Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pinnick Must Shut Moucharafu’s Big Mouth

NIGERIA FOOTBALL FEDERATION (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick got a public dressing down last week when his opponent in next month’s Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive committee elections, Moucharafu Anjorin of Benin Republic, described him (Pinnick) as a “small boy.”

Moucharafu was talking to Brila FM’s Babafemi Raji in an exclusive interview for which I commend the “Topmost Striker” as Raji calls himself by the way. The interview was a great piece of journalism and this was attested to by the speed at which it went viral on the internet and on social media.
A couple of weeks back in this column, I wrote about Pinnick’s CAF aspirations and suggested that Nigerians shouldn’t be too bothered if he won or lost because these CAF positions are of primary benefit only to the individuals holding them rather than their countries of origin. Moucharafu Anjorin is the latest “parasite” to validate my theory.

For crying out loud, someone should tell or show me what Benin Republic has benefitted from Moucharafu’s membership of the CAF executive committee in the last four years that he’s been there. The last time I checked, tiny Benin had never made any remarkable impression on African football and neither CAF nor FIFA had given them any special grant to develop football in that country by virtue of Moucharafu’s personal influence. What they have got are just the statutory interventions accruing to all member countries whether or not they were represented on the executive committee. Therefore, I stand by my theory (until I’m shown something different) that all the hue and cry about CAF and FIFA membership are for personal aggrandizement rather than national advancement.
Just as Moucharafu’s presence in CAF has not lifted Benin football from the doldrums, let no one try to fool me that Pinnick’s aspiration is a “Nigerian Project” that will facilitate our winning the FIFA World Cup. No, it will not!

Having said that, however, I find Moucharafu’s arrogance in describing Pinnick as “my small boy” detestable. He was correct to call Pinnick a new comer in CAF politics having only served two years as president of the NFF. But the best man for a job is not necessarily the oldest or longest serving. The best man for a job is the man with the best ideas.
If all that Moucharafu can boast of to justify another four-year term is his longetivity in CAF politics; and that he’s originally “a Yoruba man from Abeokuta in Nigeria,” then it’s time for him to go. Pinnick must do all he can to unseat Moucharafu when the CAF elections hold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 16, 2017. Pinnick must shut Moucharafu’s big mouth for daring to call him a “small boy.”
…But, Can He Do It?

IT IS HARD to tell off-hand whether Pinnick will be able to unseat Moucharafu. What is certain is that it will be a tough battle. The Benin FA boss has already likened it to “a war.”
Moucharafu is relying on his closeness to CAF president Issa Hayatou to retain his seat. Four years ago in Morocco when he defeated former Nigeria FA boss Aminu Maigari for the same seat, Moucharafu was assisted a great deal by the Hayatou camp.

At that time, Nigeria’s Dr. Amos Adamu was serving a 3-year suspension from the FIFA and CAF executive committee after he was implicated in a sting operation by the Sunday Times of London to expose corruption in FIFA. Maigari (and Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima before him) had wanted to replace Adamu at CAF. But Adamu, who belongs to Hayatou’s camp was alleged to have blocked both Nigerians from succeeding him and instead anointed Moucharafu. The Benin FA boss hopes that the Hayatou–Adamu connection will play out in his favour yet again.

For Pinnick, the strategy must be to use his strong FIFA connections to his advantage. Pinnick has a warm relationship with FIFA secretary general Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura and FIFA president Gianni
Infantino both of whom have visited Nigeria in recent months on Pinnick’s invitation. Pinnick was also recently appointed into the FIFA Organizing Committee on a 4-year tenure while Chris Giwaa who had been contesting the NFF leadership with Pinnick was banned by FIFA for five years from all football-related activities.
If Samoura and Infantino pull their weight behind Pinnick successfully, Moucharafu will be in trouble.

However, the Hayatou situation could also be decisive. The long-serving CAF President himself is being challenged for his own office by Madagascar FA president, Ahman Ahmad. The grapevine suggests that Infantino prefers Ahmad as the new FIFA boss looks to clear out the old brigade in the Confederations and in FIFA to make way for a new breed. But Hayatou is so well entrenched in CAF that he may have become immovable.

To his credit, the Camerounian came out unscathed throughout the FIFA investigations that consumed former president Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and a host of heavyweights in world football. In fact, Hayatou served for several months as interim president following Blatter’s removal and he supervised the process that led to Infatino’s emergence as FIFA president.
If Hayatou succeeds in rallying his troops together to defeat Ahmad, Moucharafu will benefit from the bandwagon effect to also defeat Pinnick.
From where I stand, I want Pinnick to come out victorious in this personal battle with the mouthy Moucharafu. But if he loses, it’s not necessarily a disaster for Nigeria.

For Chris Giwa, It’s All Over!

