Nigeria’s defeat to Madagascar wasn’t soo much a set back – because the team had already booked its passage to the next round of the 2019 AFCON – however, it was a bruise on their ego; and should be if the players don’t already feel so.
The other implication to that loss is the Eagles have potentially put themselves in a fix by finishing as runners up in group B, with the bracket in the knockout stages looking deviously fraught for them.
Chances are they could next play against any one of Ghana or Cameroon, with Benin also in the question.
Should Gernot Rohr succeed and supplant his previous AFCON record, there is also the possibility of his team going up against host nation Egypt in the quarter-final.
Basically, Nigeria’s path to a fourth AFCON title now appears more complicated and uncertain as Jon Snow’s relationship with the Mother of Dragons.
Nevertheless, the talent in the team is not in doubt.
The ability to rise above this challenge and excel is one that requires leadership in the locker room and on the pitch…cue here Mikel Obi.
Mikel, 32, is on the victory lap of his International career and this was clear since the World Cup in Russia.
His return to the team after a year’s hiatus was greeted with delight by the entire squad – allegedly – thus there’s expectation that he will carry this team.
By all account, the 2019 Eagles is his; this is his team and this AFCON is the one that should define his captaincy.
In 2013, the Super Eagles had bigger characters and massive personalities in Joseph Yobo – the Captain on the fringe – and Vincent Enyeama, who was the heir apparent.
That combo delivered the football-crazed nation a third, undeserved title, Mikel was a sidekick in that flick.
On this occasion his aura speaks to his teammates and every possible voice has paid him glowing tribute and obeisance; should he now not act Kingly and like a Warrior?
For the purpose of emphasis, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, as oddly recent as the 26th edition when Kanu Nwankwo was captain and 1974 World Cup winner Berti Vogts was in charge of the Eagles’ AFCON campaign in Ghana.
In his ripe old age of 31; at the twilight of his career at club and national team levels, Papilo was assertive as he was humble.
His biggest moment as captain came against arch rivals and host Ghana in the quarter-final fixture at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra.
As expected, the drama unfolded quickly when Yakubu Aiyegbeni scored the opener from the spot to fire Nigeria into the lead before Michael Essien’s header leveled sending the Black Stars fans in the 45,000 crowd into a rapturous celebrations.
The NFF’s employee, Vogts looked lost and crestfallen as his the team trailed 2-1 with 7 minutes left to play in a game Nigeria had dominated.
When he ran out of steam to motivate the players, it was archetypal of Kanu to step up the plate and he did.
Regardless of Sunday’s defeat to a team ranked 108 in the world – 63 spots behind Nigeria – the Super Eagles captain must show leadership; whether from the bench or marching his teammates out on the pitch.
He can no longer be a passive participant while he equally agrees this team “must find a way to play differently”.
That task begins the day after that humbling by the Barea, but must be seen on July 6 when the Eagles file out at the Alexandria Stadium again – maybe for the last time in this competition.
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