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Eagles — One small step, a giant leap to the championship

It was only one match, but it moved Nigeria several notches up the rung of victory at AFCON 2023. The match against Cote d’Ivoire confirmed the often-held notion that a potential champion can be identified when a team is able to win a crucial match even when it does do not play brilliantly.

That’s what happened on Thursday night. The Super Eagles played with the attitude of potential champions – winning a most difficult match against the host team by deploying with very disciplined style of play, and, with a bit of luck, curtailed an anxious and determined Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire.

The Super Eagles definitely earned their victory! What most people have refused to consider here is to credit Jose Paseiro for any part of that victory. The man has gone too far down the bad books of Nigerians that more of the credit seems to be going to a player – William Troost-Ekong. He was the ‘coach’ on the field of play that the team lacked outside it.

Troost —- A new Leader of the
Super Eagles?

A NEW leader of the Super Eagles may be finally emerging from the shadows. His individual performance on this night reminded Nigerians about ‘Gentle Giant’ Uche Okechukwu, ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu, and ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi. The three were excellent Liberos, organisers of their defense from the centre-half position, clearing all loose balls that resulted from the close-marking and hard-tackling of their co-defenders, and taking on the responsibility of unofficially ‘coaching’ the team on the field of play.

William Troost-Ekong may have joined that special class when he stepped forward and took responsibility to nail the Ivoriens by taking a very ‘dangerous’ penalty kick that was heavily laden with pressure and tension! It was a very thin line to cross for him – between becoming a hero and new leader in the team, or becoming a ‘villain’ for the rest of his career (should he miss the kick).

Troost-Ekong’s individual performance made a big difference in that match. He was a deserving ‘Man of the Match’. He played with his heart and head, stabilising the defense, in particular, and rest of the team, generally.

Uncharacteristically, the Nigerian defense line was cool, calm, confident, well organised and impregnable. Thanks to Captain Ekong!
Are the Super Eagles back to their best?
No, not yet.

It is a team in process, coming up slowly but steadily. Should the Eagles win the last match against Guinea Bissau very well, they will remain in Abidjan to play their round-of-16 match. That will be a huge advantage for them that they can use as launch pad to get to the top of the pyramid.

Against all the odds, the Super Eagles looked better and more organised in their defensive play. When Osimhen, somehow eventually finds his feet and his rhythm, the team will become better and stronger. Stopping them will now become a huge mountain to climb for any team at AFCON 2023.

Ghana and Egypt — Drama on the streets
AFTER the Super Eagles versus the Elephants match, Ghanaians came out to the streets in droves, heading to viewing centres and bars that were still open, to watch their match with Egypt. It was a pulsating, exciting, entertaining and dramatic encounter, from start to finish.

Ghanaians, next door neighbours to Ivoriens, flooded Ivory Coast in cars and buses. We saw many of them at the Elubor border post. Most hotel rooms downtown were taken up by them. I am just wondering: what would happen should the Ghanaians exit the championship at this stage? The hotels will become full of empty rooms, I guess!

Tobi Amusan’s Trial Begins
THE Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), yesterday, began the hearing on the appeal filed by World Athletics via the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), challenging the first instance decision of the disciplinary tribunal in World Athletics Vs Nigeria and World Record holder in the 100m hurdles, Tobi Amusan.

The AIU filed the appeal to CAS on September 15, 2023, after a ruling of the World Athletics’ Disciplinary Tribunal found out that Amusan had not violated anti-doping rules for missing tests that led to her initial suspension.

Amusan set the women’s 100m hurdles world record at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon in July 2022 with a time of 12.12secs in the semi-final.
She went on to win gold in the final with a time of 12.06secs that did not go into the record books because the tailwind was too strong.

I Want To Do Better With
Super Eagles — Nwabali

SUPER Eagles goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali says he wants to do better with the team.

Nwabali has been on duty for Nigeria in the two matches played so far at the ongoing AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire. The team secured a 1-0 win over the Elephant of Cote d’Ivoire on Thursday, and the former Lobi Stars goalkeeper played a key role. Nwabali was happy about the outcome of the game but wants to get involved in more matches.

“I’m not happy, and I think I should do more for my country. I’m happy with the team’s victory, but my performance is not like me. I want to play more ball, be more confident and have fun,” he said. The Chippa United of South Africa goalkeeper is expected to be in goal when Nigeria take on Guinea-Bissau on Monday.

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