Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Relieved!

THE Super Eagles finally managed to crawl (not fly) into the quarter-final of the on-going Nations Cup in South Africa following a 2-0 win over Ethiopia in their final Group C game on Tuesday night in Rustenburg. Coupled with Zambia’s goalless draw with Burkina Faso in the group’s other decisive game which was played simultaneously in Mbombela, the Eagles finished as runners-up to the Burkinabes. Both teams ended with five points each, but the Stallions won the group on superior goal difference.

To be honest, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the outcome of our match against Ethiopia. It’s worth laughing over because we won and qualified. But it’s equally worth crying over because of the jerky performance by the Eagles. Rather than laugh or cry at the final whistle, however, I was just simply relieved that we were not disgraced with a first round elimination.

In the first half, I was left wondering whether the Eagles objective against Ethiopia was to show to the world how well they could pass the ball around on a lush green soccer pitch. They dominated possession quite alright and their movements were beautiful to watch. But who cares about beautiful movement in midfield when you need to score goals and you are not making any dent in the opposition’s defence? That was the story of the first half for Nigeria: a flamboyant but purposeless show of skill against modest opposition. I was not impressed to say the least.

The second half started on a similar note and, again, I was left wondering what coach Stephen Keshi had told the boys in the locker room at half time. They still lacked urgency and penetration up front. As I posted on Tweeter during the match, the Eagles played as if the goal WOULD COME by itself. But I wrote that the goal would NOT COME and they (Eagles) would have to GO LOOKING for it.

With the clock ticking away in the second half and the match still goalless, desperation started creeping in for Nigeria and passes started going astray. Beautiful movements were soon abandoned for desperate but ineffective long balls. Yet, something, more like a “spirit,” kept assuring me that we would find a goal one way or the other. Complete Sports accountant Soji Ogunbekun who watched the match with me, was shaking with tension. I told him to relax.

It was therefore a big relief when Ethiopia conceeded two penalty kicks in quick succession in the last ten minutes under pressure from Victor Moses. Moses won both spot kicks, dusted himself down and dispatched the ball to either side of the Ethiopia net. Thank you very much, quarter-final here we come.

Despite my disappointment with the Eagles overall performance, it has to be said that they deserved their victory, no matter how ugly. Besides, following the two late equalizers that robbed us of victory in our first two games against Burkina Faso and Zambia, we were due for a lucky break of our own. So, I will accept the two penalty gifts against Ethiopia as pay-back for the Super Eagles. Congratulations, Nigeria!

Even as we celebrate, I’m sure a lot of soccer fans must be thinking about our quarter-final pairing with the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire on Sunday with some trepidation. If the Eagles could struggle so much against Ethiopia, the lowest ranked team at the AFCON, how would they fare against the Ivorians who are the most highly-rated as well as the bookies’ favourites for the trophy?

Not to worry, that match will take care of itself. One thing is sure; the Eagles, parading 17 AFCON debutantees, are the clear underdogs, so nobody will be disappointed if they are knocked out by the veteran Elephants led by Didier Drogba and current African Footballer of the Year, Yayah Toure.. 

Anyone who thinks Nigeria’s quarter-final ticket is nothing to celebrate should spare a thought for cup holders Zambia who arrived in South Africa with so much promise but have been knocked out in the first round. The Chipolopolo have now gone down in history as the country with the shortest reign of just 11 months on the throne as African Champions.

FEEDBACK

*These letters were received BEFORE the Eagles last group match against Ethiopia. They are for the record only.
lThe bottom line of every game is winning. I don’t want to hear that we played well, but we lost out. Super Eagles should rather play badly and win the Cup.  – Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, Abia.

lGood evening, my complete Alhaji. This is to commend your entire team’s efforts for bringing AFCON’s general in-depth reports, Inside Eagles camp, matches preview/review, updated tournament statistics plus independent experts’ columns in our daily menu, Complete Sports. However, this should not affect any of the normal regular daily features, especially the European Leagues. – OLANIPEKUN IDOWU.

lOctopus Alao, you predicted a draw between Zambia and Nigeria and lo and behold, it happened. What then can the Super Eagles do to beat Ethiopia? This heartbreak is becoming irreparable.  – Olusoji.

*I’m sure your heartbreak has been mended by Nigeria’s 2-0 victory.

lThe playing turf in Nelspruit was too bad to host international competition like the AFCON and it is surprising that CAF approved it. –Alh. Emiola Lukman Idowu, Agbede, Ikorodu, Lagos.

lThe way things are, I think it would have been better if the NFF had left Samson Siasia to learn from his mistakes and continue as Super Eagles coach. I dare say Stephen Keshi and the Technical Committee of the NFF have failed us and should all resign. – BAYO, IBADAN.

lYour article, Reality Check 2 was dripping of so much patriotic enthusiasm. But I don’t share your enthusiasm at all. Why? This class of Super Eegles DON’T come to the party when you expect them to. They are NOT fit like our opponents Zambia and Ethiopia. They make too many empty headline hugging promises and comments. My verdict? First round exit.  – Howard Odigie, Lagos.

*Well, what do yuo say now, Howard?

lOga Mumini, you will be doing your fans especially me very grave injustice if you fail to see the Nigeria versus Zambia match on television. REASON 1: Most Nigerians will watch the Nations Cup like the Premiership at their homes or at the numerous cable viewing centers scattered across the country. If only they knew. Reason  2: I don’t see how your analysis will be complete without visual inputs. – From Bassey Isoh.

