Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Timely Warning By Kenya

ONE of the things that I gave Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi lots of credit for, en route to winning the African Cup of Nations title last month in South Africa, was his uncanny ability to keep his players focused and concentrated, despite many distractions, until the trophy was won.

Before, during and even in the immediate aftermath of the tournament, Keshi managed consistently to exude a great deal of humility about the ability of his team, repeating at every opportunity that he was still “building” the team and had not yet “arrived” at his desired level. That message was apparently well internalized by the players and that kept their feet firmly on the ground. Even after their surprise victory over Cote d’Ivoire in the AFCON quarter final, they did not allow it get into their heads as they decisioned Mali with ruthless efficiency in the semi-final before neutralising Burkina Faso in the final.

In my opinion, that combination of humility, focus and concentration were the missing elements when the Eagles faced Kenya in a 2014 World Cup qualifier last Saturday in Calabar. It was the resultant complacency that led them to the brink of defeat before substitute Nnamdi Oduamadi smashed in an injury time equalizer to earn a 1-1 draw and deny the plucky Kenyans  a historic win.

When I was tipping the Eagles for a 3-0 victory over Kenya in this column last week, my calculation was that Keshi would maintain the focus he had mastered so well at the AFCON and continue to transmit same to his players. But on the eve of the game, I stumbled on a news report on supersport.com where the Big Boss was sounding “bullish” (quoting the report) about how the Eagles would show the stuff of champions and overwhelm the Kenyans!

A coach directly or indirectly infects his charges with his humility or arrogance, confidence or over-confidence, concentration or lack of it. In this case, Keshi infected his players with a sense of over-confidence without realizing it. Unlike at the Nations Cup where he had kept their feet firmly on the ground because nobody gave them a chance before the tournament, this time he allowed himself and the players to get carried away by their new status as African champions. They had “won” the game in their heads even before the first ball was kicked. But Kenya gave them a rude awakening and the Eagles were caught cold.

I have been asked by many people how the Eagles could have played “so badly” just weeks after winning the Nations Cup when they were only missing two players (Emmanuel Emenike and Ambrose Efe) from the AFCON starting line-up. My response has been, and still is that the Eagles did NOT play that badly. In fact, they didn’t play any different from their performances at the AFCON where they initially struggled against Bukina Faso and Ethiopia before coming good against Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. The major difference was their state of mind. At the AFCON, they were humble and focused; in Calabar, they were over-confident and distracted. It was a huge psychological difference.

A play-back of the Kenya  match confirms that the Eagles dominated proceedings. They were the better team against the ultra-defensive Kenyans. But, as we have seen many times in football nowadays, it is very difficult to break down a team with 10 men behind the ball especially if they are extremely motivated and fully concentrated as the Kenyans were last Saturday. And when the defensive team manages to score first, usually from a set piece or a counter-attack as the Kenyans also managed to do, matters can become even more complicated. The defensive team adding time-wasting tactics like the Kenyans also did.

Kenya rode their luck when they cleared a Brown Ideye header off the line in the first half and they showed their full concentration with timely tackles and interventions on a number of occasions when Victor Moses (twice) and Obafemi Martins were through on goal. I was hoping for so much from Martins and I will not make any excuses for him as he failed to score. But a critical look at our midfield reveals again that creativity is still lacking in that department  and there weren’t too many balls for Martins to chase. Still talking about Martins, any other striker would have been frustrated by the lack of service coupled with the tight marking by the Kenyan defence. So, does Martins deserve another call in the future? That is up to Keshi to decide.

Despite the close markings, however, I believe the Eagles would have translated their dominance into early goals if they had started the game with the right mindset. Sustained pressure early on would have forced the Kenyans into the type of error that finally yielded the equalizer, leaving Oduamadi unmarked to smash the ball home. And, had Nigeria scored first, Kenya would have been forced to review their defensive game plan, leaving room for the Eagles to probably score a couple more.

Overall, my take is that Kenya’s shock treatment has come at the right time for Nigeria. Before the game, the Eagles attended a scheduled reception hosted for them by the Cross River State government and, after the game, they were attending yet another reception in Akwa Ibom State as they continued celebrating their AFCON win and pocketing generous cash gifts. Looking at that itinerary with the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that everyone thought that the Kenya game in-between was just a formality. Now, we know better.

