Thursday, February 10, 2011


On February 9, 2011, many years after their last match in Lagos, the Super Eagles made a triumphant, but less than convincing, entry into the heart of Lagos fans at the Teslim Balogun stadium, Surulere. Goals from Taye Taiwo and Ekigho Ehiosun in the late kick-off ensured that the Eagles, currently ranked 40th on FIFA rankings, ran away with a 2-1 win over Sierra Leone, currently ranked 121st. However, Samson Siasia’s new Eagles team were booed at the latter stages of the match by the ever demanding Lagos fans, as the Eagles’ overall quality of play showed that the coach had a lot of work to do if he was to succeed in restoring the confidence of Nigerians in a team still recovering from the concussion of the 2010 World Cup embarrassment. In a new look Eagles team –  a mixture of foreign and local based players, that had Joseph Yobo, Osaze Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo as remnants of the World Cup team; Emmanuel Emenike, Michael Odibe and Joel Obi made their debut appearances.

For Siasia, it was a new beginning with great promises for the future. “I never expected an easy game from Sierra leone. But the Eagles did very well. I’m very happy and proud of them. But a lot of work has to be done, not just on the players, but administratively as well. This is a good start. If you don’t start you don’t get anywhere. We need to play more friendly matches…we will look at where we made mistakes and do the necessary changes. The most important thing is that we won,” said the coach afterwards. While the Eagles could be forgiven, as the match against Sierra Leone was their first real test, Siasia has a huge task ahead of him, noted Blessing Ogunli, managing partner, Soccerafric. “There was no revelation or particular individual brilliance in this team to make Nigerians believe that, collectively, we now have a world class team,” he said. For Christopher Cole, coach of Sierra Leone, his team gave a good account and should have won the match were it not for decisions that went against them. “The Eagles were given undue advantage by the referee which will not help Siasia and his team,” he said.

Just like before the match, the stadium’s synthetic pitch was a talking point after it. Siasia seemed to blame the pitch for the less than impressive Eagles performance. “The problem is that these boys are not used to playing on synthetic field, I have to talk to them to see whether they are okay with this field, if not we will go back to Abuja,” he noted. Despite being the cheerleader for the Eagles match to be moved to Lagos, his comments are understandable. Mikel Obi, who received a standing ovation from the Lagos crowd, was not fielded as he was reportedly advised by Chelsea team doctors not to play on a synthetic pitch so as not to aggravate his injury. Almost all European League matches are also being played on natural grass. Going by Siasia’s comments, unless something is done about the Teslim Balogun synthetic pitch, or probably its once illustrious neighbours, the National Stadium - which was used as car park on that day; the Eagles match last Wednesday may well be the last one Lagos fans might get to see in a long while.

Outside the pitch, the authorities could have done better as stadium security had their hands full in controlling hordes of the ticket-holding fans who wanted entrance into the stadium much earlier than stipulated. “They should have allowed them in long ago as it would have helped control the rush as well as help us do our job better,” noted one of the uniformed men on duty. The result was a half-filled stadium and broken down security gates stationed at the stadium’s entrance. Also, the team list erroneously put the number 10 as Peter Utaka, whereas he was actually wearing number 9 on the field on play. It took a while, especially for foreign journalists to identify the ‘missing’ number 10; while the name of Warri Wolves player Ekigho Ehiosun, who scored his debut goal for the Eagles, was misspelt ‘Ekitho’ Ehiosun.

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