With a new Nigerian side facing Mexico in California on July 3, the Super Eagles entering the friendly have more at stake than the seemingly empty game suggests.
Nigeria’s friendlies against Mexico – three draws between 2007 and 2014 – all followed the traditional scenario of being a scrum between two teams with little more than bragging rights at stake.
The last of this short series of matches, which is scheduled for Saturday at the LA Coliseum, has taken on added significance for the players on the Nigeria side as they primarily play their football in Nigeria and have not often been chosen for this first team. . .
Their mission is to prove they are good enough to earn places in the main squad and compete with the stars based in Europe who enjoy the favor of head coach Gernot Rohr. Only a few, like Montrealer Sunusi Ibrahim and Tottenham U23 goalkeeper Joshua Oluwayemi, play abroad.
The 68-year-old is not a great coach of Nigerian National League players and, since taking office in 2016, has made it clear that he prefers to choose players with European football experience.
Rohr previously told ESPN that even though he will select the best players in the Super Eagles, the new orders have to be better than the players he currently has, and he doesn’t think that’s the case with the players in the Super Eagles. NPFL.
He has said in the past: “Everyone knows, not just in Nigeria, that the great players are in Europe or elsewhere in the professional league. We cannot find players in the local league who are better than the others. This is the fact. “
But if Mexico expected an easy run from a weakened Nigerian side, Enyimba midfielder Anayo Iwuala is quick to extinguish such hopes, telling ESPN the game is a chance for local players. to reverse this perception and earn the respect of not only their coach, but skeptics.
Iwuala said: “It’s a game for us local players to prove ourselves, to try to prove a point and to change the mindset of the Nigerians and maybe the manager by making them understand that we have good talents playing in nigerian league.
“Whether that will change the coach’s opinion or not, we don’t really know, but we just have to go out and introduce ourselves.”
They will have to do this with the coach watching and evaluating from the stands rather than from the sideline. He handed over the responsibility for training this team and this game to Nigerian technical director and former World Cup star Augustine Eguavoen.
Although Eguavoen is more than competent, having coached the Super Eagles himself, Rohr’s move drew fierce criticism from Nigerian Sports Minister Sunday Dare, who was so enraged that Rohr was not taking care of him. the team he accused him of discriminating against local league players. .
“The NFF must call Gernot Rohr to order because we cannot have a technical coach who will distinguish our players,” the sports minister said in an interview with reporters after visiting the team before he left for United States.
“They are football players, they have talents, you cannot discriminate. His attitude towards home players is unacceptable. It is negative for the development of our football in this country, and I call for it. NFF to call him to order. “
Still, Rohr told ESPN he was in Los Angeles to see the team play and left the door open for all outstanding performers to make their way into Team A.
He said: “I think it’s a good opportunity for the home players who should be the best in the country right now.
“It’s an opportunity against Mexico for them to show the head coach that they want to go higher. So the motivation will be there and I will watch it with great interest. As you know, I do. already have two or three in our Super Eagles, but there may still be more.
“We don’t have time to do other tests, we have already done it. We will arrive at the end of August, at our World Cup qualifying camp, and there we have to work together and this is not no time to test.
“The competition is very difficult for them because the European players are very experienced. But it’s good to see them work well and we’ll see what happens.”
That’s all the motivation Iwuala and his teammates need to put on a show against Mexico. The last three friendlies between the two teams have ended in draws, but the Enyimba forward said the game’s added advantage could allow the Nigerians to play with more spirits.
He said: “There are so many factors involved when it comes to winning a game. Our main priority is to show up, to play as a team, to show the world that we have what it takes to win a game. face the Mexican team.
“If victory comes to us, we will take it. But the most important thing here for us is to show the Nigerians that we have what it takes to contain the Mexican team.
“In order for us to get a result against this Mexican team, we have to put our minds together, play as a team, stay compact and use our chances and try as much as possible to create more chances and use them and stay focused on the game. .
“I believe if we have it all together, we will get something out of this game.”
It’s a fight rhetoric, and a Mexico would do well to take it into account if they don’t want to be embarrassed by a Nigerian B team.