Beaming with confidence ahead of Nigeria’s second Group D game at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, Super Eagles interim coach, Austin Eguavoen, has stated how he transformed the national team.
The Eagles had been underwhelming under former coach, Gernot Rohr, with no playing pattern and looked ordinary and out of sorts most times.
However, Eguavoen led Nigeria to a 1-0 win over Egypt in their opening game of the AFCON tournament on Tuesday, with the Eagles posting displays that they were once known for.
It was a convincing performance by the three-time African champions, who overwhelmed the Pharaohs offensively and defensively, giving no room for any error.
The performance has been rated one of the best in recent times by close followers of the team.
Eguavoen, in an interview on the Nigeria Football Federation YouTube page, talked about how he transformed the team.
He said, “It’s the same personnel but what we did was bring the boys together and ask them the formation they are comfortable with because we want to be flexible with them. They told me what they’ve been used to in the last few years; I worked and improved on it.
“I made the boys feel at home, I told them to see me as their father, brother and friend. Also, the backroom staff I don’t see them as assistants rather I see them as colleagues. I told them to see me as colleagues but not to overstep their boundaries.”
On the team’s mentality, he said, “We played the Egypt games with a lot of determination and communication as well. We have respect for one another and for the opponents and approaching every game with all seriousness and playing every game like a cup final.”
Old hands in the team’s backroom have told of a breath of fresh air in camp, in which everyone is made to feel a part of all activities.
“Coach Eguavoen has insisted that everyone must communicate; they must say their minds at all times. He speaks to each and every player like he’s their uncle and notes and deals with their challenges. He does not discriminate.
“The camp is so interesting and is once more like a family setting. Everyone is like another’s brother. The spirit is high and I believe our team will go far in this competition,” said one backroom staff.
Eguavoen, a former Eagles captain, is no stranger to football at the highest level as both player and coach.
Former Eagles’ captain Eguavoen featured for the Nigeria senior team for 11 years, between 1987 and 1998, during which he lifted the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, held aloft the Afro-Asian Cup the following year, played in three AFCON finals (it could have been six but he missed the 1990 finals in Algeria; Nigeria withdrew from the 1996 finals and; was barred from the 1998 competition) and featured at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals. He won a total of 51 senior caps.
As coach, he was assistant to another ex-captain Christian Chukwu when Nigeria finished third at the 2004 finals in Tunisia, before he led the team to win another bronze in Egypt two years later.
He is one of only 15 African coaches at ongoing finals in Cameroon and has the most win-record with the Eagles, winning nine of his 12 matches in charge between 2005 and 2007.
He is also one of only three coaches to have steered an African country to the top 10 of the FIFA rankings, the other two being Clemens Westerhof and Egypt’s Hassan Shehata.
On Thursday, Eguavoen waved aside the record of being the only coach to have led the Eagles to win all three group phase matches at the AFCON, when his wards steamrolled Ghana, Zimbabwe and Senegal in Egypt 16 years ago.
Nigeria face Sudan on Saturday in their second Group D match and a win will guarantee them a spot in the knockout stages.
But Eguavoen’s focus is on the game versus the Falcons of Jediane, not on records.
“I am focused on winning against Sudan for now; I don’t want to think about any record or how we go about our third match. Sudan is in focus now and we have to deal with that, squarely,” Eguavoen told thenffnews on Thursday.