Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wanted: Eagles Icing on Eaglets Cake

I WAS torn temporarily between devoting today’s Soccertalk to the Golden Eaglets’ victory at the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup last weekend in Abu Dhabi, United Arabs Emirates (UAE) and sounding a note of caution to the Super Eagles as they face Ethiopia in their 2014 FIFA World Cup play-off second leg this weekend in Calabar, Nigeria.

It was not difficult to choose admonishing the Eagles ahead of celebrating the Eaglets for several reasons.

First, the Eaglets’ triumph, as worthy as it is (Hey, these boys are world champions!) is already BEHIND us and we must not be caught partying extensively when we have a bigger challenge immediately AHEAD of us with the Super Eagles.

Second, the FIFA (senior) World Cup has more prestige than the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the former will make BIGGER headlines around the world than our winning the latter.

Third, regular readers of Soccertalk will recall that I had already written TWICE about how special the Golden Eaglets boys were, long, long before they even arrived in UAE for the competition they have just won. (See excerpts at the end of this article plus what one of my ardent readers has to say).

Some readers expressed surprise that I didn’t mention the Eaglets last week ahead of their final match against Mexico. But the truth was I didn’t have anything new to say!

In articles titled “Nigeria: World Champions, 2022” (published December 2012) and “These Eaglets Are Special” (April 2013), I predicted that Manu Garba’s boys not only had the talent to rule the world at under-17 level, they also had the potential to go on and win the FIFA (senior) World Cup itself at Qatar 2022 if we nurtured them on purpose.

Today, I’m simply proud that the Eaglets are living up to promise. Even now, there isn’t much for me to say about them except that even I didn’t think they could dominate the cadet World Cup so comprehensively, setting new goal-scoring records and sweeping up nearly all the individual awards as well. Congratulations boys. The best  is yet to come.

So, let’s focus on the Super Eagles and the very important business of this weekend’s World Cup play-off second leg against Ethiopia. Following our 2-1 first leg victory which has put Nigeria more than half-way to Brazil 2014, any admonition now that reads “Beware of Ethiopia” will probably be considered as laughable. But I would not see it that way. Despite all the odds in Nigeria’s favour – good pitch, good weather, home support, better players, etcetra – I would rather err on the side of caution until our World Cup ticket is stamped, sealed and delivered on Saturday. That has been my position since  the start of the qualifiers. I am not going to jump the gun now.

A critical assessment of the first leg suggests that Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, despite all assurances he gave to the contrary, may have slightly under-rated the strength of the Ethiopians. For an away game, Keshi’s starting line-up was rather adventurous and that accounted for why the Ethiopians dominated the game for long period,  especially in the first half. Keshi started with Emmanuel Emenike, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa, all attack-minded players who were not quite helpful in defensive duties. As a result, Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi were out-numbered and over-worked in our midfield thus allowing the Ethiopians to freely run rings round our defence.

It wasn’t until the second half when Oduamadi was substituted for Nosa Igiebor that the Eagles regained their balance with a proper 4-3-3 formation and turned the game around.

This weekend in Calabar, Keshi must not give the Ethiopians any room to embarrass us the way they did in the first leg even though we beat them in the end. Of course Nigeria must present an attacking formation, but we must keep enough men in the midfield to neutralize the Ethiopians’ fanciful interchange of passes which they do so admirably and accurately even at top speed. Allowing them to out-shine us in Calabar may boost their confidence and start giving them some crazy ideas about  pulling off an unlikely shock result.

Right from the first blast of the referee’s whistle, the Eagles must dominate every department of the game on Saturday, win it handsomely and qualify for the World Cup in style. Now that the Golden Eaglets have baked a big cake for celebration with their exhilarating cadet World Cup win in UAE, the Super Eagles must supply a very sweet icing on that cake with a totally commanding performance culminating in the World Cup ticket.
A scrappy win will NOT be good enough!

The Final Play-offs
MEANWHILE, I’m sticking to my original World Cup predictions on the five teams that will emerge from the African play-offs after the upcoming second legs. My tips are Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun and Burkina Faso and I expect to score five out of five.

However, it’s not easy picking the likely winners from the European play-offs, especially in the tie between Sweden and Portugal. The only thing that is certain about the tie is that either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo will miss the 2014 World Cup finals. What a shame.

Hanging out on Google +
l SHALL be making a debut appearance on the increasingly popular Google+ Hangout on Thursday, November 14, 2013. Joining me for a special countdown to the Super Eagles versus Ethiopia game is the young and suave TV show host, Teju Baby Face.

From watching his show, one thing I know Teju shares with me is a liking for King Sunny Ade’s music. I’m waiting to find out how much he knows about football.

