Thursday, November 21, 2013

Brazil 2014: Now, I Believe

AT KICK-OFF: “I’m in Calabar for Nigeria vs Ethiopia World Cup qualifier. Should be a happy send-forth to Brazil for Super Eagles. Good luck, Nigeria.”

AT HALF-TIME: “Eagles 1-0 up but need to show more enthusiasm in the 2nd half. Still some fight left in the Ethiopians. Star man: Ogenyi Onazi.”

AT FULL-TIME: “Nigeria 2-0 Ethiopia. Not one of the Eagles best performances but we’ll take it. Congrats Nigeria, 1st African team thru to Brazil 2014.”

THE CELEBRATION: “Open Heavens! It’s a big storm here now at the final whistle. Calabar fans invade the pitch, dancing in the rain. Showers of blessing. Sheer joy!”

THE foregoing are the messages that I posted at intervals via my Twitter handle #Mumini_Alao as I sat in the press tribune of the U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar last Saturday. I have published them here to document permanently my spontaneous feelings about the occasion without the dilution that comes with delayed analytical introspection.

I was expecting a “happy send-forth” and so it turned out to be, with the joyful celebration at the final whistle.

At half time, I already tipped holding midfielder Ogenyi Onazi as my man of the match, and so he turned out at full time.

The Eagles barely scaled the heights despite their 2-0 win, but who cares? The important thing on the night was to secure the ticket for our fifth World Cup appearance and that objective was achieved. I say: Congratulations, Nigeria!

Inevitably, we must attempt a brief analysis of the Eagles performance and ask the question why the African champions couldn’t score from open play against Ethiopia.

Nigeria’s first goal resulted from a controversial penalty that was tucked away by Victor Moses in the 20th minute, while the second came via a quickly taken free kick by Victor Nsofor in the 83th minute while the Ethiopians were still perfecting their wall of defence. Ethiopia’s coach Sewnet Bishaw had good reasons to complain about both goals at the post-match conference. But, as Eagles coach Stephen Keshi rightly observed, the Walya Ibex should have done better when they hosted the first leg which they also lost 2-1, implying that their complaints about the proceedings in Calabar were mere excuses.

Even so, the question about the Eagles’ struggle for goals via link-up plays remains valid. In the first leg, it was a solo effort by striker Emmanuel Emenike followed by a late penalty by him that fetched the Eagles two goals. In Calabar, we had to rely on another penalty and a free-kick to win the match. Surely, there are still lots of work to be done in the team’s creative department. When we come up against teams that put men behind the ball, we need players with the intelligence and craft to carve out openings for our strikers.

Although Keshi admitted that his team played below par on Saturday, his explanation that the players were anxious to win sounds a bit hollow. But we will accept it anyway because the Eagles have made us happy by delivering the World Cup ticket. Last Saturday, the most important thing was not HOW Nigeria played, but WHAT we got from the game. We must not be too critical of their performance and in the process, forget to appreciate that Keshi and his boys have achieved something wonderful.

Especially for some of us who have been playing the devil’s advocate and sitting deliberately on the fence while the qualifying campaign lasted, this is no time to criticize anybody. We wanted the ticket to be sealed and delivered before any celebration. Well, it has now been delivered.

Last August, I declared in this column that until the World Cup ticket was secured, I would not believe Chief Segun Odegbami and Nwankwo Kanu’s declarations that Stephen Keshi was the best coach Nigeria ever had and that the Eagles would do Africa proud at Brazil 2014.

Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I believe them now! Congratulations, Nigeria.

Thriller in London

THE Super Eagles got an early opportunity to bury the ghost of their unimpressive showing against Ethiopia when they faced three-time world champions Italy in an international friendly on Monday in London, and how well they took it. Coming barely 48 hours after their game in Calabar and following a seven-hour flight, the Eagles could have been excused if they had put up a tired display en route to a comprehensive defeat, but it was the exact opposite that happened.

The 2-2 result  demonstrates what the Eagles are capable of doing at next year’s World Cup. Although Nigeria lived dangerously for large parts of the game and had the cross-bar and a goal-post to thank for not conceding victory towards the end, they also gave the Italians a lot of worry about.

The goals by Bright Dike and Shola Ameobi bode well for the keen competition for World Cup places that lie ahead of every player in the Eagles between now and June next year. Brown Ideye and Nnamdi Oduamadi who have been  alternating as first choice support striker to Emmanuel Emenike must wake up or find their places compromised.

Ahmed Musa must equally improve his crossing of the ball after using his speed to get into good positions. And Victor Moses must stop playing to the gallery and start behaving like a true professional footballer when he gets the ball.