Going forward, I hope the Eagles will now leave the AFCON trophy in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) trophy cabinet where it belongs and re-focus their minds fully on the World Cup qualifiers. The Kenyan team that I saw last Saturday is not extraordinary and I don’t see why we shouldn’t beat them when we visit Nairobi for the return leg in June. On that occasion, I don’t expect them to put 10 men behind the ball because they will be playing at home and looking for a win. There will also be the weight of expectation from their supporters. With the right preparation and the right concentration, the Eagles are quite capable of notching the three points in Nairobi because we have the better team.

As for Stephen Keshi, the cliche that a coach is as good as his last result must be ringing in his head now. After the AFCON triumph, John Mastoroudes advised in this column that the Eagles were not yet Super. Keshi has often said so himself with great humility. Now, he needs to return to that humble state that saw him conquer the whole of Africa.

Excellent Free Kick

MY ANALYSIS of the Nigeria-Kenya game will be incomplete without a word on the free kick goal by Kenya’s midfield player Francis Nyambura. Truth be told, it was an excellent delivery into the top corner that gave Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama no chance at all. Even World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi couldn’t have done a  better job. Ironically, Nyambura only plays for Kenyan League side Thika United where their Thika Municipal Stadium has capacity for just 5,000 fans.

Spain On The Brink?

AT the time of writing this, world and European champions Spain were preparing to meet former world and European champions France in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Paris. A loss for either side could condemn them to the indignity of a play-off to reach Brazil 2014.

What made the headlines before the heavyweight clash, however, was Spain’s 1-1 draw at home to group minnows Finland last Friday. Just like Nigeria were expected to knock out Kenya, Spain had been tipped to finish off Finland. But after taking a 1-0 lead, Spain and all their Barcelona tiki-taka superstars could not break down the 10-man Finland defence again, only for the visitors to snatch a late equalizer for a truly shocking result.

African champions Nigeria suffered, European champions Spain suffered. Indeed, the champions are suffering!

The Real “Octopuses”

LAST week, I promised to give out a special prize to ONE WINNER who correctly predicted the outcome of the Nigeria-Kenya game.

Most entries naturally predicted a handsome victory for Nigeria and I never thought anyone would win my prize when the match ended in a 1-1 draw. How wrong I was.

I don’t know the type of crystal balls that these guys have at  home, but TWO people actually predicted the match correctly. Step forward Hon. Kingsley Okirikpo from Sapele, Delta State and Paul Ojoo from Ajegunle, Lagos State. You both are the real “Octopuses” of Nigerian football. So, rather than pick one winner as originally planned, I have decided to double the prize. You will receive a copy of my book, SOCCERTALK WITH MUMINI ALAO, plus N2,500 worth of telephone recharge cards each.

But, wait a minute! Are you guys truly Nigerians? How come you predicted a home draw for the Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifier? Haba! Congratulations, anyway.

17 comments:

  1. "A coach directly or indirectly infects his charges
    with his humility or arrogance, confidence or over-
    confidence, concentration or lack of it. In this
    case, Keshi infected his players with a sense of
    over-confidence without realizing it."

    Sir, I think the media and fans did more damage on this note than even Keshi. Keshi rather picked the vibes from the fans and media majority of who suddenly think the Eagles have "arrived". Since AFCON, its been very unpopular to openly say anything that is close to a criticism of the team and coaches. I can't believe most Nigerians who followed the team before AFCON and gave them little chance suddenly now think they have changed just in few weeks. If we learned anything from AFCON, it should be never to lose hope or write people off, not to suddenly get pompous and ego inflated about our achievement. God will always resist the proud as the good Book says.
    I smelled trouble when Keshi decided to pitch himself and naija football fans against NFF at the most ill-advised time. Psychologically, its a bad distraction and an avoidable fracture in whatever force bound and gave them success at AFCON. Then followed by the celebrity train party that has failed to stop.
    What has happened to our media? I recall with nostalgia our qualification for USA 94. The media then, with years of Nigeria failures to qualify humbling enough, did not spend their time predicting score lines and feting players like Nollywood stars. No, they were our CIA, spying opponents and exposing their strategies, strengths and weaknesses. I make bold to say, some would have been in Namibia to spy on both Namibia and Malawi and truly educate the Nigeria team and fans of what to expect. That's how I got to know Oga Mumini and the others. Now there is TV and satellite yet the media gets lazier and lazier.
    I truly hope the draw will not haunt us in the future. In a group system like this, every result matters, even GF, GA, GD, etc Maybe its better we put back on our pre-AFCON attitude towards the SE. To say our qualification for the WC will be tough is an understatement.

