Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Nigeria Vs Cameroon: Game Of Our Lives


LET’S ADMIT IT: The Super Eagles will be the underdogs when they face eternal rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun in the first of their crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying double-header in Uyo on Friday, 1st September, 2017.





That (being underdogs) is an unusual scenario when Nigeria are playing at home. Records show that the Eagles are often successful in front of their fans and rarely lose. But one of those rare losses was inflicted by this same Cameroon in the final of the 2000 AFCON when they beat Nigeria in a penalty shoot-out at the National Stadium in Lagos. They’re coming back this year believing they can do it again, this time at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.

History aside, recent form weighs heavily in Cameroon's favour. While the Eagles failed to qualify for this year’s AFCON hosted by Gabon, the Lions went on to win it, tucking in the pocket six highly competitive games in the process. That victory also qualified them for the high profile FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia where they logged a further three games against top quality opposition. Beyond the results, those nine matches put together have helped a young and hitherto tentative new Cameroon team to rediscover themselves and gel as a unit. They will arrive in Uyo oozing with the confidence of African champions.

During the same six-month period (January – June) that Cameroon played those nine top grade matches, all that Nigeria had to show was a humbling 2-0 defeat at home to South Africa in a 2019 AFCON qualifier. That loss left a massive bruise on the Eagles’ psyche and they’ve not played another game since then for us to assess how well they’ve recovered. We must admit that it’s not the best preparation for coach Gernot Rohr and his team.

With history and recent form in Cameroon's favour, Nigeria must play the game of our lives to emerge victorious on 1 September. Rohr who suffered his first defeat in charge against South Africa must perform a near-miracle in the five days leading to the game which is all he has to get the Eagles ready. He will be hoping that the return of key players such as captain Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and central defender Leon Balogun whose absences were sorely felt against South Africa would restore calm and confidence to the team against Cameroon.

Indeed, it is up to the players to show how badly they want to go to the World Cup finals next year. If they want it badly enough, they must wear their hearts on their sleeves and go out for a fight against the Lions. This is a must-win game and they must find a way, any way, to win. It won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, there’s also the political angle to the Nigeria-Cameroon clash. Former Confederation of African Football (CAF) president, Issa Hayatou is still smarting from his shock removal from office which Nigeria’s FA president Amaju Pinnick played a key role in orchestrating. And the Cameroon FA (FECAFOOT) are also upset with the new CAF hierarchy for allegedly trying to withdraw from them the hosting rights to the 2019 AFCON. Hayatou and FECAFOOT are eager to exert quick revenge on Nigeria and how they will relish beating the Eagles on their home turf.

At the start of these World Cup qualifiers, my preliminary target for the Super Eagles was the full nine points from their first three games. They have collected the six from the opening two games against Zambia and Algeria, so they’re firmly on course. Completing the treble against Cameroon means they can open up a seven point gap on the Lions currently have two points on the group table. A seven-point gap will give the Eagles a healthy cushion going into the return leg in Yaounde on 4 September. That potentially unassailable advantage is worth ‘dying’ for.

The last time the Eagles were the underdogs going into an important game such as this on the continent was against Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter-final of the 2013 AFCON in South Africa. On that occasion, late Stephen Keshi’s wards surprised everyone with a 2-1 win and went on to claim the trophy. Despite the odds against them, Gernot Rohr’s Eagles must give us another pleasant surprise against Cameroon on 1st September. Impossible is nothing.


CHAN Eagles Have Work To Do

A MAJOR distraction that Gernot Rohr will not be dealing with as the Eagles prepare for the Cameroun game is the needless debate on team selection between home-based and foreign-based national team players.

Last Sunday at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, the wholly home-based Eagles coached by Salisu Yusuf beat the Squirrels of Benin Republic 2-0 in the return leg of their CHAN qualifier. After surprisingly losing the first leg 1-0 in Cotonou a week earlier, the home Eagles qualified for the finals in Kenya next year 2-1 on aggregate.

However, the two matches further exposed the depth to which Nigerian football has fallen. The first leg defeat was the first time tiny Benin Republic would beat “giant” Nigeria in a competitive match. And in Kano, it took a 65th minute penalty save by goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa to save Nigeria’s blushes. Had Benin scored and the game ended 2-1, Nigeria would have been eliminated from the CHAN tourney, yet again, on the away goals rule.