Hangout with us on Thursday at 7.00pm on Google+. It’s going to be a global audience and you can’t afford to miss out, can you?

Flashback: Nigeria: World Champions, 2022
(Culled from Soccertalk, December 2012)

lHERE is my prediction for the Super Eagles in 2022, ten years from now. Yes, Nigeria will win the World Cup and the core of the team that will do it for us are the current Golden Eaglets.

In six qualifying matches played at home and away against Niger Republic, Guinea and Mali, the Eaglets emerged victorious on every occasion, scoring a massive 25 goals in the process and conceding only once. Their opponents may not be rated highly even by African  standards, but when last did any Nigerian team win its matches so convincingly and in such commanding fashion even against the so called “minnows?” I have a very strong feeling that this particular set of Eaglets will achieve something great in the future.

Rather than tipping the Eaglets for glory just at next year’s (2013) African Under-17 Championship in Morocco or even the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in UAE also next year if they qualify, I have set a bigger goal for them because I want the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to start looking at the bigger picture and nurture this team accordingly. Whether the Eaglets win in Morocco or not, whether they qualify or win in UAE or not, the NFF should draw up a technical programme to keep and nurture them with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in mind.

There is a general consensus amongst football watchers that these Eaglets are the youngest to be assembled by Nigeria in recent times. Although few of the players might not be exactly under-17, they look and behave closer to 18 to 20-year-olds, rather than the 25 to 30-year-olds that have been paraded as Under-17s in the past. In 10 years’ time when I’m tipping them to win the World Cup for Nigeria, these boys will be at the peak of their careers as 28 to 30-year- olds with at least one World Cup experience (in 2018) under their belts.

I suggest that the NFF should draw up a detailed 10-year technical development plan for the Eaglets that will culminate in their winning the FIFA World Cup in Qatar come 2022.

The plan should set minimum standards for the players as they progress in their careers and stipulate how those who fail to meet those standards will be dropped and replaced systematically. The plan should include how the NFF will relate with the players’ present and future clubsides and their individual managers. The plan should also state at what point these players will be weaned from their present coaches and the condition for upgrading the coaches alongside, if necessary, as the team advances.

All these may sound rather academic and rigid for a game that is as unpredictable and spontaneous as football. But as Barcelona Football Club of Spain have proved in the last few years, football can be planned deliberately and played systematically with highly positive results.
Nigeria should take a cue and plan with a clear-cut objective to be world champions in 2022.

Flashback: These Eaglets Are Special
(Culled from Soccertalk, April 2013)
I AM writing this on a Tuesday morning, less than 48 hours after our Golden Eaglets demolished Ghana’s Black Starlets 6-1 at the African Under-17 championship in Morocco. By the time you read this, our next game against Cote d’Ivoire may have been played and you would know the result but, for me, it doesn’t matter whether the Eaglets win or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether they win the tournament or qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this year. In just one game against Ghana, I have seen enough to confirm my previous prediction that these Eaglets will go places.


OGA MUMINI, thank you so much for your clean-sheetometer piece on Vincent Enyeama. He deserves the encomiums. I’ve been following his performance, too. He is fantastic. – Olaosebikan Rotimi, Ijebu-Ode.

l LOVE you dearly. May the good Lord bless you for your comments on Vincent Enyeama and Kanu Heart Foundation. – Obed Askarawa, Access Bank, Festac, Lagos.

ON ENYEAMA, I personaly recognised him as a world class goalkeeper at 2010 World Cup when he prevented Lionel Messi from scoring against Nigeria by making several heroic saves. Messi walked over to him to give him a hand shake after the match against Argentina. If Enyeama were to be a white man, by now he will be keeping goal for Barcelona! –Tunji Olaniyi, Ibadan.

VINCENT ENYEAMA will keep a CLEAN SLATE in Calabar on November 16, 2013. Ethiopia will taste Otapiapia that day. No stopping Nigeria from Brazil 2014 World Cup finals. Congratulations to the Golden Eaglets for lifting the under 17 World Cup. Ah, your new reader Capt. D.O. Adeniyi must have been on tour of duty outside our shores. He is welcome to the place where we Eat, Sleep and SoccerTalk the beautiful game. – Uba Stephen Igwe @ Badagry.

HI MUMINI ALAO. Your Soccertalk column is just wonderful. It shows how great you are in a great country of great people. – 1st time reader Pst. Israel Ekwe.

UNBELIEVABLE! I have been missing a lot. Imagine an ardent reader of Complete Sports like me never having read your column before now. Thank God I found it. Keep up the great work. –Shola Daniels.

*Strange how I’m getting new “converts” to Soccertalk of late and many of them are Pastors. Praise God!.

