When you’ve already won the African Cup of Nations a staggering three times, it makes sense that your team would be one of the favourites to take the trophy in 2017.
Yet, Nigeria failed to qualify from Group G as they placed second to Egypt. Of course, normally the top two teams would qualify, but with Chad withdrawing due to financial reasons it means that all games against Chad were void and only the top team would qualify.
Yet, even with the group only allowing one team to qualify, it was still a massive surprise that Nigeria were knocked out by Egypt. After-all, Nigeria is one of Africa’s richest countries and, compared to other nations, have a massive male population from which to choose the best football stars.
Which has been shown in the team’s football record. Not only have Nigeria won AFCON three times – with their last win in just 2013 – this is a team that have won more World Cup games than any other African nation. That’s not forgetting that Nigeria have a wonderful youth training record with the U17 World Cup team winning a record five trophies and have reached the finals eight times.
Something that even Brazil have failed to do. So what can be done to improve the team?
Well Nigeria already have a host of impressive players on which to call up to their team – especially those who currently play in the English premier league.
This includes Kelechi Iheanacho who has been one of Manchester City’s top scorers this season and Alex Iwobi who plays as a striker for Arsenal FC. That’s not forgetting Chelsea’s Victor Moses, who matched with the others certainly makes for a dangerous trio to contend with.
Also in the line-up for the Nigerian team are striker OdionIghalo who plays for Watford and Ahmed Musa (forward) and Wilfred Ndidi (who is a versatile player than can play various positions) who are both signed to Leicester City. Of course, around about the time of the AFCON these English clubs are usually mourning the loss of top players like this to the tournament, but this year all the Nigerian players are still in the premiership playing for their clubs. Which might be good for the mangers, but not for Nigeria or the players missing out on the glory of AFCON.
It’s true that the Nigerian team have already got some talented players, but in order to qualify for the next AFCON in 2019 and to qualify for next year’s World Cup the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) will need to further the talent pool and bring more players into the team.
One way that this could be done is by taking inspiration from Iwobi, who actually grew up in England and played for the English youth squad but was also eligible to play for Nigeria.
These second generation European players are something that the Algerian football team have taken advantage of to help take their team to new heights.
Nigeria need to be looking at players like Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool), Ebere Eze (Queens Park Rangers) and Olufela Olomola (Southampton) in a bid to persuade these talented players to play for Nigeria. With just a few more players on their side, there’s a great chance Nigeria will return to their former glory – just in time to smash it at the World Cup!