I rarely discuss the prowess or any aspect of individual’s attainment whenever I dish out real meals on this familiar Sports Arena. But this time, I decided to delve into that side which seems unpalatable for me. The reason is simple; no one abhors goodness, except, of course someone with tank full of ‘incurable’ animosity and wicked pile for things done well.
This past week and the current one which has gradually come to end today climaxed times of beauty and heavy applause for Nigeria’s Super Eagles that are already on the verge of picking 2019 African Cup of Nations ticket after they missed out on two consecutive editions.
Super Eagles used to be a team cherished by many (especially compatriots) until in recent times when their performance dipped. Hope was more or less rekindled for the country’s senior Men team after the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) hired a foreign Gaffer, Gernot Rohr as the technical Adviser but since he was employed, apart from seeing his boys qualify for 2018 FIFA World Cup, their style of play has left soar taste and piled up much doubt whenever they file to represent Nigeria at any Game – be it friendly or competitive.
Moving on, there were measure of expectations from Rohr-led Super Eagles at this year’s mundial staged in Russia with tipping them to reach quarter-final, judging from the calibre of players at German-Franco tactician.
The outcome of that outing was almost nothing to wish for the most populated Nation, abundant in human and natural resources. It’s now a thing of the past that Nigeria couldn’t even claw out of the group stage, let alone hitting any enviable heights that haven’t been attained before.
Afterwards, Analysts have kept pondering and suggesting what went wrong. The general consensus was that – the formation of play by Super Eagles, anchored on the technical know-how of Coach Rohr didn’t clique. From Alex Iwobi, Arsenal hitman to Mikel Obi, captain of Super Eagles, then Odion Ighalo and other Players, there was rarely any meaningful connection any time they filed out on the pitch in Russia.
Amidst the floodgate of varying blames heaped on Rohr, one Player who was not spared on the other hand throughout the duration Super Eagles paraded themselves in Russia was Odion Ighalo.
As first-choice top striker, Ighalo who now plies his professional trade with a Chinese club known as Changchun Yatai, the role expected from the bulky-like footballer was mainly to bang in goals at any slightest opportunity but he didn’t live up to his bidding. Rather, it was Ahmed Musa (now in Saudi Arabia) who surprisingly shone like a million star, particularly when the Nigerian team squared up against Iceland.
His two goals, being the ones he scored at the recently held World Cup stood him out. Perhaps, those superlative goals ranked eighth best of the 169 goals scored at the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament got the officials of his current Saudi Arabia salivating for his capture – they succeeded after all.
Back to Ighalo, many thought that his not-too-impressive outing in Russia signalled his end as long as international career with Super Eagles was concerned. In fact, he nearly gave up after he faced threats by fuming fans.
However, he returned to swift reckoning once again when Nigeria faced Libya in a double-header Nations Cup qualifier. The soccer clashes with Libya (in Uyo and Sfax, Tunisia) turned Ighalo who was almost tagged Super Eagles Villain to Hero once again. Those matches ensured that the Edo-born Striker entered the historic book of record one of the rare Nigerian footballers who has netted hat-trick in a given Game. With that feat, Ighalo joined an enviable class of Nigerian goal scorers who have poached three goals in the colours of the national team.
In 69 years of Nigeria’s senior team existence, only ten players have scored three times in a game. There are; Buraimoh Abudu, Paul Hamilton, Christopher Chukwukadibia Popularly Called ‘Bobo Mordi’, Thompson Usiyen, ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami, Rasheed Yekini, Victor Ikpeba, Ikechukwu Uche And Nnamdi Oduamadi.
Scoring while representing one’s country begets great feeling not to talk of repeating such feat three times in a match. And so, Ighalo who was discovered in far back 2009, first represented Nigeria at the under 20 level, before he metamorphosed to the senior team in 2015.
All along, his goal scoring nature was evident until his form dipped at certain point even with English Premier League side, Watford. His sojourn to China systematically helped him to rediscover himself. This season alone, the former Granada and Udinese player has scored 20 goals for his club side.
Like it’s always the case, all eyes are now on him to continue to prove his mettle whenever he wears the green and white colours. Aside his performance against the Mediterranean Knights of Libya, he has a lot more on his corner. And that is to remain consistent and continue to display those skill he was known for initially when he began his professional journey.
Though, the 29-year old Nigerian player would be seriously sought for by some European teams that will want him back, the time remaining for him to be on the pitch has been shortened. That’s the more reason Super Eagles technical bench should do to discover another of his kind in near future. If they fill any exist, the onus lies with them to gradually throw him into fray.
In all, 2019 AFCON tournament could just be a time some Stars will show up and be counted.