By Emmanuel Ebimoh
As the 2019 African Cup of Nations continues, Nigerians around the world will be more interested in the performance of the Super Eagles in the tournament. Yesterday, the Eagles secured their place in the quarter finals after a 1-0 victory over the Syli Nationals of Guinea, regardless of their remaining group game. It was their second straight win which placed them top of Group B with 6 points. A better performance by the team after a less impressive game against Burundi last Saturday, the Eagles came out with more intent and desire to win. Coach Gernot Rohr made five changes in the team for the match against Guniea, but more conspicuous, no doubt, was the omission of captain John Obi Mikel.
It was the general consensus among many Nigerian football fans that Super Eagles captain, Mikel Obi, did not deliver against Burundi. The 32-year-old was required to play in the hole and make runs into the opposition box, which never happened. The only scoring chance he got was straight from a corner kick in the first half. And even though he was largely unmarked when the ball arrived, his header was an abysmal attempt, though it must be added that this has never been Mikel’s strength.
Consequently, in the second half of the game, Mikel was substituted for Ahmed Musa. After Musa’s introduction, many believed the Super Eagles began to play better and were more offensive. Little wonder that Odion Ighalo’s goal in the 78th minute of the game came afterwards. The big debate now in the Nigerian football society is, considering the last two games of the Eagles where they played better without John Mikel Obi on the pitch, is it a sign that the 88-capped captain of the team should start from the bench in the Eagle’s remaining games of the tournament?
Football enthusiast, Tayo Adetunji, speaking with Premium Times said “I believe Mikel should be dropped for the next game. It is a pleasure to have him in the team for the experience and mentoring.
“However, the nexus of the team should be built around Ndidi and Etebo. The duo is more agile, they are swifter and have eyes for those crispy passes. Since the team is very young and are likely fearless than an older team.
“Mikel has lost some of these attributes due to his growing years. The experience garnered over 13 years playing for the Eagles would be put to better use from the bench, from where he can come on in tactical switches when a strategic substitution is needed,” Adetunji added.
Having secured that important win against Guinea, Nigerians are already looking ahead to the quarter finals game, and possibly beyond. Rohr can decide to play Mikel in the team’s last match in the group against Madagascar where a draw would be good enough to secure top spot, but will he (Rohr) put that much confidence in the captain to start him when the quarter finals begin?
Looking back to the last AFCON competition where the Super Eagles won in 2013, the then captain of the team, Joseph Yobo, started the first match against Burkina Faso and played all 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw, but that was the last time the captain saw 90 minutes. Coach Stephen Keshi dropped Yobo for the second match against Zambia and he brought him in for just two minutes in their must-win group game against Ethiopia.
In the quarter-final against Cote d’Ivoire, Yobo only came on in the 90th minute to help the team see out the 2-1 victory. Against Mali in the semi-final, the Eagles ran out comfortable 4-1 winners, and again, Yobo only came on for the last nine minutes. And in the final game against Burkina Faso which the Eagles won 1-0, the team captain, Joseph Yobo saw three minutes of action.
Although Yobo eventually lifted the trophy for the team as the captain, Coach Stephen Keshi knew his team would play better without the experienced defender. Can we, using this backdrop, justify Mikel Obi’s omission from the team against Guinea and perhaps, in the remaining crucial games of the team if they go all the way? Surely this would be Mikel’s last AFCON competition, so maybe it’ll be a good time to lift the trophy for the Nigeria team.