AT LAST, self-acclaimed factional chairman of the NFF has reached the end of the road in his inglorious journey to derail the administration of Nigerian football.
Coming soon after the five-year worldwide ban clamped on him and his co-travelers by FIFA, the Nigerian Supreme Court on Monday this week threw out his case as well.
Sometime in 2015 at the height of Giwa’s rebellion, I advised him in this column to sheath his sword, spare Nigeria the pain of another ban being threatened by FIFA on account of his going to a civil court, and wait for the next election to stake his claim for the NFF leadership.

The dog that will get lost does not listen to the hunter’s whistle, so Giwa continued on his path to perdition. Now, he can’t even contest when the term of the current NFF executive committee expires in 2018 unless he gets a reprieve from the same FIFA that he has continuously defied.
The only regret that I have in the whole Giwa saga is the disbandment of his football club following their technical relegation from the league last season. It is another unfortunate commentary for private football club ownership in Nigeria, but the recalcitrant club proprietor left thee than to enforce the regulations. I hope Giwa returns to Nigerian football in the future as a changed man. Otherwise, it’s good riddance…

Nigerian Clubs Pay The Penalty!
• TWO Nigerian club sides, FC IfeanyiUbah and Wikki Tourists were knocked out in the first round of the CAF Confederations Cup over the weekend.

Join Kunle Solaja at the Sports Village Square to read up how these clubs paid the penalty for not being able to convert their penalty kicks!
Click on It’s a masterpiece from Nigeria’s football encyclopedia. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

With Cameroun, Nothing Has Changed

The only possibility that I don’t want to even contemplate at all is to see Cameroun in the final. So, I will not even speculate on them getting there. No, I don’t want even to think about it. That’s the true meaning of rivalry! – Culled from Soccertalk, February 1st, 2017.

MY WORST FEARS were confirmed last Sunday when Cameroun defeated Egypt 2-1 in the Final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon to emerge the new champions of the continent.

Last week in this column, I didn’t hide my bias when I wished the Indomitable Lions all the bad luck anyone could wish their sporting rival.

I wanted Cameroun to be eliminated at the group stages so that they could depart the tourney in disarray like our other 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying group rival Algeria who have sacked their coach yet again on account of a poor outing in Gabon and are lost for direction.

When Cameroun somehow survived the group stage, I wished they would lose their quarter-final against Senegal; then their semi-final against Ghana; then I even wished that the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) would simply send them home! Trust the Indomitable Lions to live up to their cognomen and rub my face in the mud. They crushed each of my wishes at every stage with some lion-heart performances and emerged victorious.

If a team can beat powerhouses Senegal, Ghana and Egypt en route to winning the AFCON, that team deserves respect and admiration. In spite of myself, I hereby salute the gallantry of the Indomitable Lions in winning their fifth African title. It was fully deserved. Congratulations to Cameroun.

Naturally, Nigerians have been talking about the implication of Cameroun’s new status as African Champions for our own 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying chances. All of a sudden, people are concerned about how the Super Eagles would cope with a resurgent Cameroun side when both countries meet in their crucial double-header in August. Although the Eagles currently hold a four-point lead over the Lions in the group which also has Algeria and Zambia, some pundits now posit that Cameroun have become the favourites to win the group’s sole ticket because they’re African champions. I tend to disagree.

As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed about Nigeria’s chances of getting to Russia 2018. Before the start of the qualifiers, I set in this column a target of 13 points for the Eagles and stressed that netting the full nine points from their first three games was non-negotiable to reaching the 13 points mark. Whether Cameroun were African champions or not, we needed to beat them in the first leg or our double header in Uyo to complete the nine points from our first three games. That has NOT changed. And whether Cameroun were African champions or not, they were always going to give us a hell of a fight for those three points. That has NOT changed either.

The three points in Uyo will be decisive for Nigeria because it will open up a seven-point gap between us and Cameroun with three rounds of games to play. Honestly, I can’t see them closing that gap in subsequent games. But we don’t need to even think too far ahead yet. Let us focus on the Uyo game, WIN IT, thereafter we can talk about what happens next.

So, the big question is, can Nigeria beat Cameroun in Uyo? The answer has to be a resounding Yes! I repeat that, African champions or not, we always needed to beat Cameroun in that game to qualify for the World Cup. Nothing has changed in that respect.
Perhaps the only thing that has changed slightly (and I emphasize the word “slightly”) is that Cameroun now have even more confidence to face the Eagles because they are African champions. Having spent a couple of weeks together preparing for the AFCON and another month or so at the tournament proper during which they played six competitive games, the Lions have bonded into a more solid unit with great belief in their own ability to win. That psychological edge is what I didn’t want them to achieve when I was wishing for their early elimination in Gabon.

