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Debut for many as Super Eagles tackle Mexico in Los Angeles

As the Super Eagles trade tackles with CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico tonight in their fifth international match at the AT & T Stadium in Dallas, State…

As the Super Eagles trade tackles with CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico tonight in their fifth international match at the AT & T Stadium in Dallas, State of Texas, there will be many debut appearances on the side of the three time African champions. 

In five matches between the two gladiators, the North American giants have a better head-to-head record which is by way of one massive victory over the Super Eagles. 

Mexico’s victory against a hurriedly assembled Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) stars who were taken to the cleaners but their more illustrious opponents on July 3, 2021 at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles in the USA in what still separates the two footballing giants.  

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Stanley Nwabili, Adeleke Adekunle, Imo Obot, Tope Olusesi, Seth Mayi, Uche Onwuansanya, Stephen Jude, Sunday Adetunji And Mohammed Zulkilfilu were in the squad that crumbled like a pack of cards against the Mexicans.

Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) before they jetted out to the USA for the friendly matches with Mexico and Ecuador

 

It must also be noted that former NPFL stars like Olisa Ndah, Anaya Iwuala, Tony Shimaga, Franklin Tebo, Charles Atshimene and Sunusi Ibrahim were also in the team.

Before the heavy loss, the Super Eagles had drawn 1-1 with Mexico on January 13, 1995 in a Confederation Cup match, drew 2-2 on October 14, 2007 in their first international friendly, then played 2-2 in another international friendly on May 31, 2013 and 0-0 draw on March 5, 2014 before the massacre on July 3, 2021.

Therefore, tonight’s match offers the star studded Super Eagles who will be playing under a new coach, Jose Santos Peseiro, the opportunity to avenge that heavy loss.

Interestingly, the match also serves as a ‘baptism of fire’ for the newly appointed Head Coach of the Super Eagles, assistant coaches Finidi George and Usman Abdallah as well as the NPFL stars who have been invited to be part of the double friendly matches.

After tonight’s match, the Super Eagles will make a short trip to New Jersey to tackle Ecuador in the second international friendly at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison on Thursday, June 2.

Talking about debut appearances for the former African champions, all eyes will be on the new coach who is expected to use the match against Mexico to make a good impression because as it is said, there is no second chance for a first impression.

In his over three decades of active coaching, Peseiro can boast of brief stints with only two national teams of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. It is on record that he didn’t fare well with either of the national teams.

When he was appointed coach of Venezuela, he made his debut on October 9 in a 3–0 loss away to Colombia in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. He was outsmarted by his mentor and compatriot, Carlos Queiroz who was in the Colombians dugout.

It is such an ignominious record that the 62-year old Portuguese will like to avoid when he makes his debut appearance with the Super Eagles in Los Angeles against Mexico.

Apart from the Head Coach, two former Nigerian internationals, Finidi George and Usman Abdallah will also make their debut in the dugout for the Super Eagles.

Initially, Salisu Yusuf was appointed 1st assistant coach to Peseiro but for inexplicable reasons, he was demoted to second assistant position while the former Ajax of Holland’s legend was elevated from second to the position of first assistant coach.

Finidi whose elevation has attracted condemnation in some quarters is presently the Technical Adviser of former CAF Champions League winners, Enyimba. Part of the reasons his critics have questioned the decision to place him above Yusuf is that he is still learning the ropes. His appointment as coach of Enyimba FC is actually his first in the topflight. 

However, Finidi who made his debut for Nigeria in 1991, in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Burkina Faso, in which he assisted late Rashidi Yekini thrice and scored once in a 7–1 massacre, will debut for the Super Eagles this time, as an assistant coach. 

Peseiro’s third assistant Usman Abdallah who is the Technical adviser of Katsina United is another person who will be making his debut with the Super Eagles. Also a former Nigerian international, Usman who made a name playing for the Flying Eagles along with his elder brother Hassan is a versatile coach with coaching credentials obtained in Europe and Asia. 

Usman who is also a French citizen is a sound coach who handled clubs in France before he returned home to serve as assistant at home club Kano Pillars from where he left to coach Enyimba, Wikki Tourists and now Katsina United. 

Apart from debut appearances for the coaching trio, there is also another foreign based young defensive midfielder, Alhassan Yusuf, who plies his trade with Royal Antwerp FC in Belgium. 

After so many recommendations which fell on deaf ears in the era of Rohr, the combative 21-year old midfielder will finally have his moment in the sun, if he is handed his first cap tonight against Mexico. 

 In addition, Nigerians will also be eager to see who among the home-based players listed earlier by Yusuf will find favour with Peseiro for a ‘baptism of fire’ tonight. 

It will be recalled that during the reign of Gerot Rohr, home-based players were almost ostracized. After openly condemning the standard of the domestic league, only three NPFL stars, Ikechukwu Ezenwa (goalkeeper), Anayo Iwuala (attacking winger) and John Noble (goalkeeper) received the attention of the Franco-German football tactician.

Without doubt, the continued neglect of home-based players was one of the problems Rohr had with most Nigerian football fans, especially stakeholders in the NPFL.

It was against this background that when Yusuf invited goalkeepers Adewale Adeyinka (Akwa United) and Ojo Olorunleke (Enyimba), defenders Ibrahim Buhari (Plateau United), Isa Ali (Remo Stars), midfielders Chiamaka Madu (Rivers United), Babatunde Afeez (Kwara United) and strikers, Victor Mbaoma (Enyimba), Ishaq Rafiu Kayode (Rivers United), it drew wide commendation from those who want to see the inclusion of local content in the senior national team.

Therefore, even as Afeez is out of the squad following visa issues, debut appearances beckon for the remaining NPFL ambassadors who arrived in the USA on Wednesday to team up with their foreign compatriots for tonight’s duel. 

Goalkeeper Olorunleke is a former junior international, Kayode is the hottest striker in the ongoing NPFL season with 14 goals. He is closely followed by Mbaoma of Enyimba who has scored 12 goals while Buhari has been rock-solid in the defence of title chasing Plateau United. 

Debut appearances for the talented NPFL players will no doubt be enough motivation for them to fight for permanent places in the squad that is to prosecute the 2023 AFCON qualifiers against Lone Stars of Sierra Leone on June 9. 

Thus, Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see what the debutante from the dugout and those on the field will offer against the CONCACAF heavyweights.

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