Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Reality Check - 2

IF YOU took my article in this column last week – ”Reality Check” – seriously enough, then you should not be too surprised by the drawn outcome of the Super Eagles first match against Burkina Faso Monday night at the on-going Nations Cup finals in South Africa.

Having said that, however, I am also the first to concede that the manner of the 1-1 draw was heart-breaking and I can understand how disappointed you might feel as a patriotic Nigerian. I am disappointed, too, despite not having had any great expectations before the game.

Leading 1-0 from Emmanuel Emenike’s first half goal and down to 10 men following Ambrose Efe’s second half dismissal, I honestly thought the Eagles had done enough to win, only for them to gift the Burkinabes an equalizer via the last kick of the game.

Complete Sports in-house-analysts John Mastoroudes and Mutiu Adepoju have already done justice to the post-match analysis. My views are not any  different from theirs or, for that matter, the legion of other experts including Sunday Oliseh on Super Sport.

Everyone seems to agree that, despite not putting up an outstanding performance, the Eagles had several opportunities to have killed off the game with a second goal; that following Efe’s expulsion, they could also have sealed up the game tactically by reverting to a 4-4-1 formation; and that when Ogenyi Onazi had ball possesion at the left flank in the 94th minute with scores still at 1-0 in Nigeria’s favour, he could have dribbled the ball to the corner flag and run the clock down until the final whistle was blown.

The Eagles failed to do any of those, especially Onazi who decided instead to attack again, lost the ball and allowed the Burkinabes to quickly kick it upfield where the Nigerian defence was badly exposed. Alain Traore slotted the ball home and the Eagles had snatched a draw from the jaws of victory in a matter of seconds. Yes, the manner of the concession was devastating, disappointing and depressing.

But that match is behind us now and the two points dropped are gone forever. Rather than cry over split milk, the Eagles must now focus on their next game against defending champions Zambia on Friday.

In my pre-tournament analysis, I tipped Zambia to have the edge over Nigeria, so the best I would have predicted for the Eagles is a draw. But having seen the Chipolopolo in action in their own first game against Ethiopia which also ended in a 1-1 stalemate, I am of the opinion that the Eagles could grab a win if they put their acts together.

Even while playing with 10 men for the entire second half, Ethiopia were able to come back and equalize against Zambia because they improved on their ball possession. The Zambians are quick and accurate with their passing and movements, but when they started seeing less of the ball, the Ethiopians clawed their way back into the match.
The Super Eagles cannot match the Zambians for pace and team cohesion, so what I would expect them (Eagles) to do is to  impose their own style on the game. The Eagles are slow and laborious in their build-up play which is outdated. But slowing down the pace of the game may yet be their best weapon against the fast Zambians on Friday.
Each time we have the ball, we must keep it for as long as possible while remaining vigilant for Zambia’s quick counter-attacks. The longer the game drags without a goal, the more likely that it is Nigeria that will break the deadlock with another chance goal. And when that goal comes this time around, the Eagles must learn to close shop and take the ball to the corner flag in the dying moments.

Surely, there’s a bit of patriotic flavouring in this analysis. But the tournament is already under way and I cannot be wishing victory for Zambia. Good luck, Super Eagles.

Late, Late Shockers

COMPLETE SPORTS  correspondent in South Africa, Nurudeen Obalola told me on telephone the morning after the Nigeria - Burkina Faso game that he and his Nigerian counterparts in the press tribune at the Mbombela stadium had already packed their bags ready to head for the mixed zone for post-match interviews when the Burkinabes struck their late, late equalizer. But that, obviously, was not the first time that Nigeria would suffer such late, late blows.

The most recent one that I can recollect was Guinea’s late, late equalizer for 2-2 at the Abuja National Stadium in 2011 which eliminated coach Samson Siasia’s Eagles from the 2012 Nations Cup finals when a 2-1 victory would have been enough to qualify. Of course, Siasia lost his job as a result. Before that, also at the Abuja National Stadium, the Eagles coached by Shaibu Amodu led also 2-1 against Tunisia in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier only for the North Africans to snatch a late, late equalizer for 2-2 and break Nigerian hearts. On that occasion, though, the Eagles still managed to qualify for the World Cup finals.

The most dramatic late, late shocker that I can recollect at international level was  Bulgaria’s winner against France in a 1994 World Cup qualifier played at the Parc De Princes Stadium in Paris on November 17, 1993. France needed just one point from their last two matches AT HOME to get a World Cup ticket. But they surprisingly lost 3-2 to Israel in the penultimate game. France led 2-1 into the last 10 minutes, but Israel grabbed a late equalizer followed by the winner deep into injury time.

Lightening struck twice at the same spot for the French barely a month later when Bulgaria came visiting at the same venue in Paris. Eric Cantona gave France a 1-0 lead again, but Emil Kostadinov scored for Bulgaria to make it 1-1. One point from a draw was still enough to take France to USA ‘94 and, deep into injury time (93rd minute) they got a FREE KICK to the right side of the Bulgarian goal.

