‘These Eagles are not underdogs’— Okpodu

Former Super Falcons coach, Sam Okpodu, was excluded from the Green Eagles squad on the eve of the 1980 Africa Cup Nations by coach Otto Gloria. The US-based ex-player tells ’TANA AIYEJINA about the Eagles preparation towards winning the title in 1980 and what the present squad must do to annex the trophy in South Africa 2013

You were dropped from the Green Eagles on the eve of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations at home. How did you feel when your teammates went on to win the African title?

I was and still very excited that Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations on our own soil. It was a great feat and pride for every Nigerian winning the cup for the first time ever.

What were the reasons behind your exclusion from the 1980 squad?

That is not an issue today. What is important now, is what we should do going forward, and that is winning the 2013 Nations Cup. This is not about who makes the squad, rather it should be about Nigeria and the Super Eagles winning the Nations Cup for the third time in South Africa. The national team is about the country and winning championships. Not about an individual player.

Even though you didn’t make the squad eventually, what do you think was the secret behind the Green Eagles victory 33 years ago?

The secret was that we had a group of guys committed to one another, who were dedicated to working and winning for the nation. And with that commitment came a great working relationship between the players and the willingness to win.

What was the dressing room atmosphere like?

The dressing room says a lot about each team’s commitment to winning. Each member of the 23- man roster and the starting team must prepare, think and be committed to winning the Nations Cup. And that was what the 1980 set did and it worked wonders.

The Super Eagles are set to contest for the trophy again at the 2013 edition in South Africa. Do you think they are serious contenders for the title this time around?

As we prepare to compete for the 2013 edition of the Nation’s Cup in South Africa, I believe we have the players, talents, and drive to contend for the title. The Nigerian spirit is always there.

What did the 1980 team apply that led to the victorious outing that you would like this present squad to apply too?

The 1980 Eagles’ road to success was made possible due to the personal commitment and team spirit of the squad, officials and players inclusive. Winning the Nations Cup then was the primary goal of everyone on the team. I believe if these present players do the same, they will get their hands on the trophy with a little bit of luck.

Have you been following the present squad under coach Stephen Keshi? Which area do you think the team is lacking?

Yes I have followed the squad since Keshi came on board. The team is not lacking if they are consistent, with regards to finishing when attacking and collective defending. And players on the field must be patient in front of our goal area not to bring down dribbling opposition players inside our box.

The Eagles were recently tagged underdogs after failing to qualify for the 2012 edition last year. Do you agree?

That is not right. The Super Eagles are not underdogs as far as Africa is concerned. In fact, they are capable of winning the Nations Cup title any time. You can only underrate any Nigerian side at your own peril.

Do you think Keshi has the wherewithal to lead the squad to the title for the third time?

I believe he (Keshi) and the Eagles are good for the Nations Cup title. As fans and supporters, we must believe in our own product. We must all join hands to ensure that the Eagles go through to the finals and then win the competition, which they are capable of doing.

How would you compare the competition now and in the 1980s?

As in every other sphere of life, every era is different. Back in the 80s, the Green Eagles was all about the local league players while the current squad is made up of a combination of home-based and foreign-based professionals. Most countries then were made up of predominantly players who plied their trade in their local leagues. So the competition is different now from what we had in my time.

Keshi’s squad has the foreign-based pros dominating with a few domestic league players. How do you see this trend?

The combination of the local league players and foreign professionals should help us if both groups play for the Eagles and win the title for the nation rather than playing individually. The foreign-based professionals should lift the standard and morale of their local league counterparts by working harder on-and-off the pitch. Anything less will not be good for Nigeria.

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