OGA MUMINI, when will you write on the heroic performance of the Golden Eaglets? They are at the verge of winning the cup and you predicted it long ago. – Adewole.

l EXPECTED to read about the exploits of the Golden Eaglets in your column (last week) but you were quiet which is unusual of you. Are you waiting till after the final? --Tunji Olaniyi. Ibadan
*Well, I hope I have answered your question here. Thank you.

THE CURRENT NFF really deserve a big applause for a job well done. Our football is no doubt on the upward curve. Youngest Eaglets ever? l agree. It will be great to see at least 75% of this team in the next u-20/23 and at least half of them dominating Super Eagles team that should win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in nine years time. Lets put a stop to the celebration and get down to business. – Oloyede Ayodele, VI, Lagos

NIGERIA needs a kind of HURRY to develop economically as seen by the type of HURRY to score goals shown by the Eaglets. Stephen Keshi and President Jonathan should learn from the Eaglets v Sweden (3:0)match. Those Eaglets are not Nigerians but “mercenaries” from outer space. Congrats beloved Eaglets. – Mrs Felicia Nwabuko.

lF PRESIDENT Jonathan and his “TEAM” can govern us the way our Eaglets play and score goals, Nigeria wouldn’t have been the SORRY SIGHT that it is today. But Alas!, it is not so. May God help our leaders.  – Pst. Steve Nwabuko.

SIR, hopefully we won’t get carried away by the under-17 success in UAE. I read somewhere about coach Manu Garba’s appeal to Stephen Keshi to consider some of his Eaglet boys for the Super Eagles ahead of Brazil 2014.  In my view, the World Cup is for the senior boys. Except for Kelechi Iheanacho who may be considered because of his outstanding class and productivity, the entire Golden Eaglets and their coaching crew are only good enough for promotion to the Under-20 Flying Eagles. – JD.Korode, Offa.

lN MY opinion, these Eaglets are far better than Stephen Keshi’s inchoate, inconsistent and unpredictable Super Eagles. Try arrange a friendly between the two and see what I mean. – Steve.

l JUST BACK from Makkah (Mecca), I was so suprised to hear that a half fit player like Reuben Gabriel is being invited at the expense of Haruna Luqman who is more experienced and more exposed. We know that coach Stephen Keshi cannot invite everybody to Eagles camp at the same time, but you can imagine what will happen to our opponents if Haruna and Ogenyi Onazi could be allowed to hold the midfeild. Please Keshi, you know best, but I think Haruna should be given a chance to prove himself. While in Makkah I prayed for your (Keshi) success. Good luck.  – Imam Usman, Minna.

l HAVE read your columns since the days of Sports Souvenir and hung on your predictions and arguments. Can we depend on this Eagles for a semis ticket at the World Cup? – ???
*Qualification first, please.

WHAT a pity your darling team 3SC was relegated from the GLO Premier League. That team may never be what it used to be if charlatans remain in charge. – Funso, Ibadan.

Eaglets Road to the Future

I CONGRATULATE all Nigerians on the victory of the Golden Eaglets at the FIFA under-17 World Cup which they won for a record fourth time in the United Arab Emirates. Compared with our three previous wins, we probably have never had it so easy and so convincing.

The Eaglets were unbeaten in six games, scored 26 goals and conceded only four. They whipped the defending champion Mexico 6-1 in their opening game, drew 3-3 with Sweden, and thrashed Iraq 5-0 in the group matches.

They defeated Iran 4-1 in the second round, Uruguay 2-0 in the quarterfinal, beat Sweden 3-0 in the semi final and reinforced their supremacy in world football by beating Mexico, once again, 3-0 in the final.

Due to lack of understanding, the journey of 40 days took the Israelites 40 years. If we do not lose focus as usual with these boys and we are able to manage their success, we are finally on the right path to the Promised Land in world football.

In my opinion, the next line of action is to make our 2013 Golden Eaglets serious contenders for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This can be done by observing the following:
(a) Nigeria Football Federation should set up a ‘Monitoring Committee’ to guide these boys. That is, help direct and build their professional careers.

(b) The team should be promoted en-masse; at least 75% of them stepping up to the U20 team with the entire coaching crew.

(c) The exceptional talents among them (particularly Kelechi Iheanacho) should be promoted straight to the Super Eagles for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 while the others should be in the team for 2018. Subsequently, all of them (with a sprinkling of more experienced players like Kenneth Omeruo and Godwin Oboabona) will be ready to win the World Cup for Nigeria in 2022.
This is my dream and I can see it coming to pass. Congratulations again, Nigeria.
– Azeez writes from Lagos.

1 comment:

  1. Great article and forsight on the are a rare Gem Alao. Thompson