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  2. Let me start by congratulating the super eagles for not losing the match. it is the sheer fighting spirit and never say die attitude of Nigerians in general that finally prevailed, and that was why the Kenyans were downcast when the final whistle went. They knew they had lost a life time opportunity to inflict a defeat on Nigeria. As noted by Alh. Mumini several big teams suffered the same fate and that is football for you. Spain bounced back yesterday, Nigeria will bounce back in June.Two things bother my mind though. One, that a whole footballing country like Nigeria cannot boast of one standard playing pitch(natural turf). The type of football our super Eagles play require a good turf to flourish and we all saw that in South Africa. The Calabar pitch, is 'a bit too hard' our lone goal scorer,Nnamdi Oduamadi said philosophically. Secondly, Keshi is in my opinion a bit soft when it comes to mind games. It is good to be humble, but a coach must be able to play the mind game effectively, ask Mourinho. From the day he was employed, the Kenyan coach embarked on mind games with Nigerians as a whole. He criticized, harassed, ridiculed Nigeria at will. Everything Nigeria is bad. Keshi should have reminded him that Kenya have never beaten Nigeria before and that he is just a mercenary employed to do a job. This Keshi must do before the return leg.

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  3. Absolutely spot on Ayekooto, absolutely spot on analysis! Oga Mumin, please help ginger today's journalists to do the kind of espionage work that a sound NFF Technical Dept should do please. We are in dire need of such if we must go on to remain at the top and fulfill our potentials!

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  4. Oga Mumuni, you hit the nail on the head but failed to tidy the grist.
    The grist is in the fine details.
    The ball circulation was still laboured. Slow and methodical build-up may work in a tournament where teams opt more for open play, than in a game such as last Saturday's.
    Keshi, a veteran of so many qualification wars as a player and as a coach, surprisingly failed to transmit the occasion to his players.
    Playing against a lesser-favoured team at home, the template should have been straight-forward: High tempo and high pressing. Forget pretty and intricate passing; move the ball as quickly as possible, even if it means long and direct balls.
    The tactic is: don't allow the lesser-favoured team to build confidence.
    For lengthy spells of the first half, Kenya was able to carry the ball out of defence while we waited inside our half.
    Thus it was easy for them to keep their shape, and then build confidence.
    Obagol's major limitation as a target-man is his deficiency as a physical presence while without the ball at the opposing box. Obagol just doesn't have the tools to press opposing defences.
    Kenya got a passmark on Saturday because our application was simply deficient.

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  5. "Unlike at the Nations Cup where he had kept their feet firmly on the ground because nobody gave them a chance before the tournament, this time he allowed himself and the players to get carried away by their new status as African champions"

    You said it but NOT all. I agree COMPLETELY WITH Ayekooto above:"I think the media and fans did more damage on this note than even Keshi". You will recall in my feedback you wrote on MANAGING OUR SUCCESS, I said you journalist have a bigger role to play in ensuring that the team keeps its feet firmly on ground. How coincidental that it was Oduamadi (probably not infected with the overconfidence bug) that rescued us. Ayekooto has said it all - what I have been saying (I have personally send a mail to you Oga Mumini, Qasim Elegbede & Nnamdi) on this cut & paste journalism that our journalist do these days, bad to the extent of copying photo titles with stories. Even when you send them out to get on-spot stories, you hardly get anything special. To close on this espionage issue, which I believe will particularly be crucial in the last phase of qualification (in October & November), I insist on the recommendation I have given before in my mails to you – LET YOUR GUYS GO TO YOUR LIBRARY & STUDY OLD EDITIONS OF CF/CFI from 1990-1995. The espionage works done by your humble self & SO formed the foundation of success recorded by Nigerian football.

    This is no doubt a rude awakening which we should take advantage of to shoot ourself back into reckoning. If we go to Kenya with HUMILITY, I see us doing the same thing that our team did to them in 1996 Olympics games qualifier. Surely, they will not sit back in their home.

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  6. By the way Kunle Solaja (this is part of the espionage & proactive journalism we are talking about) pointed out this morning a very crucial observation which I want you to champion in your next write up so the NFF can take it up and ACT NOW. Our next two crucial away games in June are going to be played 3 days before others in the group play theirs because of our schedule in the Confederations cup. He is of the opinion that NFF should NOT buy into this idea because the Confederations cup is less glamorous than the World cup itself. He is therefore suggesting that the NFF request that other qualifiers IN OUR GROUP be played the same day and time with our revised schedule or we asked that the previous schedules be retained so as not to give undue advantage to Malawi. He also suggest that we should plan to execute the 2 away games (Kenya & Namibia) with our core team which should be rested for the opening game of the Confederations cup against Tahiti (No disrespect to them, I believe) because the world cup is more important. This was one of the mistakes made under Siasia when we got carried away with a ‘mere’ but glamorous friendly against Argentina in Abuja by playing the core team when we have a crucial away game to play away to Ethiopia the same week. The result and outcome, of course was we all know. He that has ears let him listen! A word is enough for the wise.