*I didn’t watch the game as promised but I saw the highlights. I thought the Eagles were OK and Zambia were lucky to steal a draw via a contentious late penalty.

lGood day, Oga Mumini. Your write up (Final Word) is really interesting. In fact if our so called leaders can listen to you guys in media Nigeria will be better. God bless you.  – Your fan, Jerry. Lekki.

lI believe if Stephen Keshi had the likes of Obafemi Martins, Taye Taiwo, Kalu Uche, Haruna Lukeman, Osaze Odemwingie, Adeleye and Okokwo in his squad, the Super Eagles will not be struggling at the AFCON. If there is need to have a new coach, I think Sunday Oliseh can do a better job. – From Patrick Nwafor, Benin City.

lEgbon, thanks for not expecting anything from the Super Eagles. It’s a shame what is happening to our soccer this days. Can you imagine attackers want to take glory for scoring goals instead of the interest of the whole team! So sad with what Ahmed Musa and Ike Uche are doing.  The team’s interest should be paramount. – Taofiq Abdussalam. Former Speaker ODHA, Akure.

lI’m aware that there is a thin line between failure and success and many Nigerians are disappointed at the outcome of our game with Burkinabes. However, I don’t think the Super Eagles did badly. While I blame 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, I think Keshi should have left Emenike and replaced Musa instead. Go Eagles! – Ayodele Oloyede.

lI’m bemused as to why the Eagles 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!! – ADA ORILE.




6 comments:

  1. Relieved is an understatement! This is the worst performance from the Eagles compared to the last games, especially the one against Zambia. I think this is because Keshi picked the wrong mix of players because he was under pressure to win.

    Alhaji, I expected you to dwell more on what Keshi need to do to plot a win against the highly favoured Ivoriens since you are not writing until next week. For me, I think he should stick with the team that started against Zambia but with a little tweaking. Efe should retain his spot in the defence alongside Ken Omeruo (the young man has done more than enough for us to forget Yobo), Obiobona & Echijile. There should be 2 holding midfielders in Onazi & Nwankwo. Nosa & Mikel should be in front of them to match the highly mobile Ivorien midfield while I will go for Moses & Emenike in the attack to make a 4-3-3 formation when attacking and 4-4-2 when defending. Ik Uche, Ideye & Musa can come in the 2nd half depending on how the game is going.

    The Ivoriens are no doubt favourites to win but we can upset them like we did to Cameroun in Tunisia 2004! Yes, “the two penalty gifts (though justified anyway) against Ethiopia as pay-back for the Super Eagles” (unjust sending off of Efe Ambrose against Burkina Fasso and the unjustifiable penalty against Zambia). I hope and pray the Almighty God to also avenge us of the 2 losses we suffered in the hands of the Ivoriens in 2006 & 2008.

    Wishing the Super Eagles the best of luck!

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  2. These Eagles are wingless! If there is a decent team in modern football that plays without a central attacking midfielder, someone kindly tell me about that team.
    Mikel's holding role at Chelsea has cost him all his offensive instincts. His measured composure makes him at home in the centre, but his lack of rapid-fire vision alienates him in the final third.
    And Nosa Igiebor, allegedly recruited by Keshi to fill that role, is totally bereft of creativity.
    Please, don't tell me about Sunday Mbah; he is too much of a greenhorn to carry that role against the seasoned Ivoriens.
    Against Ivory Coast, Mikel must retain a holding midfield role.
    Victor Moses possesses the tools of a cultured offensive play-maker, but I fear he is yet to get to grips with the high-octane physical duel of a West African derby.

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  3. I think Stephen Keshi is still experimenting with the crop of players taking to the Nations cup. Looking at the formations he has adopted in the matches played so far, it can be clearly seen that we do not have a complete strategy to kill off a game.

    Against a complete team like the Elephant's, i strongly believe that what can win the game for the eagles is to play a 'Chelsea vs Barcelona' game in which an open play should not be an option because we cannot match them fire for fire. The Midfield and the defence should be packed and the players should wait for a quick counter attack in order to destabilize the ivorian's defence. They should also be reminded of being clinical in front of goal and not wasting opportunities like we have seen so far.

    I also believe the eagles will be playing with so much pressure because they will need to perform 100% against the Ivorians. Anyway, the task of the coach is to calm the tension and tell the boys to go out there and enjoy their game. Victory will surely come if the eagles can adhere strictly to all these.

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  4. "The Ivoriens are no doubt favourites to win but we can upset them like we did to Cameroun in Tunisia 2004! I hope and pray the Almighty God to also avenge us of the 2 losses we suffered in the hands of the Ivoriens in 2006 & 2008." THANK GOD FOR ANSWERED PRAYERS!!! NEXT IS MALI! SO HELP US GOD!!!

    South Africa has been a good hunting ground for Nigerian national teams. The Flying Eagles won the last African Youth Championship in South Africa in 2011, The Super Falcons won the African Women Championship in 2004 & 2010.

    Nigeria won her 2 Afcon titles when the Indomitables Lions of Cameroun failed to qualify (1980 & 1994) & we played Ivory Coast on both occasions. May history repeat itself tomorrow. AMEN!!!

    GO EAGLES!!!

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  5. Ayodele Oloyede..... I think Complete Sports SHOULD give you a job... congratulations.... NIGERIA WIN ..-.AFCON 2013 CHAMPIONS!!!

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

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