Nigeria’s Super Eagles; One Step Too Many

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It’s unfortunate that football in Nigeria which has always been the pride and joy of football lovers in the country is gradually going down the drain considering Nigeria’s latest FIFA rankings for the last month of the year (December), where the Super Eagles sit at 66th place in the world and 14th place in Africa.

There is no argument on why the senior national team has fallen way behind in the latest rankings based on the team’s performance at various competitions this year. A performance quite contrary to their younger counterparts, as the under 17 team were FIFA U-17 World Cup champions and the under 23 team were victors in the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations championship.

Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, directly or indirectly affected Nigeria’s ranking, coupled with their inconsistent results in international friendly matches which also serves as a coefficient for points.

The major high point for the team was their 3 – 0 whitewashing of Cameroon in an international friendly in Belgium, while struggling to beat teams like Niger, Swaziland, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo among a few other teams in international competitions.

The latest ranking, which qualifies as one of the worst ever for Nigeria in recent times, saw the likes of Uganda, Panama and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) all ranked above the three-time African champions.

Though previously termed ‘inconsequential’, Nigerian football officials are presently keen to see the Eagles improve on their FIFA rankings as the rating will influence the draws for the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers in Africa.

As stated by the world football governing body, the December edition of the FIFA Rankings was dominated by Russia.

Of the 137 matches taken into account for the latest ranking more than two-thirds (92 games) were World Cup qualifiers; eight of the 137 games were playoff matches to decide the final four teams to qualify for EURO 2016, and the remaining 37 matches were international friendlies.

Although the Super Eagles, under team coach, Sunday Oliseh were expected to restore Nigeria’s glory days in football, an early and shaky start in his reign means the team continues from where former coach Stephen Keshi stopped while he was tinkering the national team.

Nigeria’s most prominent ranking was in 1994, where the team ranked 4th. The Super Eagles shocked the world with their free-flowing football at the FIFA World Cup in the United States. Being their first appearance, the Super Eagles defeated Bulgaria 3 – 0, lost 2 – 1 to the ‘almighty’ Argentina, but ultimately beat Greece 2 – 0 to qualify for the knock-out stages.

However, inexperience cost the team another defeat in a round of 16 after losing 2 – 1 to Italy; a situation which ended Nigeria’s fairy tale at the mundial.

Expectations are still high on Nigeria’s chances of reaching this feat next year, Oliseh’s quest for re-branding the senior national team will be put under scrutiny if the team fails to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Besides, the Nigerian Football Federation must make sure that they organize grade ‘A’ international friendly matches that will help to improve the team’s ranking in 2016. It is not enough to play friendly matches without considering playing some of the key nations such as Germany, France, Holland, England, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and many more, and it is paramount to get positive results.

If Nigeria’s dwindling nature continues to persist, then the team has no choice but to face a difficult path in their quest of booking their ticket to be among the contenders at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. With teams like Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt and Cameroon in far better position based on their rankings, the Super Eagles have a mountain to climb.

The next FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will be published on January 7, 2016.

Austine Akhilomen is a Sports Correspondent and Journalist for all things Nigerian and African sports around the globe. He is also a Superfan of the Super Eagles.