Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reality Check

REPORTS that an unhappy silence descended on the Super Eagles camp in Portugal following their unimpressive goalless draw with Cape Verde in a pre-Nations Cup friendly last week gladdened my heart. Now, the team will arrive in South Africa for the 29th Africa Cup of Nations finals starting this weekend, with the players’ feet firmly on the ground, and the expectations of exhuberant Nigerian fans also firmly put in check.

Before the “rude awakening” by “tiny” Cape Verde who dominated the match for long spells especially in the first half, I had been horrified by the giddy reviews that followed the Eagles’ “impressive” 1-1 draw with “star-studded”
Catalonia penultimate week is Spain. “Expert analysts” had started building castles in the air about how the Eagles had “arrived” by playing FC Barcelona superstars to a “standstill,” and how they had suddenly become a “favourite” for a third Nations Cup title! Well, Cape Verde have thankfully put our chances in proper perspective.

It must be said, though, that the Eagles indeed looked more composed against Catalonia after an initial stage fright during which the hosts scored from the penalty spot. But the holidaying Catalonians thereafter eased off the gas pedal in what for them was effectively a reunion fun game, thus allowing the Nigerians to recover their composure. Even then, Catalonia could have won by 3-1 or 4-1, but the Eagles rode their luck to grab a 1-1 draw which merely rewarded their industry.

By contrast, Cape Verde came looking to make a big statement against the “Giant of Africa” and they nearly did. In fact, some would say they actually did, proving once again that their elimination of Cameroun in the qualifiers was not a fluke. Nigeria certainly got the message with the silence that enveloped the Eagles camp afterwards: “If Cape Verde could push us around like this just days to the kick-off of the tournament in South Africa, then there’s still a lot of work to be done,” the players must have concluded. How true.

It’s good for the players that the reality check came BEFORE they flew to South Africa. It would have been disastrous had they arrived in the Rainbow Nation with the “Catalonia achievement” still flying in their heads only to get a shock treatment in their opening game against Burkina Faso on January 21st.

With the fans’ expectations also now properly tempered, the turn of events may yet be to Nigeria’s advantage, thanks to Cape Verde. Reality Check One!

Keshi’s Real Headache

lSUPER Eagles coach Stephen Keshi was happy to have a selection headache before announcing his final squad as the players jostled to make the 23-man list. But he must have been scratching his head about his first eleven following the struggle against Cape Verde.

The starting line-up against the Cape Verdians was what Keshi had in mind to open proceedings at the Nations Cup proper. But with several players performing below par and the team not clicking at all until changes were made in the second half, the coach must now be having a real headache about picking his first eleven. A case in point is Ambrose Efe who was a disaster at right-back until Kenneth Omeruo took over and plugged the hole in the second half.

Probably Keshi’s most unpopular pick among the fans is striker Emmanuel Emenike and he hardly changed many bad impressions with his performance against Cape Verde. I listened to a call-in radio programme and eight out of 10 fans thought Emenike shouldn’t have been on the squad at all.

Last Saturday, the workaholic Emenike partly redeemed himself by scoring the only goal as the Eagles beat second division Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam in an unofficial (by FIFA standard) warm-up game. Emenike’s high work rate and strong physical presence will make him a handful for defences in South Africa. But he must indeed be more clinical in front of goal because scoring chances will come at a premium for Nigeria, no thanks to a midfield that is not particularly strong in the creative department.

Should Keshi revert largely to the starting line-up against Catalonia, stick to the one against Cape Verde or adopt the second half substitutes against Cape Verde as his first choices in his opening game at the AFCON? That is what the coach and his assistants would be scratching their heads over now, just days to kick-off. Reality Check Two!

Soccertalk On Radio

YOU must have read the promo somewhere in Complete Sports. Yes, your favourite column, Soccertalk, is going on radio. The programme has been on the cards for some time, but now I have decided to give it a shot and see if I can cope with it.

The inaugural episode will be on BRILA FM, Lagos at 10.00am, Saturday, January 19, 2013, the same day the Nations Cup kicks off in South Africa. If you are in Lagos and environs, tune in if you can. If you are beyond, be on stand by. If all goes well, the programme will go on network at a later date.

Ositelu Closes The Arena

PENULTIMATE week, my thoughts went to veteran sports journalist and popular columnist Ayo Ositelu. The 2013 Australian Open tennis championship would soon get under way and I couldn’t wait to start reading Ositelu’s exhaustive match reports and analysis in The Guardian newspapers. You could therefore imagine my shock at the news last week that Ositelu had died.

Reports say he felt sick, he was taken to hospital and he didn’t return home. Just like that. He was preparing for his 70th birthday which will now never hold.

