By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor
Goal.com caught up with Jonathan Akpoborie, former Super Eagles and many (not from this generation) will remember him as the little guy who scored the second goal for the cadet team that won the inaugural Fifa U-16 Championship in China in 1985.
He went on to play successfully abroad and was a huge hit in the Bundesliga where he played for Hansa Rostock, VFB Stuttgart and Wolfsburg between 1996 and 2001. He featured in 144 games and scored 62 goals. He also won 13 caps for Nigeria, scoring four goals.
Can Nigeria win the Nations Cup? That was the first question that was posed to Akpoborie and there was a lengthy pause before he said: “That is a hard question to answer but I think all we have is an outside chance,” Akpoborie told Goal.com.
“Because football is not Mathematics, it is possible for the Super Eagles to win but at the same time they could crash out in the first round.
“People say I am always criticising the national team, handlers and administrators but with the performances exhibited, I will continue to say the truth and if that is construed as criticism – so be it,” he added.
Akpoborie has keenly followed the reign of Stephen Keshi as coach of the national team in the last 13 months but he is not quite sure that there has been any improvement in the tactical setup of the national team.
“When Keshi came in, the slogan was that the team is in a rebuilding phase, agreed. But this team still cannot put together five accurate passes from defence to attack – so I ask what are we rebuilding?
“We are still at the same stage even though we will continue to have talented players who do better with their European club sides. It says something about the national set up and this question must be answered speedily for us to move forward,” he reiterated.
“When I saw the team against Venezuela and Catalonia XI, you see a huge chasm between the strikers and the midfielders and also a huge vacuum between the defenders and the midfielders which gives me cause to worry for the team.
“We need a big improvement in passing and possession if we want to go all the way in South Africa.”
Which of the current Eagles players is he looking at to be the x-factor for the Super Eagles? Akpoborie promptly answered, “[Victor] Moses”.
“When you see that boy in training, you know that he has still got a lot in his locker to show-case for the national team. He is one player that is almost technically and tactically sound though he is still learning the ropes.
“I am expecting a lot from him but I hope that the coach will deploy him correctly so that he will be able to hurt our opponents.”
With the inclusion of six players from the Nigeria Premier League in Keshi's final 23-man squad, some people are saying that the home-based lads are getting close to their European counterparts but Akpoborie begs to disagree.
“I watched the Eagles in training before the match against Liberia in Calabar last year and seated where I was, I was able to point out local players when they touched the ball, by their movement and the intensity of their actions.
“I will say that there is still a big difference between someone that has been coached exclusively in Nigeria and another player who plays in Europe.
“There is still a lot that the local coaches miss out in training our players which must be addressed before we say players from home and abroad are now at par,” he added.
Akpoborie then told Goal.com what he expects Keshi to think of achieving at the Nations Cup.
“First of all, the Nigeria Football Federation should come out and refute reports that they have given the coach a semi-final target.
"In a rebuilding process, there cannot be targets such as this – it must be about technical and tactical development and improvement, indices that can be measured.
“Keshi himself should see this as the factory where he will know the players that will be able to help Nigeria get to the next World Cup in Brazil.
"That should be the purpose – recognising those whose national careers will end in South Africa and those that will still be useful for Nigeria at least for the next two years,” he concluded.