Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beware, The Ides of June

MIKE OKINYI is a Kenyan sports journalist with Citizen Television based in Nairobi, Kenya. Tall, dark, slender and with a ready smile and a good sense of humour, I met him last week in Liverpool at the 2nd Standard Chartered Bank Trophy Final international competition held at Anfield.

Mike was a member of the Kenyan delegation to the 5-A-Side tournament just like I was a member of the Nigerian group. Neither side did particularly well at the competition. (I will come to that later). But it was inevitable that the up coming 2014 World Cup qualifying game between our two countries would become a subject of debate between us.

Mike is confident that the Super Eagles will not escape defeat when they confront the Harambee Stars on June 5, 2013 in Nairobi. “Your boys were lucky to snatch that late equalizer in the first leg when we visited you (the match ended 1-1 in Calabar). But you won’t be second time lucky when you come to Nairobi. A famous defeat awaits you,” he boasted.

I was not really in the mood for an argument so I simply agreed with Mike that Nigeria were lucky in the first leg. But I warned him that the Super Eagles would be a dangerous proposition in the return. “If your boys get too ambitious because they are playing at home, they could be in for a big surprise from the African champions,” I said simply.

Whether the Eagles can spring that surprise on the Keyans and grab a win in this crucial game remains to be seen, however. Injuries to key players such as striker Emmanuel Emenike, and late withdrawals by the likes of Victor Moses and would-be returnee Kalu Uche have decimated coach Stephen Keshi’s original squad for the busy June fixtures when Nigeria will also face Namibia in another World Cup qualifier before proceeding to the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

Keshi has repeatedly assured us that he has capable replacements, but I have this sneaky feeling that a difficult task awaits Nigeria in Nairobi. And if we don’t get a decent result against Kenya, the next game seven days later against Namibia in Windhoek will assume even greater significance with the attendant pressures.

We have good reasons to worry because the Super Eagles have been bad travellers in recent times. Earlier during the on-going World Cup qualifiers, they could only manage a 1-1 draw against Malawi in Blantyre.  All sorts of excuses including bad pitches and difficult weather conditions are given for poor performances against moderate away opposition. None of those excuses will be tenable if Nigeria drop points in Nairobi or Windhoek. In fact, if Malawi (who are joint-top of the table with Nigeria on five points) pick more points than us from the two match-days immediately ahead, that would leave us trailing in the group table before the final fixtures. Such a scenario must be avoided at all costs.

This Friday in Houston, United States, the Eagles will face CONCACAF powerhouses Mexico in a warm-up tie that should give Keshi a good opportunity to properly assess his other options in the absence of several key players. One of the major benefits of winning the African Cup of Nations last February should have been that we had an established first team that can play with greater understanding and cohesion. But that benefit appears to have been lost wittingly or unwittingly. Suddenly, we have found ourselves trying out new players again in new positions, and seemingly “rebuilding” the team all over again. It’s a big set-back indeed.

As things stand, we can only hope that Keshi is clear-headed enough about what he plans to do in Nairobi, and that the players he eventually chooses give their best, no matter the obstacles that come their way. And there will be obstacles!

If the Eagles allow Mike Okinyi and his Keyans compatriots to have the last laugh over Nigeria in this tie following the “Twitter War” and name-calling that ensued between both sets of fans over the first leg, the team’s confidence ahead of the Namibia game and even the Confederations Cup that follows may not only be adversely affected, Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup ticket may also be in jeopardy.

I say good luck, Super Eagles. But, to adapt the historic warning of the seer to Julius Caesar, I also say Beware, The Ides of June.

History Favours Nigeria

DESPITE my “sneaky feelings” and warning to the Super Eagles to expect a difficult task against Kenya, it must be noted that history favours Nigeria to get a “good result” in Nairobi.

En route to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, Nigeria needed to beat Kenya in Nairobi in order to supplant Tunisia as group winner. The Eagles duly delivered with  Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni grabbing the goals in a 3-2 win.

You could argue that Kenya probably didn’t put up much of a fight in that encounter because they hadn’t much at stake. But even when they had a lot at stake en route to the football event of the 1996 Olympics Games, they still couldn’t stop Nigeria.