First, it was South Africa whom Nigeria used to beat easily that outclassed our foreign-based Super Eagles 2-0 in Uyo. Now, even little Benin Republic nearly embarrassed our home boys in Kano. The intimidating Nigerian factor of old which scared our opponents to death even before a ball was kicked appears to have disintegrated completely. African teams do not fear the Eagles any more. It will require a lot of hard work and sustained good performance to reclaim that respect. Our work is well and truly cut out.

Great Fun At MerryBet/SWAN Cup

IN CASE you missed the news, let me “break” it again: Complete Sports are the new champions of the Lagos Chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Cup sponsored by MerryBet.

Last Friday at the Legacy Pitch of the National Stadium, Lagos, our team captained by Julius Ojeagbase defeated Television Continental (TVC) 1-0 in a keenly contested final. Complete Sports thus reclaimed the trophy we last won five years ago in 2012.

No, I did not participate in the competition proper because my coach at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp, did not release me! But I did play for SWAN veterans in a friendly game that preceded the Cup final. Our opponents were FUBS (Friends United By Sport), a WhatsApp forum initiated by journalist-turned-administartor Godwin Enakhena.

The SWAN team managed by Jenkins Alumona had Mitchel Obi, Larry Izamoje, Harry Iwuala, Sina Okeleji, Fred Edoreh, Wale Joseph and yours truly among others. But we were clear underdogs against FUBS ex-Super Eagles internationals Peter Rufai, Austin Eguavoen, Jonathan Akpoborie, Edema Fuludu and Mutiu Adepoju. FUBS also paraded Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) chiefs Amaju Pinninck, Shehu Dikko and Chris Green as well as humour merchant Ali Baba. It was a star-studded line-up on both sides.




Although FUBS narrowly won the game 1-0 via a “wind-assisted” goal by Mutiu Adepoju, the crowd acknowledged the skills of the SWAN veterans as it took Rufai’s famed agility to stop our goal-bound shots.

On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion as it afforded me another opportunity to show off my skills. In fact, Rufai was particularly wary of the danger I could pose because he had seen me in action before and was so impressed that he gave me the nickname, “Skilful.” If Gernot Rohr needs my services against Cameroon, I’m available!




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rohr Got It Wrong Against Bafana Bafana




Watch the famous Soccer Talk exponent,  Mumini Alao, doing a post-mortem analysis of the Super Eagles Vs Bafana Bafana matchday-one clash in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
South Africa thumped Nigeria 2-0 in Uyo on Saturday, June 10 2017 to force the three-time African champions down to the third position in the Group E table after matchday-one. Libya lead the group,  South in the second spot,  while Seychelles bring up the rear. 
Alao says that the Eagles defeat in Uyo was just like a 'bad day in the office'. He insists that the coach,  Gernot Rohr should be professional enough to accept full responsibility for that bad day, though there are enough reasons for the blame to go round. See this video for details
Are the Super Eagles in the threshold on a third consecutive AFCON miss after that routing by South Africa? 
Alao does not believe it's over for the Eagles, but he also posits that the loss to Bafana happened at the 'best time', that he would rather have chosen that matchday-one for the home defeat if South Africa must beat Nigeria in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers. Watch this video and hear the guru's full reasons for this. 
Click here to watch:  https://youtu.be/KWlSV2BYHsY

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ayew Kidding Me?



THE 2016/2017 English Premier League ended last Sunday with Chelsea’s coronation as champions of England. It was a coronation because “The Blues” had mathematically won the title two weeks before and the final day 5-1 thrashing of bottom team Sunderland was simply a befitting celebration party at Stamford Bridge. I say a big congratulations to all Nigerian supporters of Chelsea and congratulations to the “Nigerian ambassador” at the club, Victor Moses.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted that this year’s title run would be a contest of the managers, and so it turned out. Antonio Conte (Chelsea), Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jose Mourinho (Manchester United), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) and Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) are all very accomplished managers with impressive records of achievement and their clubs had money to spend. Add to the list the rising Mauricho Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) and it was clear from the start that some managerial egos would be boosted or bruised and some reputations would be enhanced, damaged or destroyed.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Wenger has emerged as the most brutalized. Although only Conte won the title, Pochettino, Guardiola and Klopp secured European Champions League places for next season while Mourinho could join them if United beat Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League final. That would leave Wenger in the cold and it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Arsenal fans are demanding for his departure.

I sympathize with Wenger but I couldn’t wish him luck in the race for the “Top Four” because that would have jeopardized my own Liverpool’s chances. Now, the best I can wish him and all Arsenal fans is victory in the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday so that they don’t finish the season completely empty-handed. Concerning the Cup final, I say to Chelsea fans, be patient with your Arsenal neighbor and don’t be greedy. Remember, sharing is caring!


