Last Saturday, our junior national soccer squad, the Flying Eagles, blundered to a 2 – 3 defeat in the first leg of the final round of the African chapter of the Junior World Cup qualifying race.
I had the opportunity of watching the live coverage on my television set. It was still a case of us not knowing how to deal with teams from the French-speaking countries of this continent.
Before I go into the factors which contributed to our defeat last Saturday, I will like to refresh the memories of my readers about what happened in the previous Junior World Cup races vis-à-vis our Flying Eagles.
In September, 1978, we were drawn against the same Cameroonian side. In the first leg played in Lagos, the Junior Eagles forced the invaders to a 1 – 1 draw. The visitors grabbed their lone goal in the 10th minute of the match. However, the Nigerians went to Cameroon and turned the tables there. We won by 1 – 0 to move to the next round.
Then in January, 1979, the Junior Eagles, led by Sylvanus Okpala, lost 0 – 1 to their Guinean counterparts in the first leg in Lagos. But to the amazement of the Guinean and Nigerian soccer disciples, the Junior Eagles went to Conakry and grabbed a 1 – 1 draw when the hosts should have had a massacre day, though the Guineans qualified for the final round on account of their 1 – 0 victory in Lagos.
Back to last Saturday’s defeat. What largely contributed to the Flying Eagles’ misfortune was not their late return to the camp as it is being argued in certain quarters. The first point is that we simply met our masters at least on that day. In fact, the visitors got the curtain raiser at the time one least expected. If anything, I was confident that the Flying Eagles would score first. I missed the first goal but the commentator attributed it to a defensive error. The two other goals scored by the visitors resulted from defensive errors as well.
Those who watched the match will agree with me that the second goal came through a badly timed sliding tackle by an Eagles’ defender. The attacker took off like a jumbo jet after avoiding the tackle. Another Eagles’ defender confronted him but the attacker had no problem getting rid of him. The predator approached our eighteen and measured the goal line. The Eagles’ goalkeeper covered the angle between him and the invader, expecting a pull out. But the shrewd attacker squeezed the ball into the net through the very angle covered by the goalkeeper.
Here, one must give full marks to the Flying Eagles ace midfielder Henry Nwosu who cancelled the two goals in a manner that amazed me. And so one felt that if anything, the match had better end in a 2 – 2 draw. But the Eagles threw every man into attack. Or so it seemed. Or the Cameroonians lured the Eagles into doing so, knowing fully well that the midfield, where a match is won or lost, was theirs. Then suddenly, there was a computerized thorough pass from the midfield. Eagles’ last man in the defence, Skipper Franklin Howard, was standing side by side with a Cameroonian target man. This is where I praise the visitors’ superb sense of anticipation. For, before our man knew that his prisoner had escaped, he (the target man) had covered a safe distance. Howard had his tail up as he gave the escapee a hot chase but it was a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. Poor goalkeeper Mike Ekpeyong rushed out to make a save but the well-tutored attacker, who possessed an assassin’s instinct in front of goal, simply lifted the ball over the goalkeeper’s head for the vital decider.
Like the saying goes, it is no use crying over spilled milk. It is not impossible that the Flying Eagles can go to Cameroon and beat their conquerors like they did in 1978. But they will have to score two goals, conceding none to be able to qualify for the finals proper to be held in Australia in August. Their handlers will have to work extra hard. There is the tendency that the hosts will play with an air of over-confidence. Besides, they will police Henry Nwosu so heavily and by so doing, there will be room for others in the Eagles’ attack to cause the havoc.
I suggest that Lukeman Oshun and Sunday Daniel should be fielded from the beginning. Oshun missed playing in the first leg because of the red card he earned in the match against the Tunisian side in the return leg played in Tunisia. Something has to be done in the midfield and defence line where the likes of Alfred Keyede, Stephen Keshi and Idris Musa failed to control for the better part of the 90 minutes.