Thursday, September 21, 2017

AITEO’s Timely Rebuttal

JUST WHEN the good times are returning to Nigerian football, some disgruntled elements appear bent on causing disaffection within the system for their own selfish ends. That was my interpretation of the FAKE NEWS that was circulated in the media on Tuesday, 19 September, 2017 to the effect that Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) sponsors, the oil and gas outfit, Aiteo Group, were allegedly considering a review of the partnership purportedly because they were not deriving the benefits promised by the NFF.

Less than 24 hours later, my hunch was confirmed when Aiteo firmly debunked the fake news and reaffirmed their commitment to the sponsorship deals with the NFF. In a statement signed by their Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Ndiana-Abasi Matthew, the company declared that: “The deal (with the NFF) is effective for five years and we have no plans to renege on our decision.” The firm also praised the NFF for “its management and execution of its national team objectives within the short term of our relationship.”

Shame to bad people!

The internet and social media have liberalized access to mass media publishing. One of the major downside of this liberalization is the proliferation of unverified content (a.k.a. FAKE NEWS). People just sit in front of their computer or flip out their mobile devices and fabricate “news” which they circulate instantly.

Despite this misuse, the internet and social media will continue to be a source of news, either fake or real. The challenge is for professional media practitioners to show greater discretion in differentiating credible news from half truths and outright lies so that they do not mislead their audience or tarnish the image of the people and organizations that they report.

The fact that such a sensitive story was attributed to a faceless, “anonymous Aiteo official” should have rang some alarm bells. Let’s hope its another learning curve for all concerned.
Aiteo’s sponsorship is one of the best things to happen to Nigerian football in a long time. The company guarantees the salaries of all national team coaches, (one of the most sticky issues in our football) for five years and also sponsors the FA Cup (renamed Aiteo Cup) which had been without a sponsor for several years.

The internet and social media have liberalized access to mass media publishing. One of the major downside of this liberalization is the proliferation of unverified content (a.k.a. FAKE NEWS). People just sit in front of their computer or flip out their mobile devices and fabricate “news” which they circulate instantly.

Despite this misuse, the internet and social media will continue to be a source of news, either fake or real. The challenge is for professional media practitioners to show greater discretion in differentiating credible news from half truths and outright lies so that they do not mislead their audience or tarnish the image of the people and organizations that they report.

The fact that such a sensitive story was attributed to a faceless, “anonymous Aiteo official” should have rang some alarm bells. Let’s hope its another learning curve for all concerned.

Aiteo’s sponsorship is one of the best things to happen to Nigerian football in a long time. The company guarantees the salaries of all national team coaches, (one of the most sticky issues in our football) for five years and also sponsors the FA Cup (renamed Aiteo Cup) which had been without a sponsor for several years.

Anyone who truly loves Nigerian football should be looking to protect the Aiteo/NFF partnership rather than truncate it. Whoever manufactured that divisive story about a non-existent rift must have a rethink.

Contrary to the impression created that Aiteo were not getting good mileage for their sponsorship, a mere observation of the media and public discourse tells a different story. Not many Nigerians (including this writer) had ever heard about the company before they commenced their partnership with the NFF. But now, the name rings a million positive bells whenever its mentioned.

Also, the Nigerian media has been quite cooperative in immediately adopting “Aiteo Cup” as the new name for the FA Cup. I remember that a particular telecoms company was not that lucky with the media when it started sponsoring the domestic football league many years ago. Some radio stations demanded to be paid before they would say the company’s name on air as title sponsors of the league.  However, the matter was later resolved.

The global practice is that sponsors buying a sports property usually have an activation/publicity budget set aside. In fact, in many cases, sponsors engage marketing communications consultants and even spend more on activation/publicity than they spent on acquiring the property itself because it is from the activation/publicity that they derive their benefits in terms of patronage, public goodwill, top of the mind awareness, etcetra.

Whatever it is, Aiteo’s strategy for activation/publicity of its NFF partnership can be enhanced. But even as it is presently, the company has not done badly at all. The public goodwill and awareness for the Aiteo brand is massive. It can only get better.