Following a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Lagos, Kenya thought they had done the difficult part of the job and their fans trooped out en masse  at Kasarani Stadiumexpecting a famous victory over Nigeria’s Under-23 team. But they got the shock of their lives when Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Okocha and co. romped to an emphatic 3-0 win.

Nigeria would later go on to win the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics.

Can Keshi’s Eagles repeat the feat by the 1996 Dream Team?

The Crash At Anfield

FIVE games, five losses. That was the score card of the Nigerian team to the Standard Chartered Trophy international 5-A-Side competition last week in Anfield.

Playing in Group B, we lost 1-0 to Thailand, 3-2 to India, 2-0 to Dubai, 1-0 to Singapore and 2-0 to Korea. Considering our high expectations before the tournament, the results were a big disappointment indeed.
Since I came back from England, the commonest question friends have asked me is:

“What went wrong?” Nothing went wrong, really. We just lost to teams that were better than us. “Even India?” Even India!

Now, let me put things in perspective. The 10 teams at the Finals were permitted to recruit their teams from amongst Standard Chartered Bank staff, customers and other stakeholders in their respective countries.

Nigeria opted to field an entirely bank staff team and we stood by that decision even when we later realized that most other teams included “semi-professional customers” who had lots of experience playing Futsal (5-A-Side) football. The Standard Chartered Nigerian team reached the final of the 2012 Bankers League before losing to Skye Bank so they are not a bad side. But they couldn’t adapt well enough to 5-A-Side football against teams that were more adept at it.

Could I have made any difference with my “excellent” skills which helped Complete Sports win the Lagos SWAN Cup? The answer is a definite NO! To be honest, I was relieved not to be playing because I couldn’t have coped. Instead, Sola Aiyepeku (COD United) and I devoted our energy to running match commentary for the competition which drew commendation from the organizers.

Last week, I wrote here about my other personal experiences at  Anfield. But I forgot to mention that we also paid a visit to the Liverpool Football Academy where all the participating teams were trained by Liverpool technical staff while club legends Ian Rush and John Barnes shared their career experiences with us journalists. For instance, did you know that the former Italian captain Franco Baresi was Rush’s most difficult opponent? Did you also know that John Barnes has seven children? More about them later.

Back to the Standard Chartered Trophy Tour. Kenya, playing in Group A, managed to win one game, beating Malaysia 1-0. But they lost their other games 2-1 to Hong Kong, 4-0 to Bahrain, 1-0 to Indonesia and 5-0 to United Kingdom. After the loss to the UK, I asked Mike Okinyi to tell me how many letters there were in the name, “Kenya.” He said he didn’t know how to count!

Champions Bayern!

BAYERN Munich lived up to the form books last Saturday by beating their domestic rivals Borrussia Dortmund 2-1 in the European Champions League Final at Wembley.

Dortmund made a contest of it by dominating the opening exchanges, but as the game wore on, Bayern turned the screw and made their superior quality count eventually.

Dutchman Arjen Robben was the match hero, creating Bayern’s first goal and scoring the winner dramatically in the 89th minute.

Before the game, I requested for predictions from Soccertalk readers. Forty-two people got the 2-1 scoreline correctly. But as I have only 12 books to give away, I asked Complete Sports accountant, Soji Ogunbekun (left), to help pick the winners by

ballot. Here are the lucky Octopuses...

lMe, Football & More by Segun Odegbami
1. ADELEKE (AGEGE)          08139008XXX
2. ADESOPE Y.A. ( OYO STATE)       08058061XXX
lRashidi Yekini: Life and Times of Nigeria’s Goal King by Jubril Mohammed Olanrewaju
2. CHIMA JUSTICE            08028699XXX
3. SONLDR S. LAWAL        08053164XXX
4. ADEGBOYEGA (IBADAN)        08050591XXX
5. NURUDEEN ADESIYAN        08050686XXX
6.MOSES (BARIGA)            08034109XXX
7. TOKUNBO (IGBETI)        08065516XXX
lWinners will be contacted on how they will collect their books.


