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The nation did not make it beyond the group stage but, despite the doom and gloom surrounding the lack of success in the region, the Super Eagles can hold their heads high

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By Ed Dove | Nigeria Expert

In many ways African football has failed to build on the optimism that it generated in the 1990s. The irresistible talents of Jay-Jay Okocha and Tony Yeboah, Roger Milla and George Weah, gave way to chronic underachievement and an undeniable malaise.

Despite being blessed by some outstanding individuals, the likes of Cameroon and Ghana have all too often struggled to string together any semblance of consistency. The ‘Golden Generation’ of the Cote d’Ivoire failed to escape two World Cup groups and never held the African crown many believe their talent merits. The all-conquering Egypt side of the last decade never even made it to a World Cup.

Stephen Keshi’s exciting young Nigeria outift defeated Burkina Faso 1-0 at the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg to win the continent’s highest honour earlier this year. A new crop of African heroes was born.

NIGERIA'S CONFED CUP SHOWING
 NIGERIA 6-1 TAHITI

Nigeria started with a goal shower but they should have reached double figures against Tahiti, whom they also suffered the ignominy of conceding against.
 NIGERIA 1-2 URUGUAY

Despite a solid performance, the Super Eagles were unable to break down Uruguay's defence enough and a rocket from Diego Forlan made progress look unlikely.
 NIGERIA 0-3 SPAIN

Needing an unlikely strong win to reach the last four, Nigeria were left empty handed as two strikes from Jordi Alba and a goal from Fernando Torres dumped them out.
Despite this, the quality on show at the recent Cup of Nations was widely panned, with too many prosaic matches and uninspiring performances. During the tournament, it seemed the continent’s brightest days were lost.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Super Eagles since that emphatic triumph either; they have gently edged towards World Cup qualification, rather than marching onwards to Brazil as many had expected they would. Minnows such as Namibia and Kenya have proved troublesome, while a 2-1 lead was disappointingly surrendered against the 10-men of Mexico in a recent friendly.

The Confederations Cup, however, provided Keshi and his men with a prime opportunity to demonstrate their burgeoning ability before a global audience and to set down a marker ahead of next summer’s World Cup.

Despite going home after the group stage, following defeats against Uruguay and Spain, Nigeria have done themselves proud and have gone some way to restoring the reputation of African football.

They were by no means the complete article. The attack was often shambolic, with the likes of Ideye Brown, Joseph Akpala and Anthony Ujah showing little in the way of cohesion or understanding. Following his hat-trick display against Tahiti, Nnamdi Oduamadi was promptly injured and with his exit almost all of Nigeria’s offensive threat evaporated.

However, the side have demonstrated that they possess the requisite talent to trouble some of the world’s elite teams. All tournament Nigeria enjoyed large swathes of possession and carved a number of excellent chances, only for a selection of incompetent attackers to spurn the opportunities.

Spain’s 3-0 victory flattered the winners and indeed, had the injured trio of Ogenyi Onazi, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses been present, la Roja could have been tested much more. Nigeria certainly would have made more out of a number of delectable junctures and may well have progressed to the knock-out stages.

In defeat they can hold their heads high, and look forward towards a likely return to Brazil next summer. The squad is young and certainly has room to grow; despite their assured tempo and composure, the defensive pairing of Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo are 22 and 19 respectively - veritable infants in centre-back terms.

The precocious Ahmed Musa, who has recently won many admirers with his direct running and blistering pace, is only 20, as is the aforementioned Onazi - Lazio’s engine room midfielder. Forwards Oduamadi and Moses are only 22 and will surely develop their game at two of Europe’s top clubs.


Frustration | Jordi Alba's goals helped to eliminate the Super Eagles

During their summer in Brazil, and through the optimism that surrounds these youthful starlets, Nigeria have once again roused optimism for the African game. It is a flawed process to judge the merits of a continent on the successes of one nation, but Nigeria have at least proved that Africa has not become the footballing backwater that some had suggested.

The African game has its issues but it is also thriving and, with care and fortune, can produce teams capable of going toe-to-toe with the champions of both Europe and South America. If this Nigerian side can continue to develop as a beacon for Africa, don’t expect the continent to remain in the shadows for long.

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