• Latest News

    Saturday, February 10, 2024

    AFCON Final: Premier League Hails Super Eagles' Iwobi, Aina, Others

    The final of the 2023 AFCON coming up tomorrow in Abidjan has all the trappings of a Nollywood movie. Here are two teams that were in the same group. Nigeria finished 2nd behind Equatorial Guinea, while Ivory Coast who were tipped as favourites to top the group survived by the whiskers as one of the best third place finishers.

    When Nigeria clashed with Ivory Coast on Match Day 2 of the tournament, the Eagles ran away with a lone goal victory, courtesy a William Troost-Ekong well taken penalty. The journey has gone round circle and through their hard work, commitment and sense of purpose they got to the final. The question now is who wins this final battle to become the new African champion?

    Nigeria and Ivory Coast are no strangers to each other. In April 1994 in Tunisia, Nigeria defeated Ivory Coast in the semi finals. In that encounter, the Super Eagles paraded the likes of late Rashidi Yekini, Sunday Oliseh, current assistant coach to Peseiro, George Finidi, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel Amokachi, among others . Indeed it was Nigeria’s finest team in recent history.

    In 2013 in South Africa, the Super Eagles, then under late Coach Stephen Keshi, Ivory Coast again fell to the Super Eagles in the semi final on their way to clinching the trophy in South Africa. We reached out to the keeper of the Eagles in the 1994 squad Peter Rufai, the Dodo Mayana of Nigerian football and captain of the 2013 team, Joseph Yobo to send words to the Eagles who , tomorrow, step on the stage they they were once on and became victorious. How should they do it? What qualities do Ivoriens have that should be of concern to them? They were professionally eloquent and spot on.

    First, the message from Yobo:

     ”I think they (the Super Eagles) have done all the hard work they needed to do to get to the final. They should keep their foot on the pedal; same focus, same determination and they should try and manage the game well because the Ivorians will be coming at us with revenge on their minds as we have beaten them before in this tournament. We are going for the trophy.

    “There is really little one can say about this team because they didn’t start very well – which is common with great teams – but they have developed with every game and they have found a formular that works for them and there is unity. They have done almost everything right.”

    The former Everton great said beyond all these, the players should seek personal glory because the chance to be  continental  champions doesn’t always come your way.

    “What they need to know is that for some of them, this could be the last chance to become champions before they retire. When you see an opportunity to become a champion you seize it. I am saying this because it took me until my 6th AFCON before I won it{though I have 4 bronze medals), but bronze is not gold,  silver is not gold.  So all I am saying is, if you are in a team and you find yourself in this position of being in the final, do whatever you can to win it because this could just be your last chance in your career.”

    He paid tribute to the team’s handler, Jose Peseiro and his crew at this tournament: “Credit must also go to the coach who has piloted the team to this level. He found a winning formular. Things are not perfect but you would have observed that they are not conceding many goals. So, if we can get one goal let’s manage it better so that what happened in the match against South Africa won’t repeat itself because the final will be highly contested.”

    Yobo added: “Individually, they have done fantastically well from the goalkeeper to the attack. My advice is, whatever they did to contain the Bafana Bafana and brought us to the final they have done very well. We have the strikers to get us the goals and the players themselves must have known how difficult it is to play in AFCON and as much as we want to win it,other nations too are gunning for it as well.

    It took us over ten years to get to another final and the players should consider this as a rare opportunity for them to write their names in history books. It is a career-defining opportunity which should not be frittered away. They should increase their focus, their game management, belief and keep that team spirit of working for one another. Again I want to commend them because as the game gets tougher the Super Eagles raise their game higher. To beat South Africa the way we did and scaled through the penalty shootout, that goes to show that this team has character. You have done the work, get on that final stage, manage the game and complete the work. My good wishes and prayers to you.”


    On his part Peter Rufai, a 1994 winner of AFCON was unshakable in his belief in the Super Eagles. He said, “They started a tough journey that was really special. Unlike every other AFCON, this has been really special. Notwithstanding, they started very slow and have grown with the tournament. They have been able to navigate to the next level and now they are in the final. I can only wish them the best. I want them to remain calm and be disciplined. So far their discipline has helped them. Their game management, unity and team work have helped them too.

    They should remember that they are representing over 120 million Nigerians back home. When they go ahead and win the trophy, they will be writing their names in the annals of Nigerian football. We trust them, we believe in them and we can only wish them the best. I have that confidence that they can do it. From the goalkeeper, Nwabali to the strikers I wish them the best. I have been following him(Nwabali) from the beginning of AFCON and he has been consistent and excellent in all his attributes and characteristics . He should maintain them and even do better  because this is the final. The players too should take their game to the next level.”


    As a former goalkeeper, Rufai had some words on Nwabali: What fine attributes have you found in Nwabali?

    Nwabali has got the basics of goalkeeping. The basics of goalkeeping, deal with how to initiate, how to cover up, how to close up the space against the opponent so that the opponents will not be in a position to deal with your defence and deal with you. Those are the attributes of a good goalkeeper. With such attributes, we just have to wish him the best.

    The Eagles will be facing Ivory Coast. What are those attributes you find in the hosts that the Eagles should be mindful of?

    Ivory Coast will be playing before thousands of their fans and as the host nation, their players will be coming out with the intention of winning the trophy. In that regard, our players should know that it is 11 men against 11. For the Ivorians, it will be a do-or-die affair. If someone comes to fight you before your father or mother, you will fight like you have never fought before. That is the feeling and motivation the Ivorian players will be coming out with.

    This is a team that was almost out. I am sure some of them living abroad called their families to say we are coming home because they thought they had been eliminated from the tournament. Finding them in the final after their shaky start was not a fluke and such they cannot be underrated. They improved superbly and luck appears to be on their side. They are coming out hot. My advice is that such teams should not be underrated.

    They are going to fight tooth and nail to see if they can win the trophy. That is the feeling they are going to come out with but Nigeria have nothing to fear because our players are better than theirs. Nigeria is superior to Ivory Coast in all ramifications. Is it in the calibre of players we are parading, team work, tactical formation? Nigeria is superior. But the superior team doesn’t always win. That’s football. Ivory Coast will not play us the way  South Africa played. South Africa played the way they did because they wanted to prove something but they understand better now that they are the boys and the Super Eagles are the men. They met their masters.


    He recalled, In 1994, I played against Ivory Coast and we defeated them on penalties. They are full of pride and they came with full confidence. After full time the match went into extra time, subsequently, they dragged us into a penalty shootout which we eventually won. Ivory Coast doesn’t have that golden era again. After our era, they had another great generation. Players like Drogba, Yahaya and Kolou Toure, Salomon Kalou, etc. They are no longer there.

    So, one on one, we have better players now.They  have young players who have been impressive while some have been caught up with age. We have players who will run them down. The Super Eagles must maintain their game. One on one Super Eagles will win it. No one picks the ball from a Super Eagles player, particularly the defence which has impressed so much. Ekong, Aina, Ajayi and Calvin Bassey have been excellent at the back.All the Super Eagles need for that final match are the three Ds – Discipline, Dedication and Determination.

    It is interesting to note that each time Nigeria meets Ivory Coast in the tournament, the Super Eagles go ahead to win it. Will this year be the same?

    • Blogger Comments
    • Facebook Comments


    Item Reviewed: AFCON Final: Premier League Hails Super Eagles' Iwobi, Aina, Others Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
    Scroll to Top