The Eagles defence was often easily penetrated by the Italians. That was to be expected as the Azzuris forward line was led by a world class striker, Mario Balotteli while Nigeria was missing first choice defenders Kenneth Omeruo, Elderson Ehiejile and Ambrose Efe. The second choice defenders paraded by Keshi committed several elementary blunders but the whole idea behind freindly games is to expose such players so that they can gain experience that will turn them into useful back-up players at the World Cup.

That said, I was really pleased that we did not lose such a high profile friendly. The result not only made the trip worthwhile for the thousands of Nigerian fans who braved the biting cold to cheer the Eagles at Craven Cottage, it would have also resonated well amongst Nigerian fans in the Diaspora.

The general feeling now would be: If our boys could hold mighty Italy to a 2-2 draw, then we have great hope going to Brazil 2014. Stephen Keshi and his players must build upon that positive feeling. The fans have fallen in love with the Super Eagles again. How wonderful!

Keshi Needs No Adviser!

l HEARD from a reliable source in Calabar that Nigerian “sports authorities” are contemplating hiring an expatriate technical adviser for Stephen Keshi.

The “authorities” reportedly acknowledge that Keshi has done a great job of qualifying for the World Cup, but feel that the Big Boss lacks “adequate technical knowledge” to lead the team to Brazil 2014. The “authorities” are therefore considering hiring a foreign technical adviser to “assist” Keshi. They say Keshi will still be the head coach of the team and sit on the bench, but the foreigner will provide technical assistance to him. There we go again!

MY COMMENT: I am not a rumour monger and I would not have published this information in my column if my source was not credible. I expect our “sports authorities” to either totally refute or totally ignore this revelation. Whichever of the two options they choose, they should just simply bury the thought of hiring anybody either indigenous or expatriate, to advise or assist Keshi either from above or from below.

The World Cup is just seven months away and we must not repeat our mistakes of the past. We’re all quite familiar with the stories, so I don’t need to repeat them here. Let’s hope the “sports authorities” will heed this simple admonition. If they do, nothing will be heard in my column about the “rumour” again. Not even readers’ comment on the subject. In local parlance, we will allow the idea to die a “natural death.”

Eguavoen’s Dilemma

FORMER Super Eagles coach and Stephen Keshi’s teammate at USA ‘94 World Cup Austin Eguavoen nearly got himself misunderstood on Monday night while analysing the Italy–Nigeria game on Africa Independent Television (AIT) with another former international Femi Okenla.

Eguavoen suggested that Keshi would need more “technical assistance either from home or abroad” to prepare the Eagles adequately for Brazil 2014. When Ovedje Kodesor, the programme anchor, asked whether he meant hiring a technical adviser for Keshi, Eguavoen quickly clarified that he meant technical support staff such as match readers, statisticians and football spies who provide information on the strength and weaknesses of opposing teams.

Indeed, such technical intelligence gathering staff are an essential part of a football team’s support crew but they are not to be seen or heard in the public. They only gather, analyse and submit their data to the head coach and their job ends there.

While Keshi will find in-depth technical information about Nigeria’s opponents useful at the World Cup, problem may arise when the technical intelligence staff providing the information step out of the shadows and want to grab the limelight.  Chief Adegboye Onigbinde was engaged to provide such information to former Super Eagles coach Shaibu  Amodu at the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali but it led to a disagreement which partly resulted in Amodu losing his job and Onigbinde taking over! Enough said.

FEEDBACK

Congratulations to Super Eagles and the good people of Nigeria &because the Eagles have finally landed in Brazil. What a night of celebration. – Joshua, Peace Motors, Agidingbi.
lGood evening sir. Now that we have qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, do you now believe in what Kanu and Chief Odegbami said on 21 August 2013 in Complete Sports that Eagles are going to shine at the World Cup. -???

*Yes, I believe.

Now that we have qualified for the 2014 World Cup, preparation should start in earnest to achieve a good outing in Brazil. We should stop the fire brigade approach in our football administration towards Brazil 20l4. –Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, Abia State.

Kudos to Keshi and his boys. Over N30million salary is owed, bonus of $10000 was cut to $5000 yet they qualified without giving us hypertension. –Adesoye Dayo, Abuja.

The pace and cohesion of the 2013 victorious Golden Eaglets were lacking in the heavy-looking Super Eagles who laboriously eked out a 2-0 win over the hard-fighting Walya Ibex of Ethiopia to pick a Brazil 2014 World Cup ticket in the second-leg final play-off. While we congratulate the Super Eagles and all Nigerians, we humbly insist that the five top Golden Eaglets players should be incorporated into the senior team so as to reinvigorate the Super Eagles. – Tony Biakolo, Delta.