As for Liverpool, I am simply relieved that we finally secured fourth place, never mind that it’s only good enough for the qualifying stage of the Champions League. Our performances were so unpredictable that even after surprisingly beating West Ham 4-0 away in the penultimate week which consolidated our fourth place, I couldn’t celebrate anything until we were up 3-0 against Middleborough at Anfield last Sunday. Klopp must significantly reinforce his team, otherwise, Liverpool fans are in for more hypertensive days next season.
In the meantime, though, I will like to enjoy the moment by tracking back to that pivotal game against West Ham at the London Stadium where Arsenal were hoping Liverpool would slip up. 

At 0-0 and with the game still wide open, West Ham’s Andre Ayew hit the Liverpool post not once, but twice in succession within seconds from three yards out when it was apparently easier to score. That double miss has been penciled down as a strong candidate for Miss-of-the-Season in the EPL and it also provided the title for Soccertalk this week.

While soccer fans were commenting on Ayew’s outrageous miss on Twitter, someone who identified himself simply as @Sennesation also couldn’t hide his disbelief. It was he who asked incredulously: Ayew Kidding Me?” 

3SC, Ayew Kidding Me?

WHILE I was celebrating my favourite foreign club Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough as the EPL rounded off last Sunday, my favourite local club side, Shooting Stars dampened my spirits when they lost by the same 3-0 margin at home to FC IfeanyiUbah as the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) resumed for the second half of the season also last Sunday.

When I heard the shock result, I couldn’t help but ask my informer: “Are you kidding me?” As incredible as it sounded, it turned out the result was true.
How could it happen? When 3SC lost 2-1 to two late penalty kicks at IfeanyiUbah towards the end of the first stanza of the league, there were serious suspicions that they were robbed by the referee as at least one of the penalties was very, very questionable. But with last Sunday’s comprehensive defeat in Ibadan, 3SC must admit that the Onitsha boys are superior.

My friends in Ibadan couldn’t explain the scandalous defeat when I spoke to them. But word coming out unofficially from team camp is that the players are hungry and angry because they are owed a backlog of salaries and allowances.

My plea to the Oyo State government is to come to the club’s aid urgently and lift the players’ spirits. Last season, 3SC escaped relegation from the NPFL only by the skin of the teeth. They may not be second-time lucky this season as they’re already sitting again in the relegation zone.



NPFL Back On DSTV Soon

THE Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) resumed for the second half of the season last Sunday still without the matches being shown on television.

I don’t know how the League Management Company (LMC) and broadcast partners DSTV Super Sport have been able to achieve a near total blackout of news concerning the contentious broadcast rights for several weeks since coverage was suspended and rumour of their impending break-up emerged. But if that (news black-out) would eventually result in the parties reaching an amicable resolution for the resumption of coverage, it’s all well and good.


Indeed, I have been sniffing around since I first wrote about the subject three weeks ago and my findings suggest that a resolution is close. Very soon, the NPFL will be back on DSTV SuperSport… For the Good of the Game. More details later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dan Ajibode – A Tribute




LATE DANIEL OLUWOLE AJIBODE was one of the early generation of footballers to etch their name in Nigerian football folklore during the 1960s. In continuation of my occasional series to document and honour our past sports heroes, I hereby dedicate today’s column in his memory. 
The tribute is written by veteran journalist SEGUN ADENUGA…
THE remains of soccer icon Daniel Oluwole Ajibode, will be committed to mother earth at his Ilaro home, Ogun State, on Friday, May 26, 2017.
The adorable football coach, who passed on at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba on Friday, April 25, 2017 after a brief illness was born at Ilaro, the commercial nerve centre of Yewa province of Ogun State on June 7, 1943 by Pa Joseph and Mama Anna Ajibode.

He attended both Ilaro Grammar School and Egbado College between 1956 – 1959. He took an early interest in sports and rapidly became noticeable in football in many competitions.

He received the attention of the football authorities in the old Nigerian Western Region when late soccer impressario Tesilimi Akanni “Thunder” Balogun was directed to go on recruitment tour of the state, preparatory to the formation of a solid football team for the region.

Interestingly, Dan was playing in an F.A. Cup match involving Ilaro and Ibadan, where “Thunder” Balogun was the guest of honour. The result of the match notwithstanding, slim-built Daniel Ajibode, shone like a northern star and sold himself to stardom as he became the only player picked by the soccer-wizard Tesilimi Balogun.