The last time I saw Ositelu was at the exhibition match of the famous Williams Sisters (Venus and Serena) last year at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club where he served as the compere. As he introduced the girls and read out their awesome achievements, you could feel the excitement in his voice. I heard that he was so excited about compering the match that he virtually forgot to negotiate a fee with the organizers. To say that Ositelu was passionate about tennis is the understatement of all time.

Ositelu will be missed by Nigerian tennis faithful like me who followed his writings in The Guardian. He will also be missed by football fans who listened to his analysis on television especially when the Super Eagles played a big match. Most of all, he will be missed by his family who have described how loving he was.

His last daughter, Eva, told the Sunday Punch that she and her father had planned to watch the Australian Open together. Well, Eva, I had also planned to follow his reports of the tournament. To Eva and the rest of the family, please take heart in the knowledge that “The Arena” (Ositelu’s pen name) made a mark in his chosen field before quitting the arena.

May his soul rest in peace, amen.

Feedback

Re: My First Nations Cup

IN RESPONSE to my last article, I received quite a number of interesting stories from readers also narrating their own first Nations Cup experience.

Due to space constraints, I can only publish here an edited version of some of the stories. To read the full interesting versions and probably narrate your own story, please visit my blog, soccertalknigeria.blogspot.com.
There will also be a lot to talk about daily on the blog when the Nations Cup kicks off, so keep a date. For now, enjoy...

Dear Mumini. Thanks for your 1980 Nations Cup story. It gave me lots of nostalgia. The only thing you left out was how some senior students gave us knocks on the head on the pretext that we were blocking their view of Mr.
Amoah’s TV set. Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. – Ayo Karounwi, your classmate at Iganmode Grammar School, Ota.

Dear Mumini. Your Nations Cup reminiscence conjures up a mixed feeling in me. The demoralising results posted by the then Green Eagles in the 1960s (5-0 and 7-0 white-wash of Nigeria by Ghana) discouraged me from following the Nations Cup until 1976 when Eagles came back from Dire Dawa, Ethiopia with a ‘golden’ bronze and the newspapers were awash with praises for a left- footed lad called Haruna Ilerika (RIP). Ever since, I have become an ardent follower of Nigerian soccer, though I played the game to Secondary School level at Govt College (BAREWA), Zaria with pictures of me in college jersey no. 6 of old holding trophies which I still proudly display in an album. But your article succinctly covered the 1980 Nations Cup and I don’t have any other better thing to add. Well done.

However, the Eagles versus Cape Verde match sort of indicated that “by spiting the face, Coach Keshi has cut off the nose”. In as much as I accept the wish of the coach, Keshi might have unwittingly reduced his fire power by two potent strikers! How many goals have the likes of Uzoenyi & Mba scored internationally in comparison to the intimidating presence and goalscoring ability of Odemwingie? A Commander goes to war with the best of his soldiers. AFCON is not a training ground for rookies, not even as a reward for loyalty in the qualifiers. I hope the final of AFCON 2013 proves me wrong about Keshi’s naivety for the home based lads.

A match is won on goals. Musa and Moses are basically midfielders leaving average strikers in Emenike, Ike Uche and Ideye to labour hard for goals as shown in the high number. of drawn games played by the Eagles since last year. It is only by scoring goals that the Super Eagles can win AFCON 2013. Best of Luck. – Dele Kola, Omole - Ikeja.

CORRECTION, Mumini. 1980 to 2013 is 33 years not 25. I know maths more than you, because I studied Marine Engineering.  I’m Osaze, not the arrogant one.

* You’re right, but remember I mentioned that the article was first published in 2005. Do the arithmetic, Engineer Osaze!

My First Nations Cup was the same edition as yours, 1980. I arrived Lagos from my village Amaeke Abam in then Imo State late January before the competition started in March, I was living at Amukoko and walking to National Stadium Surulere. It was easy for me being a raw village boy. On the final day between Nigeria and Algeria I was at the stadium before 10am for a match that would kick off at 4pm. By 12noon, it was annouced that the stadium was full. My popular side ticket of three naira (#3.OO) not withstanding, I took a risk by following other football fanatics to climb the floodlight pole and found myself at the covered stand. People were being thrown from the top. Even military men in uniform suffered the same fate of hurling.My man of the match was Muda Lawal. – FromUBA IGWE@Badagry.

lMr Mumini, your column today (last week) sweet me no be small. My own first Nations Cup was MAROC ‘88. Nigeria vs Algeria game comes to mind in which Bright Omokaro “10-10” reduced the opponents to 10 men after Ademola Adesina was red-carded earlier for an offence he did not committ. Nigeria  had great players like Edoboh, Nwosu, Okosieme, Okwaraji, Sofoluwe, Keshi, Rufai, Eboigbe, et al. Peter Rufai is my boyhood hero whom I saw every week way back in Sharks FC of PH, then. Mumini you go write soccer enter old age.  Somebody say amen! – From Falomo Idowu, Karis School, Magodo, Lagos.