By contrast, while the Eagles did not even qualify for the AFCON, some of our key players like Kelechi Iheanacho have been relegated to the bench recently at Manchester City; captain Mikel Obi and striker Odian Ighalo have been forced out of the English Premier League to pursue their careers in the less competitive Chinese Super League while Ahmed Musa and Wilfred Ndidi are battling against relegation with Leicester City. The comparison in fortunes definitely is not in Nigeria’s favour at this time. But just like Cameroun surprised everyone at the Nations Cup, the Eagles are condemned to surprise them when they come visiting in August.

What will give Nigeria victory over Cameroun are (1) the tactical acumen of Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr; (2) the technical skills and determination of our players; (3) strict officiating by the centre referee selected for the game; (4) massive home support.

Since his appointment as Eagles coach, Rohr has demonstrated an uncanny ability to decode the strength and weaknesses of our opponents and to device strategies to defeat them. He did it successfully against Zambia and Algeria and made those wins look so easy. Having watched Cameroun extensively at the AFCON, I have a strong feeling of confidence in his ability (from my personal encounter with him) that he will tame the Lions, too.

As for our players, we always knew that we would be relying on the attacking skills of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Iheanacho as well as the strength of Mikel Obi, and Oghenekaro Etebo to challenge the physical approach of the Camerounians. If we play to our strength and we get a referee that is strict on rough play, the Eagles will get enough opportunities to score either from open play or from several free-kicks won around the Cameroun 18-yard box. We could even grab a penalty kick if we goad them enough into committing their harsh fouls. Then, of course, our defence must be ready for some hard battering as well. Cameroun are a physical force, they have always been, but they are definitely not unbeatable.

Finally, Nigerian fans must descend on Uyo to support the Eagles and not allow Camerounians from across our south-east border to take over the stadium. One major contribution to the Lions’ AFCON success which has been ignored by most analysts is the huge presence of their supporters because Gabon is just across the southern Cameroun border and it was easy for the fans to make the trip in their thousands.
I suspect the Cameroun fans will be planning a similar invasion on Uyo. Nigerians must resist them in order to make the Eagles feel truly at home.

Matches between Nigeria and Cameroun have always been a big battle especially when a lot is at stake. Playing at home, the Eagles remain the favourites to win the first leg in Uyo. I reckon that, in the final analysis, that first leg win will be enough to get Nigeria to Russia 2018.
Cameroun have won the Nations Cup, but Nigeria is poised to beat them to the World Cup.

·         Oga Mumini. Up Indomitable Lions of Cameroun. Against all odds and predictions, they won the cup for the fifth time. Hurray, the Lions. – Franklin, Npf.
    Mumini, it was obvious that you predicted the AFCON 2017 semi-final winners with your heart rather than your head. You insinuated same in your article which was very unlike “OCTOPUS MUMINI”. Your worst fear is here, Cameroun is in the Final and could beat Egypt! For me, it does not matter which of the two finalists goes on to win the cup as both of them would end up putting the “daylight” between themselves and Nigeria with an additional win. Painful but congrats to the eventual winner. Egypt turned out to be worthy qualifiers in place of Nigeria at the AFCON 2017. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
         Hajj Alao, I share your thoughts completely on AFCON. But wishes are no horses for beggers to ride. The results will put Super Eagles on their toes. – Alh. Aminu I.B., Ilorin.
         Oga Mumini, the Octopus of Africa.  Your tips for the final of AFCON 2017 failed! What happened to your power of prediction! Please work on it for the future. – Akeem Lawal.
         Oga Mumini, once again you have expressed my mind on the last four teams in this AFCON 2017. This is my own take, also with a Nigerian bias. I will prefer a Burkina Faso win to prevent the other three from extending their number of title wins over Nigeria. But as I write this, Burkina Faso and Ghana are out. So I would prefer Egypt to further extend their wins rather than Cameroun. – Lanre Oredein, Benin City.
         Point of correction sir, Paul Putt was Burkina Faso coach when we beat them in South Africa. – 081547****

* My response: Hi, Franklin and Hakeem, I didn’t make any prediction about Cameroun. As Howard and Lanre pointed out, I never hid my bias that I just didn’t want to see them in the final! However, I agree completely with Aminu that Cameroun’s eventual victory will put Super Eagles on their toes when the 2018 World Cup qualifiers resume.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

AFCON 2017: Too Close To Call

THE 2017 Africa Cup of Nations reaches its climax this weekend in Gabon when a new champion is crowned on Sunday, February the 5th.

Last week in this column, I made the case that, considering the quality of the matches played so far, the gap between the so-called big teams and small teams in African football had narrowed tremendously and that every team would have to earn their plaudits the hard way henceforth. The ink (or shall I say the keyboard) on the article hadn’t dried completely when defending champions Cote d’Ivoire were knocked out of the tournament by Morocco. The Elephants thus became the latest cup holder to not advance beyond the group stages.

