Nigeria’s Super Eagles were always carrying a heavier burden: To prove that it still one of the great footballing nations in Africa. But when the team qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Round of 16 on Tuesday, its fans were unhappy. Why?
Some say the team’s two goals in the ongoing Afcon were gifted; a penalty and an own goal. Now they fear they may not make more progress.
Nigeria, the three-time Afcon champions, will face old rivals Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the last 16 on Saturday. Cameroon, just like Nigeria, have also struggled and scraping through against the Gambia on Tuesday with a late 3-2 win on Tuesday.
The Super Eagles on the other hand progressed to the round of 16 after defeating Guinea-Bissau through an own goal on Monday. The first goal Nigeria scored in the tournament was a penalty.
The Super Eagles finished second in Group A with seven points while Cameroon also finished second in Group C with four points.
Nigeria’s next match is slated for the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan on Saturday by 8 pm.
During the last Afcon 2019 round of 16 match-up between Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions in Egypt, the Super Eagles won 3-2.
However, fans fear the present team isn’t scoring, which may be its weakness; even though it isn’t losing either.
“I am very happy with outcome of the match, but they can hardly find the net with the ball,’’ Gbemiga Olaniyi, a football fan, said in Abuja.
“I am not impressed with the attack. Our strikers are not scoring goals and this is not too good,’’ he added.
“I expected Victor Osimhen to have scored four goals by now, being in form and as the Africa Footballer of the Year,’’ he further said.
“The Super Eagles needed to be scoring goals. The goal drought from the Super Eagles is not good,’’ Emmanuel Olawuyi, another fan, said.
“If we intend to win this tournament, we need to be scoring goals,” he added.
Sports Analyst Alade Monsuru corroborated the views of the other fans saying Nigeria needed to be scoring goals if they are to win the tournament.
Nigeria is rated higher than the countries it played against in Group A including hosts Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau and yet, it did not take on opponents to the cleaners, argued another fan referring to the Fifa Ranking.
On its team is Victor Osimhen, Africa’s Player of the Year and currently a forward for Serie A giants Napoli.
Mr Umar Saidu, chairman Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Bauchi Council said, the match between Eagles and Guinea was entertaining but they missed a lot of scoring chances.
“The aggressiveness of the players to score was lacking. They need to improve if we really want to zoom into the quarter final," he said.
Defending the team’s performance, former Green Eagles forward Felix Owolabi says the Super Eagles’ failure to score many goals is not as important as getting wins.
“In a game of 90 minutes, what people are expecting is the outcome, with the question ‘who won?’ This is because the side with the highest number of goals will be credited as the winners.
If for any reason an opposing side scored an own goal, it is because of pressure and in the match, even if there was no own goal, we had players like Osimhen and others who could have scored.
The own goal is counted in our favour, not minding who scored. What is important is who is the winner. But it is true that we are short of goal scoring abilities,” he said.
Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) President Habu Gumel urged team to remain focused, persevere and focus on winning the trophy.
“The road to the top is never easy, and the challenges will only become tougher from this point forward,” Gumel said.
“We have full confidence in our players and the coaching staff. With unity and perseverance, we believe they can go all the way and secure their fourth Afcon title," he said.
Worried with the outpour of criticism, Super Eagles’ Coach Jose Peseiro said that his team was keeping the goals for the next round.