Can Eagles become Super again?

Traditionally, Nigeria has been one of Africa's powerhouses, but they missed the 2012 Afcon finals. Before that, though, in the six finals preceding the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, they were runners-up once, finished third four times and reached the quarterfinals on the other occasion.

 

Nigeria's sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi believes the Super Eagles could benefit from having no expectations on them heading into the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

"We have to be realistic, this is a new team and we have to be very careful." Abudallahi told reporters.

"It will not be easy for the team under coach Stephen Keshi to be building and contesting at the same time.

After a poor start to 2012, the Super Eagles appear to be finding some form. In recent outings against Liberia in October and Venezuela in November they were impressive, winning 6-1 and 3-1 respectively.

Given their footballing riches on paper, the Nigerians should be in the running for the continental title every time it is held. Football politics, however, have often undermined their team harmony and selections, and thus results.

Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi has picked a bold squad. Bold because he has jettisoned a lot of experience as Nigeria continue to rebuild. There are only six players from the 2010 World Cup squad.

The selection shows the best of Nigeria and throws her weaknesses sharply into focus. Defensive options are thin on the ground and in midfield there is a distinct lack of creativity that has been an unsolved problem for successive coaches since the retirement of Jay-Jay Okocha.

Keshi will certainly be looking for big performances from two of his stalwarts. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama played well during the 2010 World Cup and is an athletic and solid performer in the Nigerian goal.

In front of him, captain Joseph Yobo, who made his debut in 2001, leads the defence and is the most capped Super Eagle of all time. This will be his sixth Cup of Nations and he brings sorely needed leadership to a backline that does concede goals.

How does a nation of 160 million people who love flair in the middle of the park create a generation of prosaic ball winners? Inter Milan starlet Joel Obi has been injured leaving a lot resting on the shoulders of Chelsea star John Mikel Obi, the most well-known member of the Nigerian engine room. Perhaps it’s a sign of how short Nigeria are that they have taken a look at Rabiu Ibrahim, who’s hardly featured this past year in the Celtic first team. 

The good news for Keshi is the striking talent available to him is the best in Africa. The Big Boss has been able to leave at home a trio of household names in Yakubu, Obafemi Martins and Osaze Odemwingie.

Keshi has certainly been bold with his choices. When he was appointed by the Nigerian Football Federation in November 2011, the mandate they gave him was to get the side to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and 2014 World Cup.

If that is all that is expected it means things have changed in Nigerian expectations, perhaps in line with their actual achievements. The continental giants have won the Nations Cup only twice, on home soil in 1980 and in 1994 in Tunisia.

They have also finished as runners-up on four occasions (1984, 1988, 1990 and 2000) and they have emerged as third a record seven times.

Fans and officials have not been known for their patience in the past, but things are different this time around. Many believe reaching the knockout stage of the competition will be considered a success.

Nigeria begin their Nations Cup campaign against Burkina Faso on 21 January and then face Zambia and Ethiopia in Group C.

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