Since then, quarter-final matches have been played and the surprises and close-calls have continued. Burkina Faso shocked Tunisia 2-0 while a young Cameroun team pulled off an even greater shock by beating high-flying, start-studded Senegal 5-4 on penalties following a goalless draw. Ghana held off Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1 with the winning goal coming from the penalty spot while Egypt edged a North African derby with a late goal for 1-0 win over Morocco.

As we go into the semi-finals, the tournament has become too close to call among the remaining four teams. But I’m going to try and call it anyway, with a little bit of Nigerian bias! Here we go…

Semi-final 1: Burkina Faso versus Egypt.
The Burkinabes have proved that their runner-up finish behind champions Nigeria at AFCON 2013 was not a fluke. They have kept the bulk of that 2013 team together under the same coach Paulo Duarte, and now they’re reaping the reward for their continuity and consistency. Captain Jonathan Pitroipa and top striker Aristide Bance are two of the most recognizable players in the team. Having beaten Tunisia 2-0, they must have self-belief that they can also overcome another North African side in the shape of Egypt.

The big difference to Tunisia is that seven-time champions Egypt have not conceded any goal in this tournament and they’re looking like their old selves again having missed a couple of AFCONS during the Arab  spring. They demonstrated their traditional organization and resilience in beating a more resourceful Morocco in the quarter-final. You have to be very courageous to bet against the plucky Pharaohs at this stage.
However, let me confess that I’m biased in Burkina Faso’s favour and I want them to stop Egypt from further extending their enviable record of seven AFCON titles. Yes, I’m jealous of the North Africans’ achievement and I’m not hiding it.

My tip for the Final: Although Egypt are the favourites to win this tie, I will gamble on Burkina Faso pulling off a surprise 1-0 win. But don’t blame me if you lose your bet!

Semi-final 2: Cameroun versus Ghana.  
Talking about Nigerian jealousy, I wish the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will just disqualify Cameroun and Ghana, cancel their semi-final tie and just send them home! These two are Nigeria’s eternal rivals and the thought of any of them reaching the final or winning the cup is the ultimate bad news!
But since I have to pick one of these “enemies,” anyway, I will go for Ghana.
The Black Stars have been the most consistent team at the AFCON in the last decade or so. They have reached five straight semi-finals and crossed over into a couple of finals but have not been lucky to lift the trophy. Maybe, just maybe this will be their year of glory.

Cameroun on the other hand are just regaining the form that made them to be feared by the whole continent during their dominant years. Like Algeria, I wanted Cameroun to be eliminated early from Gabon 2017 so that they would not gain any momentum ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifying double-header against our Super Eagles later in August. But the youthful and stubborn Lions defied the odds as usual to knock out a more fancied Senegal in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final and are now knocking on the door of the final. Kai!

My tip for the Final: If Ghana don’t win this one, that is their problem! I’m tipping them to win 1-0 anyway.

The Final:
If Burkina Faso and Ghana do make it through to the final, I will have to cast aside my jealous of the Black Stars and tip them to win their first AFCON title since 1982, even though I would have preferred Burkina Faso to win their own first ever title.

But if Egypt beat Burkina Faso (like they’re capable of doing despite my personal wishes), and face Ghana in the final, it will be a repeat of the first round clash between both teams at this tournament which Egypt won 1-0. The title can go either way to Accra or Cairo.
The only possibility that I don’t want to even contemplate at all is to see Cameroun in the final. So, I will not even speculate on them getting there. No, I don’t want even to think about it. That’s the true meaning of rivalry!

Federer and Serena are “GOATS’
BY FAR the biggest news item in the world of sport last weekend was the Australian Open tennis women’s and men’s finals in Melbourne.
Pre-tournament, nobody could have written the script for such an emotional, historic and action-packed climax to the traditional first Grand Slam of the year.
Venus Williams had been on a downward spiral and out of reckoning in the women’s rankings in recent years, but summoned enough energy to reach and play her part in a historic final as her sister Serena Williams won a record-breaking 23rd grand slam title with a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

In the men’s final, Roger Federer and Rafeal Nadal who had been discussing playing an exhibition match together only last June at the launch of Nadal’s tennis academy following injury-enforced absence from the tour, suddenly found themselves as unlikely opponents in Australia as Federer grabbed an 18th Grand Slam title after a five-set thriller. Who else but Nadal, Federer’s chief foe, to make it a grand occasion.
At 35 years of age and with so many young challengers coming through in both the men’s and women’s tours, the achievements by Federer and Serena are simply incredible. Those of us alive to witness the making of history by these legends should count ourselves lucky. When their stories are told 50 or 100 years from now, they will be described with the acronym G-O-A-T: Greatest Of All Time!