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  7. Nurudeen Obalola on facebook "I respect Mr Solaja a great deal but I just can't see how there's a conspiracy here. First, FIFA wouldn't have had to change the schedule if we hadn't won the Nations Cup. Second, FIFA didn't stop us from beating Malawi away and Kenya in Calabar. Third, the way fixtures are structured there will inevitably be back-to-back home or away games for some teams. All the teams end up playing the same number of home and away fixtures anyway, so I can't see any (dis)advantage. Fourth, why would FIFA want Malawi at the World Cup ahead of Nigeria? I hope we qualify for the World Cup but if we don't we should blame ourselves, not FIFA or CAF or any grand conspiracy"

    my reply on facebook 9 hours ago:@ Nurudeen Babalola. I agree with you there may be NO CONSPIRACY here but let's leave the title and take the message. The truth of the matter is that we need our journalists to be forward-thinking and proactive to see things like this. Another truth of the matter is that this will assist our FA & the team in planning better (considering our lackadaisical approach to away games, which has not changed much even under Keshi - drawing games from winning positions (in Malawi & Liberia). God forbid if we are only able to take 2 points from 6 & Malawi gets 6 from 6. The implication is that we will be on 7 points while they will be on 11 thus rendering meaningless our last game against them at home.

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  8. sorry @ayodele, how did u arrive at 2 points from 6, a loss and a draw or what?

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  9. The Eagles played well, but were soft on the Kenyans. This must have been as a result of the mind games by the Kenyans. We don't need to be soft on the ball to proove to the Kenyans that we're not bad people. Next time we must punish any team that comes; let them take their complaints to the appropriate quarters. Emmanuel Ikeja.

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  10. On the match itself. The Eagles performance was basically average and could not raise their game firstly when faced with an iron-clad defense and secondly when down to a lone goal. Kenyans defense forced the SE to always play a pass or hit a shot too early or too late. As time progresses it became worse. When Kenya scored, we lost composure and our midfield simply lost its rhythms.
    Apparently, Vic Moses can't be depended on for goals, he will rather make them. Some chances he missed where similar to the ones he missed in AFCON final against B.Faso.
    Ideye lacks precision in front of goal and can't be rely on in a game when the chances are far in between. He troubles defenses with his presence and holds the ball well but could not link up with Martins where it matter most.
    Martins is a better finisher when set up well but doesn't have the physical presense required to trouble the Kenyan defense. Emenike combines all these attributes and would be needed when next we play such iron-clad defense.
    Mikel started well but lost his composure later. He seems disappointed with the referee and sometimes allowed the frustration get the better of him. At a point he was dispossessed of the ball and rather than chase the culprit down, threw his hands up in despair just watch the guy run away with the ball and even make a pass unchallenged.
    Onazi tried to bridge the gaps in the midfield with lots of guts and mobility but his final ball still needs improvement.
    The defense had little to do. Only that Omerua had more work with curtailing the Kenya main man, a job he did marvelously well, also supporting the attacks as much as he could.
    Elderson free kick leading to the goal somehow was missed by the camera, not even a proper replay to put the referee's decision to scrutiny - so much for TV coverage.
    Musa has no business playing in the wing as his crosses are always bad and his speed control a problem. The coach better look for another roles to put him. Thankfully, he now has another challenger in the goal scorer.
    Overall as reflected on Keshi's face, the SE performance was average to say the least, and not the stuff expected of champions. They should play their remaining games seeing themselves more like an underdog than as champions.

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  11. Anonymous said...
    sorry @ayodele, how did u arrive at 2 points from 6, a loss and a draw or what? march 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    @ Anonymous. I arrived at 2 points from the available 6 if (I say God forbid again) we drew our 2 AWAY games against Kenya & Namibia in June. 2 + our current 5 points will take us to 7. However, if (God forbid again) Malawi - also currently on 5 points - take the the 6 maximum points available by winning their two HOME games against Namibia & Kenya. their current 5 points from 6 will take them to an unassailable 11 points thus rendering our last game against them at home to a mere formality as even 1 million goal win WILL ONLY GIVE US 3 POINTS TO ADD TO 7 TO MAKE 10. Our destiny is still in our hands but the Super Eagles MUST ACCOMPLISH THE DIFFICULT JOB OF WINNING 2 AWAY GAMES to AVOID any permutation & calculation.