  1. Methinks one key factor the Eagles are recent poor travelers is mental.
    Because, (whisper it softly), sport at the highest level is 40% skill, 60% psychological.
    Self-Belief is everything. Americans call it 'Trash-Talk'. I call it 'shakara'. The great Muhammad Ali wrote the gospel on it.
    In team sport, self-belief like a ripple originates from one source: one player or two players, or more. Not the coach. The coach is not on the field.
    In the recent past, Nigeria has lacked that player.
    Away matches provide lessons in bravado, or 'shakara'.
    One robust tackle, even if unnecessary, makes a statement to the opposition, sets the tone for the duration of the match.
    There isn't a single player in the present team to impose a 'Siege Mentality', and consequently imbibe a never-say-die attitude plus a measure of resilience in these Eagles.
    The method could be vocal (saying the necessary fighting-words to the rest of the players before and during the match), or by action (exuding confidence in a positive way before or during the match)
    The recent crops of Eagles have lacked "Battle-Leadership"; On-Field Commanders, who rally the squad in the heat of battle, because away-games are wars in Africa.
    Past successful Eagles squads possessed several Field Marshals: Christian Chukwu, Okey Isima RIP (the most brash player of his era), Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini RIP, Sunday Oliseh, Julius Aghahowa, and the brashest of them all, Daniel Amokachi.
    Keshi can talk all week about tactics on the training ground, and lecture about effort in the dressing-room, but the key factor for victory lies in the psychology of the players as they step on to the Kasarani turf.

  2. Though it is instructive to note that our players commitment for matches slated for season end (70% responsible for our poor away records in my opinion) has improved compared to previous years (as the players out are genuinely injured), it is still very important to sound the alarm bells to the Super Eagles. The fact is that the two matches slated for June will either make or mar our chances of going back to Brazil next year. The last game against Malawi at home may be a formality if for instance we draw or lost the 2 matches (God forbid!) and Malawi win theirs!

    However, I don’t think our team is depleted. We are missing just 2 key players (Moses & Emenike). I agree completely with Ada Orile. Away matches are war. The earlier our players realize this, the better for us. I believe this current crop can do it if they put their minds to it.
    Sorry on your Anfield bashing & congrats to Bayern for a well-deserved UCL triumph! I see them winning it 2 times or more within the next 5 years, especially if they are able to pull of the coup of getting Lewadonski!

  3. "The Ides of June" first is the Super Eagles World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup in Brazil. Then the Flying Eagles at the U20 World Cup in Turkey. The Super Eagles is absolutely the best national team we have at the moment, we've got a young team with big heart. I expect them to come out of the qualifiers unscathed. Obviously, a fit Moses & Emenike would've been a massive boost, eventually I hope they return for the crucial playoffs in September/November, and I wouldn't mind a return to form of inter Milan's Joel Obi;

    Mikel is working hard but the Super Eagles 're still lacking the creativity of the great Jay Jay Okocha. I don't expect us to win the Confederations Cup, but I expect some surprises from the African Champions. Spain are the NĂºmero UNO in the world, Uruguay with Luiz Suarez & Edinson Cavani presents a very deadly strike force that is why captain Joseph Yobo would've been a very valuable inclusion even if its only for inspiration and encouragement. Keshi really disappointed me in that aspect. However, with Mikel & Musa joining the team I hope they at least make it to the Semi Final. Meanwhile, players like Lukman Haruna, Taye Taiwo, Obafemi Martins can still play a very important part leading to the World Cup proper.

    As for the Flying Eagles my expectations are in the all time low right now. Obviously we might discover one or two significant talents for the near future. It will be a big surprise if they can make it past the round of 16. But I will not drop my pen without talking about the Golden Eaglets.

    I will not be surprise if we face ivory coast again in the final of the U17 World Cup or maybe one of the crucial stages, but I foresee a resilient Eaglets That will go on to rule the World. They just need to work a little more on the defensive side, but on the attacking side; those lads are fantastic!.

  4. Congrats to the Super Eagles on this massive, massive WIN in Kenya!

    Based on reports from the match, Ada Orile's suggestions were very well implemented but we really need to get back Moses & Musa quickly or perhaps borrow some of these Eaglets attackers.

    They should feet on ground and go for another 3 points in Namibia. The world is waiting in Brazil thereafter!

  5. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world -