·         LAST week, I declared the 2016/2017 English Premier League race over at 22 weeks and tipped Chelsea to hold out for the title in May. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with my forecast as the following responses show…

·         Mumini, I will pick Chelsea to win the EPL only after 30 games have been played. I pick Liverpool to finish in the top four. The absence of Sadio Mane has affected them. My top four clubs are Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
·         I will rather wait till week 25 when crucial matches will be played. I see a dramatic change in the positions of the top four. Thanks for your rich insights. Best regards. – Olumide Sobiye, Ikeja, Lagos.
·         Oga Mumini, I don’t agree with you that the EPL race is done and dusted and this will be the first time I will be having a contrary view  to your opinion on Soccertalk. I give the title to Tottenham. Chelsea, Arsenal and Man. United to finish in top 4. United for life. – Lanre Oredein, Benin City.
·         Alhaji, I agree with you totally on the way the EPL will end. The EPL is for my darling team Chelsea. – Uba Stephen  Igwe, Badagry.
·         Chelsea, Man. U, Man City and Arsenal. Liverpool and Tottenham will struggle for the fourth position. – Adeyinka Corsim, Oshodi, Lagos.
You have picked to 5, not 4! – Ed.
·         Dear Mumini, I’m tipping Senegal or Tunisia for AFCON. Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Man. United for EPL. – Peter O. Savage, Lawanson, Lagos.
Your AFCON tips have been eliminated – Ed.
·         Mumini, I normally believe your prediction. But giving the EPL to Chelsea now is premature. Arsenal will win it. Up Gunners. – 0808984****
·         Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. – 0701709****
·         EPL race is still open not over yet. If you look at the gap between the six teams now, you will know that it’s still open. Top four will be Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Man. City. – Moses Ajinge.
·         My top four pick: Chelsea, Man United, Man City and Liverpool. – 0803723****
·         My top four teams are Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal. – Adesope Y. A.
·         Oga Mumini, as a United fan I disagree with you but not totally. Yes, Chelsea will win the league, but Man U, Man City and Liverpool will finish in top 4. Those two Manchester teams will do wonders. – 08023939****
·         Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City/Liverpool. – David Osita, Lagos.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AFCON 2017 Lessons for Nigeria

I HAVE been following events at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in Gabon. What is most evident is that the gap between the so-called big nations and small nations in African football is getting ever closer. Also remarkable is that nobody appears to be missing so-called “Giant of Africa” Nigeria except, of course, Nigerians themselves. The rest of Africa has simply moved on.

In Group A, Guinea-Bissau impressed by holding hosts Gabon to a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the tournament and took a surprising 1-0 half-time lead against Cameroun before succumbing to a 2-1 loss. A 2-0 defeat by Burkina Faso has ended their participation, but they leave with their heads held high as even the hosts Gabon,  who paraded 2015 African Footballer of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, failed to advance.

In Group B, Zimbabwe confirmed Algeria's poor form by holding Nigeria's World Cup group rivals to a 2-2 draw before bowing out to successive defeats by Senegal and Tunisia, two teams who have advanced from the group and are looking very much like potential finalists and title winners when the tourney ends on February 5.

In Group C, Demographic Republic of Congo continued the recent advances made by their club sides on the continent, their most impressive results being a 2-2 draw with Côte d'Ivoire and a 3-1 win over Togo which won them the group ahead of Morocco while defending champions Côte d'Ivoire suffered a shock elimination.

In Group D, long-term AFCON absentees Uganda made a return to the finals and were not disgraced in narrow defeats to power-houses Ghana and Egypt both of whom advanced from the group. I'm tipping serial winners Ghana and Egypt to push Senegal and Tunisia hard for the title.

You could say that despite their so-called “impressive” performances, most of the underdogs have failed to progress as the big boys still have been the ones qualifying for the next round. But the point that must not be lost is that we haven't seen score lines such as 4-0 or 5-1 in this tournament and that is the clearest sign that the gap indeed is “closing up.”

African teams are becoming more organized and more disciplined particularly in defence. Many more countries are able to call on players from European leagues and these players influence their teams with their experience and exposure. And then, of course, there is better coaching across board as even the African-born handlers are rising to the challenge from the expatriates. Things can only get more interesting in the future.

The lesson for Nigeria in all of this is that we must wake up from our Delusion of Grandeur. The days when we took AFCON qualification for granted presumably because we are the 'Giants of Africa” are gone forever. We have missed two editions (2015 and 2017) back to back now and Africa has not collapsed as a result.

The draw for AFCON 2019 qualifying has been made and the Super Eagles will contest a single automatic ticket with South Africa, Libya and Seychelles. As usual, the draw looks good on paper, but I can see bananas peels lying all over the place.

