Last night, Nigeria and their new coach, Samson Siasia, played their first match in seven years in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital and one of its most notable football hotbeds.
Siasia gave first caps to seven players including Joel Obi, the exciting Inter Milan midfielder, and domestic top scorer Ekigho Ehiosun, who made a goalscoring debut. Despite some booing by the ever-demanding Lagos crowd late on, there were several positives for the 43-year-old Siasia to take from the absorbing 2-1 win over fellow west Africans Sierra Leone.
For his part, West Ham United striker Victor Obinna told African Football Media that the match signalled nothing less than a new beginning for a senior team whose last major piece of silverware came 17 years ago at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. “There is a new atmosphere, a new backroom staff, new players and a new manager. This is a fresh start for all of us,” remarked the 24-year-old Obinna, one of several key stars who watched the game from the stands because of a slight injury.
Obinna first worked with Siasia in the Nigeria Under-20 team six years ago and he is in no doubt the charismatic former international is the right man to get the Eagles flying again. “Siasia is one of the best coaches I have worked under, and he has already proved himself by getting to the finals of both the U-20 World Cup in Holland in 2005 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008,” said Obinna, who is on loan at Upton Park from Inter Milan.
“I know the coach very well,” he continued. “He encouraged us when we first started out, and I believe he is the right man for the job. He won’t fail Nigerians. He will turn around the fortunes of the Eagles because he knows how to make his players work for the whole team. I am thrilled to play under him again.”
Obinna was the stand-out star at the Beijing Olympics playing alongside Peter Osaze Odemwingie, Femi Ajilore, Chibuzor Okonkwo and Victor Anichebe, who were all considered for Siasia’s first set of call-ups as Eagles coach. Olympique Marseille defender Taye Taiwo and Chelsea midfielder Mikel John Obi also featured for Siasia at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Obinna, for his part, featured during Nigeria's disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign, albeit playing only 72 minutes over two matches.
After seeing off the Leone Stars, a bigger test awaits for Siasia’s new Super Eagles at the end of next month when they host Ethiopia at the same 26,000-capacity Teslim Balogun Stadium in qualifying for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria are three points behind Group B leaders Guinea after a single goal defeat in Conakry in October.
Nevertheless, the West Ham star remains upbeat that Nigeria will book a ticket to the 2012 continental event in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. “I strongly believe that we will qualify because we still have four matches to play,” said the forward, who hopes to stay on in England at season’s end when his loan deal from Inter Milan is up.
“We will make sure that when we play the other games against Guinea at home and the remaining home and away matches against Madagascar and Ethiopia, we will win very well. I am confident we will win these matches to reach the Nations Cup.”