Patrick Pascal believes the Super Eagles will be stronger with the introduction of 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup winners Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi to the squad.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, which ends in Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, after their poor start to the qualifiers ended in a 2-2 home draw against South Africa on the last day (in Uyo on November 19, 2014 – to finish outside Group A two automatic qualification spots on eight points. South Africa and Congo qualified from the group.
And former Nigeria defender Pascal, who is disappointed the Eagles could not make it to the tiny West African nation to defend their title, says part of the blame must be laid at the doorstep of the strikers. However, he maintains the defenders should take a large part of the blame.
The 1996 CAF Champions League silver medallist laments Ahmed Musa’s glorious misses against South Africa in Uyo, insisting the team need daring young strikers to make a challenge for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Pascal believes Manchester City’s Iheanacho and Sweden-bound Awoniyi could be the answer to the Eagles’ striking problems, as they could give the Eagles more variety up front.
Flying Eagles coach Manu Garba invited the two strikers for the Africa Under-20 Championship in Senegal next month but only Awoniyi reported to camp. Awoniyi, who is expected to join Swedish club Kalmar when he turns 18 in August, emerged as the Most Valuable Player of the Super Four Tournament in Abuja after helping the Under-20 national team win the competition.
Iheanacho, who has yet to play for the Manchester City senior team after he joined the Premier League champions in 2013, could not honour the invitation after the Citizens stopped the 18-year-old’s trip to Nigeria to enable him to recover from the injury he sustained while on duty with the youth side.
But Pascal insists the starlets could be good additions to the team if they are promoted to the senior national team ahead of the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.
“Yes, Iheancho, Awoniyi and other players who distinguished themselves at the Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 should be promoted to the Eagles,” the former Belgium-based player, who made the victorious Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games squad’s alternate list, told our correspondent on the telephone during the week.
“We couldn’t qualified for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea because our team is dominated by players who are no longer hungry for success.
“I won’t blame Stephen Keshi much for our failure to qualify for the competition.
“Some of the big players lack professionalism – and should have been dropped after the World Cup in Brazil last year.
“If we had qualify for Equatorial Guinea 2015 and featured such players, we would have been disgraced.
“The standard of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations is higher than that of the 2013 edition, which we won in South Africa.
“We would have found it difficult against the likes of Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Mali who have young players.
“Ivory Coast is a complete team. Yaya Toure has instilled confidence in the young players. Wilfried Bony and Gervinho are doing a great job. It would have been difficult for us to beat them.”
Pascal added, “We must inject new blood into the Eagles. Iheanacho and Awoniyi should be promoted to the team now. They are not too young to play for the Eagles.
“Iheanacho and Awoniyi are the future of the Eagles. There are other good young players who deserve invitation to the Eagles.
“If Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge were Nigerians, nobody would invite them to the senior national team.
“But they have been playing for England. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started playing for their countries in their teens.”
The ex-Nigeria Football Federation Technical Committee member urged the NFF to resolve its contract issue with Keshi.
He said, “We should start preparation for the next tournament. First and foremost, the NFF should make a decision on Keshi. If they want to renew his contract, fine. If not, they should appoint another coach for the Eagles immediately. Personally, I want Keshi to remain because he has proved himself.”