South Africa were responsible for our elimination in 2015, so they will feel capable of doing it again. Although they also didn't qualify for 2017, that in my opinion makes them even more dangerous because they are as desperate as Nigeria to quickly make amends and return to the AFCON 2019 finals in Cameroun.

Libya are in a political turmoil, so the away leg could prove to be an unattractive journey for our foreign-based players. I won't be surprised if several of them call in sick or injured for the game that could deplete the quality of our team. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) must be on the look-out to nip such a possibility in the bud. One pro-active step is to seek safety guarantees from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) or demand that the match be played on a neutral ground. The lobby for that must start now.

Seychelles are one of the true minnows still left in African football and taking anything less than six points from them could damage Nigeria's chances again especially if South Africa do the business and beat them (Seychelles) home and away.
The aggregate of my analysis is that our route to AFCON 2019 truly may look good on paper, but it is anything but easy.

Apart from the group winners who qualify automatically, there are three other tickets for the best placed runner-up in all the groups combined. But that should not be an option at all for the Super Eagles in the race to Cameroun. Our target must be the automatic ticket in our group.  Once beaten (in this case, twice beaten) thrice shy!

I will do a reminder to Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr and his players when the qualifiers get under way in April. We must resolve (and do whatever is necessary to ensure) that never should an Africa Cup of Nations finals be played again without Nigeria's name on the roster. NEVER!

2026 World Cup: More Teams, So What?

TALKING about qualifying for tournaments, FIFA President Gianni Infantino's success in pushing through his campaign promise of expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams has been widely applauded. Except for a pocket of selfish European aristocrats complaining about a devaluation in quality, the expansion is a globally popular move which I also endorse whole-heartedly.

However, I do not think the expected increase in African representation will make life any easier for any of the African teams. I have heard people talk about Nigeria's qualifying chances being boosted if Africa's slots are increased from five to eight or nine, for instance. I will like to remind such people that we actually have 16 teams at the AFCON at the moment, and Nigeria did not manage to make it twice now.

What will guarantee us a seat at the World Cup, irrespective of the number of African slots, is the quality of our team and the quality of our preparations. That should remain our focus always.

Pinnick's FIFA Appointment
I CONGRATULATE Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick on his appointment last week into the Organizing Committee of FIFA.

Whatever happens to him at home now (we keep hearing rumours of an impending impeachment), Pinnick is assured of a four-year tenure at one of FIFA's most influential and “juicy” committees (using Nigerian political parlance).

Also in March, Amaju will seek to further consolidate himself in the international soccer hierarchy when he runs for a seat at the CAF Executive Committee elections. Minister of Sport Solomon Dalung initially expressed his displeasure at Pinnick's failure to follow “due process” in applying for the CAF job. But following the vote of confidence passed on Pinnick by the NFF Congress last December, Dalung must have realized that the NFF boss has cornered his constituency and those writing petitions against him (Pinnick) are in the minority.

Having said that, I do not share the opinion expressed in some quarters that Pinnick's FIFA appointment and CAF aspiration will remarkably turn Nigeria's football fortunes for the better.

Several years ago when the matter came up for discussion, I took the position here in this column that appointments into international football and other sports bodies are, for the most part, to the benefit of the office holders and NOT their country of origin. If their country would benefit directly from such appointments at all, it is a totally secondary consideration. I still hold that view very firmly.

So, while I congratulate Pinninck on his personal achievement, I wish to remind him about the platform that gave him the opportunity. He cannot use his FIFA appointment to manipulate anything in Nigeria's favour. But as he is still the President of the NFF, he has a primary responsibility to ensure the continued well-being of Nigerian football.

FOOTNOTE: Further evidence that Pinnick's appointment is purely personal is the still unresolved controversy surrounding Nigeria's FIFA grant which has been suspended until the NFF answer the query raised by FIFA's auditors satisfactorily. Otherwise, is it not surprising that Pinnick was appointed by FIFA even when a FIFA query was still hanging on the NFF? Guys, smell the coffee!

2017 EPL Title Race is Over!
AFTER 22 weeks of action and with 16 unpredictable weeks to go, I have seen enough to now declare the 2016/2017 English Premier League (EPL) title race as done and dusted.

At the start of the season, I predicted that after 10 weeks, any team not within nine points of the leaders will NOT win the title. At that stage, I ruled out defending champions Leicester City from the race and warned Manchester United fans that they were on the brink of being ruled out as well.

Now, we have seen 22 weeks and I'm willing to call the title race as well as the race for “Top Four” as follow…
Chelsea (55 points) will be champions in May. Arsenal (47 points) and Tottenham Hotspur (46 points) will pick the two automatic Champions League slots. Liverpool (45 points), Manchester City (43 points) and Manchester United (41 points) will tussle for the 4th and final Champions League slot.

