On Friday, March 10, the Flying Eagles of Nigeria recovered from their lethargic showing against The Gambia to record a four-goal victory over Tunisia’s Young Carthage Eagles to claim bronze at the 17th Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt.
The victory in the losers’ finals didn’t assuage the pain of the failure of the team to reach the finals and possibly win their 8th title but the Minister of Sports, Chief Sunday Dare, in his fatherly wisdom, said the win as inconsequential as it may appear, was still better than nothing. According to him, the Eagles are not coming back empty handed so it is worthy of celebration. But I doubt, if the Flying Eagles would appear before PMB in the Presidential Villa with the medals.
Although most Nigerians have since descended hard on the Head Coach Ladan Bosso and his boys, I want to queue behind the Minister of Sports by saying we should not throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Even as the Flying Eagles failed to rise to the occasion, it would have been more disastrous for the nation and Bosso, had they failed to qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Indonesia. Before they stung to death by the Young Scorpions of The Gambia who edged them 1-0 in their semi-final clash, the Flying Eagles had beaten Uganda 1-0 to pick one of the tickets to represent Africa at the World Cup.
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Therefore, even as they missed the chance to increase their AFCON titles to eight, the Flying Eagles didn’t miss the most important thing that was at stake in Egypt.
Even as they deserve commendation for qualifying for the World Cup, there is no denying the fact that the Flying Eagles failed to perform up to the expectations of Nigerians. The attractive brand of football that most Nigerian junior national teams are known for was lacking in the Flying Eagles. They arrived Egypt on a high with an unbeaten record from over 18 friendlies but right from the opening match, the boys failed to impress as they huffed and puffed but lost 0-1 against the Young Terranga Lions of Senegal. Although they managed to put their campaign back on track with slim victories over Egypt and Mozambique, the Flying Eagles were far from convincing.
So, it was laughable that some incurable optimists among supporters of the team quickly compared the Bosso tutored lads with the Argentines who lost their opening match to Saudi Arabia but recovered to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Well, in the quarter-final match against the Hippos of Uganda, there was a slight improvement as they won 2-0 to pick their 13th World Cup ticket. However, when pitched against one of the best teams in the tournament, the Young Scorpions of The Gambia, the Flying Eagles faltered again.
Therefore, by the time they were thrashing the Young Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, they were simply locking the stable after the horse had bolted. The Flying Eagles appeared to have saved the best for the last but it was glaring that the goals didn’t drop at the right time. Maybe they should be taught when exactly to score goals. The white-wash of the Young Carthage Eagles was another beautiful nonsense.
Anyway, there is no need crying too much over spilled milk. There are some positives from Egypt to take home. The Flying Eagles as unimpressive as they were, have qualified for the World Cup. And Coach Bosso also has made amends with qualification. Another thing of interest is that the coach is not pretending that he has a team for the World Cup. Going by his declaration that Nigerians would see a different Flying Eagles in Indonesia, Bosso has amplified the position of most Nigerians that the present squad is not good enough.
Although he has not sought my advice, I want to advise Bosso to urgently tinker with the team by dropping those players who failed to impress in Egypt. I don’t want to offend anyone, especially football agents who allegedly produced more than half of the players by mentioning names of players but I believe even the coach knows those who should be dropped.
My friend Bosso must be courageous enough to axe some players. His posture after the semi-final loss tells me that he will be willing to take the bull by the horns.
Honestly, I sympathise with Bosso because beginning from the day he was reappointed as Head Coach of the Flying Eagles, he has been under tremendous pressure from agents who want their players to be in the team. It will be recalled that some months ago, the coach reportedly said he was tempted with a hefty bribe by a foreign based agent.
However, the NFF later issued a press statement to disassociate the coach with the report. But some said there can be no smoke without fire. Moreover, there is no national team coach in Nigeria who is not subjected to pressure from agents and some bigwigs in the NFF when it comes to selection of players. I think Bosso tried but, in the end, he submitted to those men whose personal interests constantly override national interest.
But this is the time Bosso must dare even his benefactors. As he rejigs his squad for the World Cup which is just around the corner, he should know that his reputation as the president of Nigerian football Coaches Association is at stake. Failure in Indonesia will definitely be a bad advertisement for Nigerian coaches. So, to avoid another mishap with the team, he must do away with personal and selfish interests to be able to put together a formidable squad that will break the U-20 World Cup jinx.
It is on record that since the start of the FIFA U-20 Word Cup in 1977 when it was known as FIFA World Youth Championship, Nigeria has not won the tournament. The Flying Eagles emerged runners up in 1989 (most of us will remember the ‘miracle of Dammam’) and in 2005 in Holland. The national U-20 team also boasts of a bronze medal won in 1985 in the then Soviet Union (USSR). Even when Nigeria hosted the championship in 1999, the Flying Eagles couldn’t soar high enough. Therefore, Bosso must go back to the drawing board to emerge with a team that can break this jinx. It is so shameful that Nigeria has won five FIFA U-17 trophies but can’t boast of even one FIFA U-20 World Cup title.
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