The drab display by Super Eagles against Ethiopia  confirms that Keshi hasn’t built up a strong first team for Nigeria. This present S/Eagles cannot go beyond the group stages in Brazil 2014. Fatigue, poor blending, incomplete passes and poor substitutions made the game uninteresting. Overhaul this team and bring in Haruna, Anichebe, Uche brothers, Osaze and Martins to add experience to the team. – Pst. Steve Nwabuko.

The Eagles attack is not sharp enough for high-powered performance in 2014. Moses is often selfish, Emenike sluggish, Musa complacent and Ideye misfiring. Keshi must do something. Check out the combination of Golden Eaglets Iheanacho, Awoniyi, Yahaya and Isaac Success, you will get a sparkling forward. –Flourish.

Ethiopia plays a brand of total football, which Super Eagles fail to do. Some of our Super Eagles players are not World Cup materials. The coach should bring back the Uche brothers, Martins, Haruna , Adeyele, Taye Taiwo to beef up the team. Remember what happened to us at the last Confederations Cup must be avoided. – Patrick Nwafor, Benin City. --Patrick Nwafor, Benin City.

 Dear Mumini, congrats on the Golden Eaglets although I have my reservations. As a devout Muslim, whose allegiance to Oba Allah supersedes patriotism to the nation,  please answer the following questions faithfully: Are these boys really below 17years? If so, how come none of them is in secondary school? How many of them were discovered through the Shell Cup competition for secondary pupils? Where do the boys go hereafter? Will they go the way of the Philip Osondus, Chrisantus Macaulays , Little Messis and  Chukwudis of this world? Will theirs be of valueless benefits, as it was with our earlier pyhrric victories at past age grade competitions? Do you see a Reus, Goetz, Ozil, among these guys? Mumini, remember, soonest you will become a Sheik. Please, say nothing but the truth. – Adegbenga Adeola, Lagos.

Oga Mumini, thanks for doing a great job, I appreciate your work. But this is the 6th time I will comment on your column, but I have not been published for once. E no good ooh. Anyway, I will advise us to forget about the dreams of 2022. Let’s trust and concentrate on Keshi and his boys, they have all it takes to lift the 2014 World Cup . Personally, I can’t wait till 2022 (it’s too far) before I will see the World Cup coming to Nigeria. I hope you will publish this. – Ifeanyi Nkem, Lagos.

Hi Mumini. Please tell Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state that rewarding only the Golden Eaglets members from his state is not acceptable. That is TRIBAL recognition of what is a collective victory. Governors Babangida Aliyu of Niger state and Liyel Imoke of Cross River state rewarded the whole squad and that is how it should be. Anybody who cannot reward the whole team should keep his/her reward. Nigeria is the greatest and I have no apology for that. – Kanayochukwu, Ojodu Lagos.

 Mumini the Octopus, there is no doubt about your prediction on the 2022 World Cup, if truly the NFF can share this dream and have a solid blueprint to actualize it. Certainly, Golden Eaglets will rule the world in Qatar come 2022. God bless Nigeria. –Jide Olufemi Abayomi, Ketu, Lagos.

Sir, let me appreciate your frank and precise “Soccer Talk.” But I disagree with your final play-offs prediction because Cameroun and Burkina Faso won’t make it to the World Cup. –Ray Olughor, Warri.

*My original tips here were Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun and Algeria. The mention of Burkina Faso last week was a printer’s devil.

2 comments:

  1. Oga Mumuni! You've said it all. Nigerians are indeed in love with the SuperEagles again. However, there is still a lot of work to do. My most significant problem is that even though we've got the intimidating presence in attack; just like the days of Rashidi and Amokachi and a visibly stable defense(although we still need the experience of Captain Yobo). The SuperEagles are still lacking the creativity of the great JayJay Okocha. I thought Moses could be the guy, but it seems he's more comfortable on the left wing. Meanwhile, if coach Stephen Keshi doesn't want to extend his search for a real creative midfielder, then Ogenyi Onazi might be the answer as he demonstrated in the dying moments of the game against Italy and maybe convert Mikel back to his holding midfield position as he does for Chelsea. Otherwise the search for a real creative midfielder continues, but I think Nigeria might've found the answer in the emergence of Golden Eaglets super star Kelechi Iheanachoooooooooo!

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  2. As we celebrate the friendly against Italy we should remember the Confederations Cup where our tactical inadequacies were badly exposed. The very short time remaining should be used to blend and bond the players tactically not experimenting on fantasies. Let us just admit that we do not have a jayjay or Lionel messi for now and drill the best out of what we have.

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