Are you also confident enough to make your prediction now? Send me your list of how the Top 4 will finish at the end of the season.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tony Eke: Between Life, Death and Football

HISTORIC: Nigeria's captain Nduka Ugbade lifts the 1985 FIFA U16 World Cup. Prince Tony Eke's YSFON was highly instrumental to the historic triumph..........................

THE YEAR 2017 has started at a very fast and furious pace. So much has happened in the football world and we haven’t even reached the 20-day mark in January.

In Zurich, Switzerland, the inaugural FIFA “The Best” Awards for 2016 (following the break-away from France Football’s Ballon D’or) took place with Cristiano Ronaldo predictably winning the Player of the Year award controversially boycotted by runner-up Lionel Messi and his Barcelona teammates, causing Ronaldo to mock them tongue-in-cheek.

In Abuja, Nigeria, the 2016 GLO-CAF Awards took place with Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, also predictably emerging as the Africa Footballer of the year ahead of 2015 winner Pierre Aubameyang of Gabon and Senegal’s Saido Mane.

In England, the Battle of the Managers in the English Premier League reached new heights last weekend when Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola got hammered 4-0 for the first time in his glittering career as a bullish Everton, featuring a debuting 19-year-old Nigerian-born Ademola Lookman took the aristocrats of City to the cleaners; while Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool played out a high profile 1-1 draw.

In Spain, Real Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten run was ended by Sevilla to bring some life back into the race for La Liga where Barcelona appears to be losing grip of their title.
Also in Switzerland, the FIFA ruling council approved President Gianni Infantino’s plan to expand the FIFA World Cup from 32 teams to 48 from the year 2026.

In Gabon, the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicked off with the host country and title contender Algeria, Cameroun and Cote d’Ivoire all struggling to unflattering draws in their opening games while so-called “Giant of Africa” Nigeria was conspicuous by her absence on the 16-team roster.

Meanwhile, the draw for the qualifying tournament for AFCON 2019 was made and Nigeria will have the opportunity to correct her absence from the last two AFCONS when she takes on South Africa, Libya and Seychelles in qualifying Group E which starts in June this year.
And, last Saturday in Kano, the 2017 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) kicked off in ignominious fashion with IfeanyiUbah Football Club abandoning the opening game of the season against Kano Pillars in protest of poor officiating, prompting the League Management Committee (LMC) to slam hefty fines on the club and recommend controversial centre referee Folusho Ajayi for sanction by the Nigeria Referees Association.

All these are very important issues which on their own would take up an entire episode of Soccertalk to discuss extensively. But I crave the indulgence of readers to put all these football issues aside for now, while I focus on the urgent matter of a certain Prince Tony Ossail Eke because, in his own case, it is a matter of life…or death!
Put simply, Prince Tony Eke needs the support of all football-loving Nigerians to stay alive. On Monday this week (January 16, 2017), veteran journalist Mr. Segun Adenuga walked into my office to describe the pathetic state of Prince Eke and how he needs urgent help after he suffered a stroke.

I am not completely unaware of Prince Eke’s health challenges myself. Throughout last year, I was in regular touch with him on the telephone and I knew how he was struggling to get medications for his ailments. In the midst of all that, his mother passed away and he also had to finance the funeral in Delta State.
But right now, the battle that Prince Eke faces is how to feed well, buy his medications and stay alive.

For older Nigerian football fans; Prince Tony Eke needs little or no introduction at all because his name is synonymous with the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON). But for the younger generation, a short briefing is necessary.
Prince Tony Eke is rated by many as the doyen of youth football development in Nigeria. Through YSFON, he discovered dozens of young, talented footballers who went on to play for Nigeria at youth and senior levels.

The 1985 Nigeria U16 team that won the inaugural FIFA Under-16 World Tournament in China was made up largely of YSFON products. Prince Eke had taken many of the boys to play and win tournaments such as the Gothia Cup in Sweden and Dana Cup in Denmark before coach Sebastian Broderick took them to China. Therefore, the boys had no stage fright playing against white boys and Nigeria went on to comprehensively beat Germany 2-0 in the World Cup final. Nduka Ugbade was captain of that team and he also was discovered by YSFON.

Other players similarly discovered by YSFON include Taribo West, Samson Siasia and several others.
Mr. Segun Adenuga has written a more detailed historical account about the founding of YSFON and the roles played by Prince Eke in its successes. You can read that historical account at the bottom of this page presently. But at this point, I invite my readers to join this advocacy.

Soccertalk has launched a modest N1million Appeal Fund for Prince Tony Eke and I respectfully appeal to all readers of this column to contribute to the fund. I emphasize that this fund raising was NOT SOLICITED by Prince Tony Eke because I know him to be a man of great dignity. But I also know that he is in SERIOUS NEED of the fund and we shouldn’t wait for him to beg in public before we render him our public support.