Dan eventually landed at the bustling city of Ibadan on a soccer voyage. He navigated his way into a popular city club, known as Republicans FC, where he steadily carved a niche as a fearless and dependable player.
Becoming very popular with the Oluyole football fans, the lithe and skinny Ajibode, desperately in search of the “golden fleece” arrived in Lagos and moved expectantly to the camp of Stationery Stores Football Club, arguably Nigeria’s most supported football club in 1964.
Playing the role of a fringe member of the famous Stationery Stores for some considerable period, Dan Ajibode became a house-hold name when he was left behind to lead Stores in 1968.

How did it happen? Ajibode was not fit enough to be selected amongst the 12 players picked from Stationery Stores to represent Nigeria at the 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico and had to contend with the challenges the absence of the team’s regulars posed to him in local league matches. He became like the fabled Rock of Gibraltar in the defence of a depleted Stores side that played five matches without defeat in a spate of one month.

Though, with a very lean frame, Dan was sturdy and robust in the Stores defence as he led the team to victories in the absence of the team’s regulars. As a befitting tribute to his courage and steadfastness, Ajibode was given the accolade “THE LANDLORD” by the teeming supporters of the “Flaming Flamingoes” for holding forte so successfully.

Having served Stores meritoriously for almost a decade, Ajibode retired and veered into another area of football, this time into coaching profession.

He took the gauntlets and carried the banners of a relatively unknown National Bank Football Club of Lagos where he made name by producing star players like Paul Okoku, Bremner Aladat, Yemi Adebanjo, Yemi Odubanjo, Taiwo Afinni, Andrew Aikhomogbe, Deinde Akinlotan, Waliu Aiye, Jabar Shomade, Segun and Femi Olukanmi, Waidi Akanni, Taju Disu, Godwin Okoloba, Nathaniel Ogedengbe, Yakubu Agboluaje, Lati Daramola, Emmanuel Martins, Carlos Onisemo, Muri Onigbanjo, Sobande Adeniyi and Macmillan Ogbomo, to mention only a few. Many of these players would go on to represent Nigeria at the international level.
For almost 17 years, Dan led National Bank FC to a respectable position in Lagos football league and became a torn in the flesh of notable teams like Stationery Stores and NEPA FC. He led his steam popularly known as Nat-Bank to an Oba Cup victory in 1983 at UAC Stadium against the hot-favourite Stationery Stores backed by a vociferous crowd of chanting and ranting supporters.

There was an incident in 1979, when Ajibode ordered his boys not to honour a match against Stores if adequate security was not put in place. The match had to be postponed and Ajibode earned the scorn of Stores supporters, who later branded him with the tag, “AJIBODE NO SECURITY” that lasted long in Lagos football folklore.

A no-nonsense coach, Ajibode would never accept any form of laxity from any member of his team, no matter how seemingly indispensable the player might be. There was no way Dan could divorce himself from football, as he personified the game he loved with an unbridled passion.
From coaching to administration, Dan regularly answered clarion calls from Lagos State football authorities for his expertise in the quest for honours at the national level. He was at various times a member of the State Sports Council and a respected football buff until his death on Friday, 28 April, 2017 at the age of 74.

He had established an evergreen sport equipment shop at Iponri market under the brand name Dan Ajib Sports Shop since 1991 and the business is still flourishing.
To my generous and kind-hearted Daniel Oluwole Ajibode, I say good night and good bye until we meet to part no more.









Caption




1.    DAN THE TECHNICAL ADVISER: Dan Oluwole Ajibode (first left) with coach Abdullahi “Bebe” Salisu (2nd left) and Augustine Ofuokwu (2nd right) on the bench for Stationery Stores when they won the Nigerian League title in 1992.






2.    DAN THE DEFENDER: Ajibode shaking hands with former governor of Western Nigeria, Major Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo before a match for Stationery Stores against Asante Kotoko of Ghana at Liberty Stadium, Ibadan in 1969. To the left is Augustine Ofuokwu and to the right is Peter “Eusebio” Anieke.




3.   STATIONERY STORES, 1969, ONIKAN, LAGOS:
STANDING L–R: Peter Eto Amaechina (coach), Segun Olumodeji, Sam Opone, Mohammed Lawal, Peter Fregene, Willie Andrews, Augustine Ofuokwu, Tony Igwe.
STANDING R–L: Peter Anieke, Dan Ajibode, Edward Boateng, Sunny Ine, Avii Awotoro, Muyiwa Oshode.