2016 CHAN: Oliseh faces first major test

2016 CHAN: Oliseh faces first major test
Eagles coach Oliseh (middle) flanked by his assistants including Babangida

by Samm Audu

Wednesday Jan 13, 2016. 14:38

The 2016 CHAN, which kicks off in Rwanda on Saturday, could well define Sunday Oliseh’s time in charge of Nigeria as many will judge him on the results and performances of the team of domestic league players at this bi-ennial continental tournament.

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Expectations in Nigeria are again high the country’s ‘B’ team will go all way in Rwanda after they finished third at this same competition in South Africa two years ago.

The biggest criticism against the team coach Stephen Keshi lined up in South Africa was that they were not really representative of the best players in the Nigeria league as all the coaches were far removed from the domestic championship.

The result was that players like goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim and Solomon Kwambe, who only managed a handful of games for their local clubs, were picked ahead of better and fitter players on the domestic scene.

That cannot be said of the current CHAN Eagles as the backroom staff led by assistant coach Salisu Yusuf and Alloy Agu took the pains to scout for the best players to fly the flag proudly for the ever-growing Nigeria league.

In Rwanda, Nigeria will parade some of the stars of the past season – Tunde Adeniji and Chisom Chikatara scored between them 29 goals in the last campaign, defenders Chima Akas, Austin Oboroakpo and Orji Kalu were consistent at their clubs, while Ifeanyi Matthew, Paul Onobi, Ezekiel Bassey and Bature Yaro were the driving forces for their respective teams.

Oliseh has had long enough time to pass down his ideas and philosophy to these players right from when he was named the country’s coach in July 2015 amid high expectations.

Several of these players have also worked with the coach in the full international squad.

He also had two weeks to train the team in South Africa during which time they played two warm-up matches against teams who will also be at the CHAN – Angola and Cote d’Ivoire.

What he is therefore able to produce in Rwanda will most certainly go a long in determining the fortunes of the country in the coming months with crucial AFCON and 2018 World Cup qualifiers fast approaching.

At the end of March, Nigeria face a double-header against Egypt in the qualifying tournament for the 2017 AFCON with experts in agreement that results of these two games could make or mar the country’s chances of qualification to Gabon 2017.

Good results in Rwanda will lift the confidence of the players as well as fans leading up to these two big matches.

The results could also improve our FIFA ranking going into the draw for the World Cup qualifiers in June.

Nigeria are currently a poor 66th on the FIFA rankings and if this rating did not improve remarkably before the draw on June 24, the Eagles could get as many as two of Africa’s top teams in a final round of the World Cup qualifiers to be played on league basis with only the overall winners booking their passage to Russia 2018.

Oliseh has already capped skipper Chima Akas, Oboroakpo, Usman Mohammed, Ezekiel Bassey, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Bature Yaro at full international level and it is expected that several other players on this CHAN squad will also get their chance with the Super Eagles on the strength of what they show in Rwanda.

The qualifiers and warm-up games have shown this team create many chances and in the absence of last season’s hotshot Gbolahan Salami, younger strikers Adeniji and Chikatara must now rise to the occasion after midfielders Bature Yaro, Bartholomew ‘Mosquito’ Ibenegbu and Ifeanyi Matthew have delivered in front of goal at crunch time.

The CHAN Eagles are the foundation on which Oliseh can rebuild the Super Eagles and so the results in Rwanda are very crucial for both the country and their young coach.

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