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Eagles’ quest for World Cup ticket as Ighalo returns

It is no news that the Super Eagles of Nigeria remains one of the big teams in African football, but inconsistency has been a major bane. As the last round of qualifier matches in the first round draw near, three teams of the 10 expected to emerge have booked tickets for the final playoffs expected to produce qualifiers for Qatar 2022 World Cup. With 12 points garnered, Senegal and Morocco qualified for the playoffs of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers after defeating Namibia 3-1 and Guinea 4-1 respectively. We believe such convincing results should be a norm for big teams in the round leather game.

Egypt has also booked her ticket to feature in the final playoffs. We recall that despite recording six points in the first two games, the Super Eagles crumbled and fumbled in the last window to record the most embarrassing result of 1-0 loss to the Central African Republic in Lagos. It was a rude shock. The first two games were won by sheer luck and not the tactics and management of coach Gernot Rohr.

The Nigeria Football Federation has decided to stick with Rohr despite the obvious lapses and inconsistency in the team. Now, the latest controversy is the move by the federation and Rohr to bring back former striker Odion Ighalo to the team. Shortly after the AFCON 2019 in Egypt, Ighalo had decided to retire from the Eagles for personal reasons. It is so funny that at a time the team should focus on the next two matches to book a ticket to the playoffs, the NFF is playing to the gallery with the Ighalo decision. We believe strongly that the Eagles are not lacking in the striking department with Victor Osimhen as number one choice and Paul Onuachu also in the team.

There is Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, Cyril Dessers and Taren Moffi also in the mix in the Eagles attack. Interestingly, these strikers are all currently doing well and playing in better leagues than Ighalo, who is Saudi Arabia, and should ordinarily be allowed to enjoy his retirement contract in the oil rich country.

Opinions are divided about the Ighalo decision at a time the NFF, technical crew and the players should focus on winning the final two games in the group. Currently, Cape Verde is on seven points while Nigeria is on nine points and so a ticket to the playoff stage cannot be guaranteed until the last day except Cape Verde loses surprisingly at home to Liberia.

We make bold to say that depending on other results for progress in a World Cup qualifier is bad for Nigeria at this stage of the country’s football. Getting a ticket to Qatar is now dicey because Nigeria could drop out of the Top 5 in Africa on the FIFA Rankings with Egypt (6th), Ghana (7th), Cote d’Ivoire (8th) and Cameroon (9th) waiting for a slip to climb the ladder. If Nigeria manages to pick the only ticket in group D as expected, the country must also ensure a top five place on the rankings. This is because the top five will be seeded to face the remaining five for the final round of qualification playoffs.

No doubt, it is better to be among the top five to avoid meeting continental powerhouses like Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. But Egypt and Ghana are among those expected to be between the 6th and 10th place. In the next window, Eagles will travel away to play Liberia on Saturday and come back home to play Cape Verde in a decisive fixture on November 16. We expect the best of preparation for these two games rather than the distraction over the return of Ighalo.

The team needs to be highly motivated and psychologically prepared for these matches. Sad enough the current Eagles are not mentally strong for big games, rather they crumble when under pressure to get results. The dressing room of the senior national team could be divided with the return of Ighalo and the timing for initiating this is very wrong.

It is clear that the Eagles are not sitting pretty as group leaders and any mistake could spell doom. We strongly believe the Ighalo ‘card’ is an NFF initiative but this could be counter-productive as Moffi, Dessers and Awoniyi were not on the list released on Monday. The seven remaining slots in the qualifiers will be keenly contested and anything could happen at home or away in these fixtures. The NFF should be ready to bear the consequences of the boardroom decisions the President Amaju Pinnick is taking on behalf of the technical department and the Eagles manager.

It’s highly unlikely that the Technical Department or Rohr did not recommend Ighalo but Pinnick and some powerful people in the federation felt his experience was needed. These decision makers will not be in the Eagles camp when the effects of their decisions manifest. We wish the Super Eagles the best of luck against Liberia and Cape Verde.

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