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  12. May God help us all. Hope keshi is reading and listening? By the way,what's up with Sidney sam ?coz I don't understand y musa should continually make nuisances on d wings and yet nobody considered to people like seugun odegbami, amesie adokiamaka, Emmanuel fantastic Amuneke and of coz d the general himself-King Finidi d incredible George of d right flank. Perhaps another thing that bother me is lack of playing philosophy. Check out Ghana for instance, all there teams both male and female, feeders and national team have d same pattern and flow. In d past SE is known for their fanstastic wing playbut, not now again d only thing consistent about our playing pattern is our inconsistency. Watch the golden Eaglet play and you will thing you are watching the team of the all powerful and all cnquering Barcelona team playing. That perhaps for me,is a stark reminder of how we use to play and it doesn't matter where we play home and away is d same to use respective of the opposition.

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  13. Just went through a number of headlines in today's completesport and there u have even SE bench players claiming they would beat Kenya in their backyard. Can somebody just tell these boys to stop all these funny talks and focus on even grabbing a first-team shirt. Even the best team in the world give their opponent some respect. Some people need to learn to be tactful. I am also wondering why this is the best headlines CS writers and editors can come up with from d whole interviews. For Christ sake, the boys talked about other more sensible issues too! Anyway, some of our Press guys are even poor when it comes to conducting interviews

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  14. Oga Mumini, you need to see and promote this boy in your column. Every football loving nigerian must be proud of this 10 year old nigerian on youtube. I guess he plays on Chelsea youth Academy. Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp2dXRmKY4k

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  15. With the likes of Ayekooto, Alhaji Ali, Ada Orile, Ayodele and many other contributors, I think even our most illustrious Baba Mumini needs to be more ultra defensive on his job than the Kenyans (lol)... Well, the point is that the knowledge of the beautiful game is gaining ascendancy in Nigeria... The implication for Keshi and other national team coaches, particularly Obuh, is that Nigerians now expect more than victories from their teams. You just have to win like Champions, draw with pride or lose gallantly! That is the new spirit in town. Apart from over confidence and lack of grits-guts on the part of our players, Alhaji Ali touched on the most salient factor for our near defeat against Kenya - Bad Pitch. Like most playing surfaces in Nigeria, the Calabar pitch was hard, surreptitiously bumpy and hostile to the kind of free flowing football that our Super Eagles thrives on. Instead of focusing on improving sporting facilities in the country especially with regards to natural, well kept and smooth playing turfs, the Federal and State Governments are more interested in scoring cheap political mileage from our accidental discharge in South Africa. It is a national disgrace that right before our very eyes Abuja National Stadium pitch was allowed to turn into a forest. The difference in the results we got from the bad Nelspruit stadium pitch and better pitches elsewhere in South Africa should have opened our eyes to the imperative of good playing surfaces to Nigeria's brand of football. Now, that the Kenyan mob has pulled a pause on our DJ, we must now put a full stop to the party and go back to business. The first business must be top priority to playing surfaces all over Nigeria. Our artificial pitches, to my mind, has outlived their usefulness and would only accelerate the demise of flair football in Nigeria. However, to continue to be champions, our Super Eagles need to learn how to cope in bad weather. As much as the hard Calabar pitch aided the defensive game of the Kenyans, a worse pitch, as I expect in Kenya, would present an uphill task for us. In that situation, grit-guts soccer as expatiated by Ada Orile should come handy. Keshi, please take note. Finally, the Super Eagles must not only play their next three matches as underdogs but must play as if those are the last matches of their lives. That is our only ticket to Brazil 2014. Finally finally, when it comes to ruining our soccer fortunes with "over confidence", our media are the worst culprits. They should tone down on the way they hype our players and their pre-post match comments. We should now begin to see an end to killer titles like "obagoal-weapons of mass destruction", "Lagos Tiger", "Mba-bomb" and all the big big names that kill the dog... Humility and focus must now flow from the pen to the pitch! My heart is with the Super Eagles. We must continue to support them in every helpful way we can to fly above this momentary set back! Morning Comes!

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  16. @Asuzu, your comment is spot on.The guys you mentioned (except Alhaji Ali who is new on this blog) have been consistent with the quality of their contributions.I am truly humbled by their depth but I'm not surprised. I've always known that many Nigerian footer fans are brilliant and we journalists are just privileged. Meanwhile, I agree with you and Ali on the subject of bad pitches and will take it to the front burner in my next article.

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  17. Nigerian team has proved that they are best in African continent - http://www.ngr24.com/

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