Many years ago, I wrote in this column an article titled “Encomiums for the Living.” In it, I argued that Nigeria must not wait only for our heroes to die before showering beautiful word on them. We should appreciate our heroes also while they’re still alive to enjoy the adulation.

Prince Tony Eke is a living hero of Nigerian football. His contributions to youth development and to some of our national achievements are well documented. Now that Prince Tony Eke is ill and dying, the least we can do is to support him in his time of crucial need.
I appeal to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the League Management Committee (LMC) and various football clubs and football academies in the country to contribute to this fund for Prince Tony Eke. But my greatest appeal is to all readers of Soccertalk. We shouldn’t wait for the NFF, the LMC or the clubs alone to do it alone. Everybody’s widow’s mite will be appreciated. Little drops make an ocean.
Please pay your contributions to:
Account Name:       EKE, Tony Prince
Account Number:   2029300419
Bank:                     UBA
God bless you as you contribute, amen.
By Segun Adenuga
The Youth Sports Federation of Apapa (YSFA) was formed in 1965 by Mr. Israel Adebayo Adebajo, the founder of Stationery Stores Football Club of Nigeria. The aim was to use the team as breeding ground for his famous club. After his death in 1969, another   Nigerian sport-lover and philanthropist, Alhaji Garba Nautan  Hamza, a Kano-born business mogul, took over in 1970 alongside late Col Sule Apolo, late Major General Joseph Garba, and General Benjamin Adekunle and sustained the body till 1976.

The military coup that toppled General Murtala Mohammed in 1976 had an adverse effect in the day-to-day running of the sporting body as financial straits crippled the activities of the body. As a step to expand the financial base of YSFA, Mr. Tony Eke, a young Nigerian of Delta State extraction, born in the heart of Ajegunle, in Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government of Lagos State in 1957 took up the gauntlet by approaching the management of VONO Nigeria Limited, to sponsor the first RAMAT CUP football tournament for U-16 boys in Lagos State in 1977. The request was granted and Lagos hosted the maiden edition of General Ramat Murtala Mohammed Cup at St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, where Chief Moshood Kasimawo Abiola (MKO), a personal friend of Murtala Mohammed, promised to replace the trophy and the continuous sponsorship of the yearly RAMAT Cup competition which he did till 1994 edition.

It is pertinent to recall that YSFA metamorphosed into YSFON in 1980 during the RAMAT Cup competition in Kano State, where eight states gathered to participate in a national contest. At the end of the tournament held at Sabon Geri Stadium, Kano, YSFA, in a bid to reflect a national outlook added the word Nigeria to its name to read Youth Sport Federation of Nigeria (YSFON). Also in 1980, at the instance of Mr. Tony Eke, Prince Dokun Danquah Abidoye, owner of KODA Sports and millionaire shopping magnate, became the first National President on March 26, 1980 at the Central Working Committee of YSFON meeting held at Tony Eke’s family house at 18, Olowojeunjeje Street, Ajegunle, which served as interim secretariat of the body.

However, under the able leadership of Prince Dokun Abidoye, a former national hockey player, Nigeria etched a niche when she registered and took part in the GOTHIA CUP in Goteborg, Sweden and became the first African nation to win a major junior championship in Scandinavia.

It is on record that Tony Eke was the brain behind the initiative that gave birth to AJEGUNLE PEACE CUP in the mid-90’s, where the likes of Taribo West, Tarila Okorowanta, Samson Siasia and other Super Eagles stars were discovered.
The competition was played at the famous Navy Ground, under the supervision of the council’s Chairman Dr. Ajijola and Councillor Tajudeen Ishola, who made sure that the N91,000 earmarked for the competition was promptly disbursed by the Council treasurer, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode who is now the Executive Governor of Lagos State. It is also on record that Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode made a personal donation of N2,000 to the purse of YSFON for the AJEGUNLE PEACE CUP Competition.

Highlight of Tony Eke’s contributions to YSFON
1.    He donated his family house at #18, Olowojeunjeje Street, Ajegunle as YSFON Secretariat.
2.    He approached Vono for the first sponsorship of RAMAT Cup in memory of late head of State General Murtala Mohammed.
3.    He nominated Prince Dokun Abidoye to be the first President of YSFON.
4.    He led the Nigerian Youth Team to win the Gothia Cup in Sweden, the first in the Scandinavia country.
5.    He changed YSFA to YSFON in 1980 in Kano.
6.    He led YSFON to compete in 10 European and South American countries.
7.    He initiated football tournaments to honour several Nigerian national heroes including the late Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero; U.J. Esuene, MKO Abiola, and many others.
·         Veteran journalist Mr. Segun Adenuga who contributed this article on Tony Eke clocked 75 years on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. As part of my campaign to write “Encomiums for the Living,” watch out for my “Conversation with Segun Adenuga.”