My first Nations Cup experience was Ghana/Nigeria 2000. Though Nigeria did not win it, we had a team that was good enough to be champions. I was a JSS 2 student then. It was a memorable experience. – Abdullahi from Sagamu.

My first Nations Cup was 1988 when Mr Bassey brought me to Lagos. I didn’t know anything about TV replays, so each time they replayed a goal, I counted it as another goal and argued with my friend Ismaila, till the following day about the result of every match. He called me a bush boy then.  – From Uwem.

My first Nations Cup memory was the 1980 finals. I still remember it was few months into President Shehu Shagari’s tenure. I remember the president holding a wooden material (a rattler) that made so much noise each time he waved it. That was our own Vuvuzela. Then, I was doing my ‘A’ Levels at Ogun Poly. – Dr. Kayode Falola, Oshodi.

My first Nations Cup experience was "Mali 2002"......I remember the incidences vividly that led to my attending the 3rd place match and finals....

I worked with a Telecommunications Company and they were also sponsoring the ACN then (not the Political Party o!). So, I suggested to the Management to sponsor some staff as well and this was approved. I was nominated amongst others but some members of the Marketing & Sponsorship dept kicked against my nomination and then recommended that all staff should go through a knowledge quiz....Yours truly, I also won (one of the 3 successful staff) and then I was called into a meeting that they might not allow me go just because I had won a competition earlier in the year (can you imagine - they wanted to kill my star, but God no gree them)....
My real experience was actually at Mali.... they eat so much rice and chicken ( I was afraid of contacting chicken pox from too much of it....just joking oo) and then to my amazement and "Surprisation" (ala Chief Zebrudaya), there were no generating sets (generators) in the two hotels we lodged as well as the business centre I went to send an email to Nigeria.....Small Mali? Nigeria, my beloved country is strewn with Generators all over... I wept for Nigeria because of that alone... That has left an indelible impression on me brought me into contact with Jaiye Aboderin of blessed memory. May his soul continue to rest in piece. That is my First Nations Cup and I hope I can build on that too by going to watch this year's edition in South Africa. Keep up the good works, sir. – Joshua Bamigboye From Ikoyi, Lagos

Truly, reading Mumini Alao's refreshing article on memories of his first Nation's Cup is very stimulating. But I do not see any similarity in the 1980 edition Nigeria won and the one we are about to witness in South Africa in a matter of days from today. Why? Before the 1980 edition, Nigeria could see the potential winners in our team. We had the likes of Segun “Mathematical” Odegbami, magnificent midfield maestro, Mudashiru Lawal of blessed memory; skipper Christian Chukwu, Chief Justice Adokie and a host of very promising stars listed for the tournament. The present team does not have such quality players.

 I went to the stadium in 1980 to see our stars with the conviction that Nigeria would to win the cup and this came to pass. But today, our players are struggling, and we are no longer the giant of Africa - shame!

I have looked at the list of players paraded by Keshi and have concluded that they are just ordinary players. That  means that we should prime our expectations from the team in a modest way. I am not expecting Nigeria to win this Nations Cup. Good luck Eagles. – Lawrence Nwaru From Ojodu, Lagos.

lMy first Nations Cup was in 1980 but I was too young to remember all games except the final against Algeria at the National Stadium Lagos. Though I watched it through a 12' black and white TV set,  what do you expect from a primary three pupil. Meanwhile, I can't forget Maroc '88 easily when the African best like Roger Milla, Rabar Madja, Rasidi Yekeen, Cyril Makanaki, Ademola Adesina, Peter Rufai were in action. The best match of the competition to me was the semi final between Nigeria and Morroco that went into a penalty shoot out after the game ended 1-1. It just flashed back to me now how Dodo Mayana Peter Rufai caught the Morrocans’ last penalty to give Eagles the victory. – Gbenga

Having read the fond memories of my school mate at Anwar -ul- Islam College Agege (a year my senior at HSC Class), the eloquent Mumini Alao, I look back with nostalgia at my first Cup of Nations.

My first was also the 1980 edition but my own experience was different. I was in the stadium live and witnessed all the matches played in Lagos.

In the opening game on 3rd March between the Eagles and Tanzania, many football faithful who were late to the stadium. In their efforts to get seated, many were thrown about like stones and seriously injured some with brushes and cuts. The Eagles won the match  3-1. 

The final between Nigeria and Algeria was an easy ride, as the Mathematical Segun Odegbami scored two goals in a 3-0 victory. I also recall with relish, the action leading to the third goal scored by Muda Lawal at the net opposite where I sat. It was fantastic. – Lawal-Akapo Agboola Adio from Ijora Olopa, Lagos.

1 comment:

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