Rather than take the ball to the right corner flag to run the clock down, French striker David Ginola inexplicably crossed it into the Bulgarian box where none of his teammates was waiting. Within the twinkle of an eye, three or four Bulgarian passes got the ball into the French box at the other end, and Kostadinov went... Bang! 2-1 to Bulgaria, the final whistle went, and France were out of the 1994 World Cup!

Just picture that scenario in your mind. Yes, it was a national calamity for the French people.

However, France bounced back from the disappointment in remarkable fashion. Four years later as hosts of the 1998 World Cup, they became world champions for the first time. What a turn-around it was.

Can the Super Eagles also turn their Burkina Faso disappointment into a glorious ending at AFCON 2013? We’ll have to wait and see.

AFCON TV Blackout!

NIGERIAN soccer fans without access to cable television may accuse me of insensitivity if I say that the decision by the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) not to pay cut-throat prices for the terrestial television rights of the on-going AFCON is right. But that is what it is: the right decision.

For a long time now, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has been forcing all manner of insensitive policies and decisions down the throats of its member nations and it is time we started resisting Issa Hayatou’s dictatorship and blackmail.

Nigeria, alongside South Africa and Egypt are the biggest markets for vendors of Africa football properties. With Egypt currently in turmoil and not taking part in this competition; and Nigeria refusing to buy the rights this time around, CAF and its agent, Sport Five must feel the pinch in their pocket. This is a big statement by Nigeria which one hopes will have a positive effect on future negotiations. If we can skip this Nations Cup transmission because the price is not right, we definitely can skip the next one, and the next and the next if the prices again are not right.

To underline my solidarity with BON and the millions of Nigerians who have not been able to watch the Nations Cup on terrestial TV so far, I shall not be watching the Nigeria-Zambia game on cable TV myself on Friday. I shall be following the game only on radio, via the internet and the social media.

Football is not a matter of life and death. It is more important than that!

FINAL WORD...

ORDINARILY, the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) led by the government-owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) could have appealed to the Federal Government to assist with the payment of the broadcast rights “so that the Nigerian people are not denied the joy of watching their darling Super Eagles.” But BON declared, instead, that the government should spend such intervention funds on key sectors of the economy such as education and employment creation for Nigerian youth.

There was no guarantee that the government would heed a BON request for funds anyway, so critics could say the BON admonition is preposterous, but there have been no street protests by Nigerian youths to denounce the BON position.

The message to the Goodluck Jonathan government is that the Nigerian people are willing to sacrifice their passion for more concrete and enduring development. Government should reciprocate the gesture by halting the ill-advised construction of a new banquet hall in the Presidential Villa, a new residence for the vice-president and other such fanciful Billion-Naira projects that deplete our national resources without any concrete benefits to the ordinary people. There are definitely many more important projects that will benefit the majority of our long-suffering Nigerians.

Soccertalk On Radio...

FORMER Super Eagles goalkeeper and captain Peter “Dodo Mayana” Rufai was the guest on the inaugural episode of my radio programme. Soccertalk on Radio with Mumini Alao last weekend.

I received quite a number of thumbs-up from listeners who said they enjoyed Rufai’s reminiscence on Tunisia ‘94 Nations Cup. The only downside for many was the “short duration” of the programme. I hope I can address that sometime soon.

I have another interesting guest coming up this weekend. Join me every Saturday at 10am on Brila FM Lagos and enjoy!

5 comments:

  1. Am aware that there is a thin line between failure and success and many Nigerians are disappointed at the outcome of the game with Burkinabes. However, I don't think the Super Eagles did badly. While I blamed their naivety for conceding that late goal, I think ill-luck (which accounted for inability to score the 2nd goal that would have killed off the game) as well as referee's biased officiating (that accounted for Efe's sending off which gave the opponents the opportunity to come at us) cost us the 3 points. Also think Keshi should have left Emenike and removed Musa instead.

    Wishing the Eagles the best of luck in the game against Zambia.

    Go Eagles!

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  2. Am glad Cameroun did not qualify this time around because COINCIDENTALLY or by FATE, Cameroun WERE ABSENT ON THE TWO OCCASIONS Nigeria have emerged champions (1980 & 1994). While am still waiting on God to avenge us of unjustifiable losses to Cameroun (in 1988 & 2000 finals - their only genuine, well deserved win was in 1984 final), I encourage the Super Eagles to go all out by beating all comers to the title come February 10th. Afterall, 'our husband' is not 'at home'.

    Go Eagles!

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  3. I'm bemused as to why the defence was not Keshi's priority, given his antecedent as a class defender during his playing days.
    I always thought good defence is paramount for a team in evolution, especially during a tournament.
    Finally, SOS to Keshi: Comb every nook and cranny of Nigeria and the globe; whatever it takes, but please unearth a decent Holding Midfielder, and fast!!

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  4. Since the team pick is now done by zoning, it is not contentious to say that the Ibos have failed. The national team is now zoned to the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri for the next Nations' Cup.

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  5. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world - http://www.ngr24.com/

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