In what is fast becoming Nigerian football’s trademark move, one coach qualifies the Super Eagles for a major tournament, and another leads the team to the championship proper. This time, Gernot Rohr vacates the driving seat for Augustine Eguavoen to steer the Eagles into Cameroon 2021.
Three observations can be gleaned from the reactions that have trailed Gernot Rohr’s sack.
Rohr’s sack is largely a welcomed development. The timing of the German’s dismissal, barely four weeks to the 2021 Afcon, is poor. The former Bordeaux manager’s replacement, Augustine Eguavoen, is unpopular.
Despite being a member of the all-conquering Super Eagles side that ruled Africa in 1994, Eguavoen’s appointment does not inspire much hope in fans.
The reasons for that do not require high-level maths skills to decipher.
The former ACB Lagos defender enjoyed several exciting spells as head coach of a few clubs home and abroad but has won nothing and has barely been at a job for more than two years.
Still, the Nigerian Football Federation has found none more suitable than the former Gent ace as Rohr’s replacement.
And barring another knee-jerk reaction by the unpredictable NFF, the 56-year-old will lead Nigeria’s charge for a fourth continental crown in Cameroon.
However, it is not the first time Eguavoen would face such a challenge.
Fifteen years ago, Eguavoen was partnered with 2005 World Youth Championship silver-winning coach Samson Siasia and saddled with ensuring a decent outing for Nigeria at the 2006 Afcon.
Putting together a team of old-heads (Okocha, Kanu, Yobo) and greenhorns (Nsofor, Nwaneri, Mikel Obi), Eguavoen led the Eagles to a third-place finish at Egypt ’06.
That team was far from being superb, but it was functional and had balls, and it took a Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast to stop it in the semifinals.
With Eguavoen’s return to lead another Super Eagles’ title hunt with only days to Cameroon 2021, one cannot help but draw parallels between this adventure and his AFCON audition a decade and a half ago.
And here are three things Egypt 2006 taught the football world about the former Sharks FC coach.
Eguavoen has the guts to favour young and in-form players
Of the 23 players Eguavoen took to Egypt in 2006, 16 were aged 23 years and below.
John Mikel Obi, Obinna Nsofor, Sani Kaita, and Paul Obiefule were still in their teens, while Taye Taiwo had only turned 20.
All these players had helped Nigeria reach the final of the WYC in the Netherlands a few months earlier.
Veteran midfielders Austin Okocha and Garba Lawal were the only players in their thirties.
Eguavoen also invited strikers who were making waves in Europe at the time: Inter Milan’s Obafemi Martins, Lille’s Peter Odemwingie, Portsmouth’s Nwankwo Kanu, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Julius Aghahowa, and Palermo’s Stephen Makinwa.
It can, therefore, be predicted that Eguavoen’s final team list to Cameroon would be one that would make Eagles’ fans proud.
Eguavoen likes his team to be hard to beat
With Nigeria having lost the 2006 World Cup ticket to Angola on the head-to-head rule, confidence in the team was at an all-time low.
But Eguavoen managed to forge a team that was tough to beat.
Nigeria, placed in a tough group with Ghana, Senegal, and Zimbabwe, rekindled title hopes by grinding out three victories in the group stages, scoring five and conceding one.
Tunisia found the West African side a hard nut to crack in the quarterfinals before Didier Drogba struck the knockout blow in the semifinals.
If anything, Eguavoen’s Eagles will not be disgraced in Cameroon.
Uninspiring Eguavoen is no tactical novice
With Okocha struggling with match fitness and Kanu mainly kept on the bench, there was no swagger in the Eagles midfield and almost zero creativity in attack at the 2006 Afcon.
But Joseph Yobo provided solidity in defence, Christian Obodo was full of industry in the middle of the park, and, in attack, Martins constantly sniffed out chances in Eguavoen’s adapted 4-3-3.
The coach, though, showed his tactical nous in the Eagles’ last Group D game against Senegal.
Nigeria needed a draw to guarantee the top spot, but the Eagles fell behind on the hour-mark to a Souleymane Camara effort.
Eguavoen’s introduction of Kanu, Nsofor, and Lawal in the second half changed the complexion of the tie as Martins struck twice to hand the Eagles a 2-1 win.
Eguavoen, however, could not repeat the trick when Drogba gave the Ivory Coast the lead in the semifinals. But he still put a solid team in place that defeated Senegal again in the third-place match.
Afcon 2021 presents Eguavoen with a rare second chance to correct his Afcon 2006 mistakes and take the Super Eagles past that glorious finish line.