door.

For now, players like Captain Joseph Yobo, Taye Taiwo, Osaze Odemwingie, Mikel Obi Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Yusuf Ayila, Kalu Uche, Obinna Nsofor and Chinedu Obasi are hanging on but most Nigerians would be disappointed if they remain in the team under Keshi.

The clarion call in most quarters is for these players to be replaced with dedicated and committed players who would bring back the lost glory. Unfortunately, there are enough indications that those who want to see new faces in the Super Eagles would have to wait for some time.

As Nigerians wait on Keshi to assemble new Eagles, advices have continued to pour in for him to look inwards and outside for hungry Eagles that would devour opponents at every given opportunity.

Former Super Eagles midfielder Thompson Oliha was among the first to advise Keshi when he told Shot! that the new coach should go for talented Nigerian players who abound on the local and international scene.

He said: “Nigeria is never in want of talents. We have the players who can do the job, if given the opportunity. I therefore want to advise Keshi to go for the best in and outside the country. It does not matter where the players come from.

“I do not agree with people who think there are no players on the local scene. Even if he looks inward, he can get players who will do the job for him. If all the good players are from the north, he should select them. If all of them are from Igbo land and are good, he should select them. It does not matter”.

Oliha maintained that if every good player is given the opportunity to showcase his talent, Keshi would have more than enough talents to work with.

On his part, Moses Kpakor, another former international called on Nigerian players to show more dedication to their career. He expressed surprise that Nigeria which is known globally as the reservoir of talents appears to be in dire need of players to compete for her.

The former Golden Eaglets assistant coach called on Keshi to comb the nooks and crannies of the country for new players who are ready to serve the country.

“Nigeria is blessed with abundant talents. What is required is the right person to fish them out. Many of them have not been given the opportunity to play for the country. The emergence of Keshi as the new Eagles coach should be the opportunity such players have been waiting for.

“Keshi should bend down and look for fresh legs to inject into the team. Most of the players in the present team have outlived their usefulness. I agree experience is important in the game but experience without strength and hunger for glory is equal to poor performance”.

Coach Kelechi Emeteole on his part blamed Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes on what he called indiscriminate sacking of coaches.

He said building a national team takes time but Nigerians are always in haste for results and have formed the bad habit of calling for coaches’ sack at the slightest chance.

The coach said Keshi should be given enough time to rebuild the national team. He said once the domestic league is strengthened, it would produce quality players for the national team.

“My brother it is difficult for any coach to succeed in this country. The rate at which we sack coaches is really alarming. It takes time to build a team but Nigerians are never patient. We lack patience and this is a serious problem.

“There are good players around but the domestic league is nothing to write home about. If the league is made viable, the players will be motivated to put in their best and it would be easy to get replacements for the aging ones”.

From the foregoing, it is evident that what the new Eagles coach needs to do is to assemble new players who would show greater commitment. Keshi may be thinking in the same direction but those who are desperate about change may have to slow down a bit.

No coach would bring about drastic changes because he or she must move from the known to the unknown. It is said the devil you know is better than the angel you do not know. For now, no matter how bad they have become, the present crop of Eagles would continue to dominate invitations to the team’s camp. The new dawn may be around the corner but not here yet.

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