The Super Eagles are officially the third best team in Africa. It was confirmed after Gernot Rohr’s men crushed the challenge of the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia on Wednesday.
The victory over the 2004 champions was the end of a journey that began with a narrow win over Burundi.
And continued with a brushing aside of a decent Guinea outfit.
A blip was suffered against debutant Madagascar but a gallant Super Eagles soar over defending champions Cameroon. That momentum was maintained to down one-time winner South Africa in the quarterfinal.
Algeria, however, halted the team’s progress in the semifinal, a pointer that the side still has room to improve.
In what departments then can the team be strengthened and how?
Nigeria have a long history of fantastic goaltenders: Emmanuel Okala (named Africa’s Best in the late 70s). Best Ogedengbe. Peter Rufai. Ike Shorunmu. And more recently, Vincent Enyeama. Because of them, the country enjoyed uninterrupted supply of safe hands.
That flow appeared set to continue when Carl Ikeme comfortably stepped into the huge shoes left behind by Enyeama. An unfortunate illness however retired the former Wolves man prematurely.
The trio of Akpeyi, Uzoho and Ezenwa who have been jostling among themselves to replace Ikeme in-between the sticks have all failed to flatter.
Uzoho is terrible at shot stopping. Ezenwa is eccentric and erratic. Daniel Akpeyi was particularly poor in Egypt.
A better goaltender is needed.
19-year-old Maduka Okoye of Fortuna Dusseldorf is decent and has been invited to the national youth setup but he needs another two to three years to get to the desired performance level, consistenc y-wise.
Already ahead in his own development is Japan U23’s Obi Powell Obinna. He’s 21 and would be ready by the next AFCON but convincing him to dump the Asian giants and represent his fatherland may not be easy.
Only three clean sheets in seven games did not really do justice to the individual performances of the Super Eagles defenders.
William Troost-Ekong was immense, even grabbing a semifinal winner against South Africa. Kenneth Omeruo reminded many fans of peak Taribo West with his bravery and tackling.
The duo’s partnership will take some talent to break. But with John Ogu and Leon Balogun approaching the end of their national team careers, new bloods need to be injected into the team.
Manager Rohr has hinted that there could be a recall for former Arsenal youngster Semi Ajayi. CHAN 2016 Super Eagles top performer, Stephen Eze, who plies his trade with Bulgaria’s Lokomotiv Plovdiv can do a fine job as well.
AAA Gent’s newly acquired strongman, Reuben Yem can come in as an under-study.
The Super Eagles have an abundance of talents in midfield. Wilfried Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Alex Iwobi were Gernot Rohr’s first choice picks throughout the Africa Cup of Nations.
That trio does not lack in tough tackling, tenacity and trickery.
There are calls, however, for the team to be more creative and dynamic.
Against Tunisia, Iwobi must have taken a good look at Wahbi Kazhri and seen how a Number 10 takes a game by the scruff of the neck.
It’s no secret that the Arsenal winger desire to make his own the jersey about to be laid down by captain John Mikel Obi. No one will begrudge him that.
At least, it was once worn so majestically by his Uncle – a player so good they named him twice.
But Iwobi needs to be kept on his toes by an industrious and gifted player like Kelechi Nwakali.
The Arsenal youngster was the Golden Ball winner when Nigeria won her last U-17 World Cup and after loan spells at VVV Venlo and Porto B, he’s ready to under-study Iwobi.
His addition will greatly improve that team.
In Odion Ighalo, Nigeria boast Africa’s finest marksman. Tall like a tree, built like a wall, and strong like a horse, he’s been a handful for centre-backs at the continental championship.
Seven goals during the qualifying series and five strikes during the tournament proper bear witness that the target man has no equal on the continent presently.
No apologies to Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
However, the former Watford forward is 30 and may not be as smoking hot in two year’s time when another AFCON comes around.
Present deputies have to step up.
Upfront, the Super Eagles is spoilt for choice.
There are pure wingers who can beat full-backs with pace and dribbles. There are wingers who can play as inside-forwards. There are out-and-out strikers who have proven their ability to stick the ball into the back of the net.
Anyone of Victor Osimhen, Taiwo Awoniyi, Paul Onuachu, Anthony Nwakaeme or some yet unknown striker should gladly step into Ighalo’s shoes when he calls it quit.
20 of the 23-man Nigeria contingent to Egypt were greenhorns. Now the experience is acquired and will prove vital. And with the right additions to the team, the Super Eagles will rule Africa again.