It's been a strange two years for the Nigerian national team. From winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and then making it to the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup to failing to even qualify for 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles have gone form heroes to zeroes. From rubbing shoulders with Uruguay, Spain, and France, to getting beat by Sudan and Congo, for one of the superpowers of African football, a national team fully laden with talent from Europe's top leagues, these are the worst of days.
There's drama off the pitch, too. Stephen Keshi has been in charge since 2011, but has resigned at least twice. In 2013, he changed his mind a few days later; in 2014, the NFF changed his mind for him by renewing his contract anyway. Except it was former star Daniel Amokachi in charge of the team for Wednesday's friendly, serving as interim head coach while the football federation and Keshi sort out their latest impasse. Disarray on and off the pitch; is it any wonder that the Super Eagles were grounded once again, losing 1-0 at home to lowly Uganda?
Amokachi named a very young, very inexperienced team, with quite a few players called up from local sides. It certainly didn't help that the had just one day of training as a group before the game. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyema, who celebrated his 100th appearance for the national team, perhaps summed it up best.
Kenneth Omeruo did start at center back, the only Chelsea involvement in this one with both John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses injured (Moses was on the stand-by list, but as far as I can tell, never got the call to go). Incidentally, the one player I've seen praised is another Moses, Moses Simon (middle name "Daddy," I kid you not), a 19-year-old forward who used to play for one of the best teams in Slovakia before making the switch to Belgium and KAA Gent in January. All he's done since is score 6 goals in 10(3) appearances, but even he failed to find the net on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Uganda's goal has been universally described as mostly due to a poor showing from Nigeria's defense, which goes hand-in-hand with Omeruo's waning influence over the past few months at Middlesbrough where he's fallen to fifth choice behind fellow youngsters Dani Ayala, Ben Gibson, and Tomas Kalas, plus ancient Jonathan Woodgate, and has not played in about a month.
There was happier news closer to home as Lewis Baker (captain) and John Swift (substitute) helped England U20 to a 1-1 draw with Mexico U20 in a friendly at The Hive, which is one of the cooler stadium names I've come across in recent times. (Home to Conference leaders Barnet FC*.) And then for some reason they decided to hold a penalty kick shootout, which England won 4-2. Hurray! Swifty stepped up to convert first for the Young Lions, but Baker had to watch from the sidelines by that point, after making way for his fellow Chelsea loan-star in the 69th minute.
* Two ex-Chelsea prospects currently play there, it turns out, including Jack Saville and Conor Clifford, who's actually on loan from Southend at the moment. They're both 23 now. The more you know...