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Good effort Super Eagles

African champions, Nigeria, ended a hectic month by getting knocked out of the Confederations Cup group stage, following a 3-0 defeat by Spain.

There has been incredible and mindless criticism of the team by so-called pundits and Internet warriors. Personally, I find these critics and their points outrageous. I consider myself to be very rooted in the Nigerian national team and the history of players and coaches. As a Nigerian I take our defeats personally. Each goal scored against Nigeria in ANY senior match hurts.

Going into this competition, I had an interview with coach Stephen Keshi and he told me that his eyes were firmly fixed on the team’s qualification for the main event – the 2014 Fifa World Cup. After the performances against Uruguay and Spain I can beat my chest and proclaim how very proud I am of this team, the players and the effort they have put forth in the last six months. All of them have been proper ambassadors of the country and I am proud to call them Nigerians.

Stephen Keshi is the best thing to have happened to Nigerian football since Clemens Westerhof. He has a plan. He plans to stick to this his plan and, as he has proved with the Afcon triumph, he will get it right and make the country proud. He is human and will make mistakes along the way but many can see the progress his team has made

This progress includes Nigeria having 46 per cent of the possession against Spain in the first half of the match – not many teams can ever boast of doing that. This was not possession in the Nigerian half only.

To the critics of the current Nigerian team, I have to ask what it is within the last TEN years that puts any level of expectation on the Nigerian national team? Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 Afcon and the 2006 Fifa World Cup. Until January this year, their last appearance in an Afcon final was at home in 2000. Nigeria’s last win at a World Cup was in 1998, when a Victor Ikpeba goal defeated Bulgaria – the country has gone through the ’02 and ’10 world cups without a win. So, what on earth makes ANY Nigerian expect so much more from the team?

Nigerians, it seems, are caught in a time warp of the sensational football played by Clemens Westerhof’s side from ’91-94, when they went so close to causing a huge upset at the US ’94 World Cup. The confident play in the US was preceded by the Afcon win in Tunisia a few months earlier.

Well, that time has gone and remains part of our history. The country’s most recent history has been littered with failures – not even glorious failures but really abject ones. Teams featuring the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, JJ Okocha, Yakubu, Odemwegie, Yobo, Utaka, Taribo West and a few other supposedly exalted names have failed to make an Afcon fnial. Yet, this team, that is so new in construction, has won the Afcon but still gets criticism that is formed by a baseless arrogance and a sense of entitlement.

Just for the record, Stephen Keshi has done what an assortment of foreign coaches could never do – win us a title. Also for the record, I hold no respect for an Olympic football gold whatsoever – it is no different from the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in my book. On this note, Keshi and his band of inexperienced players are on the same level with the much celebrated 1994 bunch brilliantly assembled by Clemens Westerhof over a four year period.

This team arrived in Brazil without Emmanuel Emenika, Victor Moses and Ogenyi Onazi. Kalu Uche pulled out also through injury while a few others were unavailable for various reasons. In the tournament, the very promising Nnamdi Oduamadi got injured against Uruguay while Kenneth Omeruo also got injured against Spain. In all of these situations, the team still gave a solid account of themselves.

The recurring theme in all the matches was that the strikers missed clear chances. No arguing that. Every coach will tell you that the time to worry is when your team is not creating chances. This team created plenty in ALL the matches they played in.

This team is a work in progress. They are progressing nicely. Hopefully they will be back in Brazil next year and then the progress will be better assessed but I can bet that they will win one match at least, no matter who they have in their group.

Agree or disagree with me, please respond here or follow me on Twitter: @CalvinEmeka

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