The Super Eagles are on the verge of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after annihilating our perennial rivals Cameroon over two legs last month. As I write this, the home-based Super Eagles had also just beaten another of our eternal rivals, Ghana, 2-0 to qualify for the semi-final of the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup taking place on Ghana’s soil.

These type of victories bring a lot of joy to millions of Nigerians and Aiteo can be proud to be a part of those making it happen by paying the national coaches their salaries on schedule. When the Eagles finally wrap up the World Cup ticket and the Aiteo Cup also enters the final stages, the company can only receive more positive vibes from soccer-loving Nigerians.

I say thank you Aiteo for shaming the saboteurs and purveyors of fake news with your timely rebuttal. I’m sure that the Nigerian people appreciate your interventionist role in our football.

BARELY a month after the Nigerian women national basketball team D’Tigress won the African Championship (Afrobasket) for Women in Bamako, Mali, the men’s team, D’Tigers last weekend also emerged runners-up to co-host country Tunisia in the Afrobasket final for men.

Gradually, we’re beginning to cement our place as a force to be reckoned with in African basketball. I hope the warring factions in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) will sheat their swords and work together to translate these continental achievements to global recognition.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can United Return Nigeria To The Plateau?

NO! This article is not about Manchester United of England. It is about Plateau United of Nigeria.
Last Saturday, Plateau United Football Club of Jos emerged champions of the 2017 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) for the first time in their history. The victory didn't come easy as the Tin City boys were chased all the way until the last day of the 38-week marathon by Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) Football Club of Lagos.

With just one point separating both teams on the league table going into the last games of the season, a win for MFM in their fixture away to El-Kanemi of Maiduguri and a loss for Plateau at home to Enugu Rangers would have handed the title to the MFM Boys. But in the end, it was Plateau that won 2-0 to throw a jam-packed Rwan Pam stadium in Jos into wild jubilation. MFM, meanwhile, lost 2-1 to El-Kanemi to finally settle for second place.
Apart from collecting the highest points total of 66, Plateau also scored the highest number of goals (49), conceded the least (25), had the best goals difference (+24), suffered the fewest losses (10) and were tied with MFM for the greatest number of wins (19). Essentially, they ticked all the statistical columns on the league table in green and were the best team overall. They are indeed worthy champions.

While Plateau coach Kennedy Boboye and his boys have won the right to celebrate a historic triumph, it is pertinent that the club management should start planning immediately for their participation in the CAF Champions League next year.. Nigerian club sides have been languishing miserably at the bottom of the valley of African football since Enyimba of Aba last won the continent's premier club competition in 2003. The big question is whether Plateau United can live up to their name and return Nigeria to the plateau of African club football.


Sharing that responsibility with Plateau are second-placed MFM whose story is also remarkable. In 2016, MFM escaped relegation from the NPFL by the skin of their teeth when their goalkeeper saved a penalty kick in the final game of the season. One year later, they were contesting gamely for the title which shows how far they've come in a short time. Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu may sound boastful in his interviews but he has lived up to his promise to turn the club's fortunes around if given the freedom to work. I'm sure that Lagos fans cannot wait to watch continental football again next season, having experienced it last during the glory days of Stationery Stores and Julius Berger.

Enyimba, meanwhile, also return to the continent in the second-tier CAF Confederations Cup, after robbing Akwa United of the ticket in the penultimate week of the season. What a close miss for Akwa chairman Paul Bassey.
While the top three clubs in the NPFL can look back on a satisfying season, it's a gnashing of teeth for my beloved Shooting Stars (3SC) who find themselves relegated, yet again, alongside Remo Stars, Gombe United and ABS who all are going back down after just one season in the top flight.

Before the last games kicked off last Saturday, I made what I confessed was a "biased prediction" on Twitter that 3SC would escape relegation by winning their game away to Niger Tornadoes. I knew that their chances were slim, especially when the players went on strike to protest non-payment of their salaries just days to the crucial game. The strike was later called off but the damage had been done. Nevertheless, I stuck my head out fanatically for them just to show my love for a club that I have supported from childhood. Unsurprisingly, they lost 2-0 in Minna and they will have to play in the Nigeria Nationwide League (NNL) next season.

A close look at the final league table reveals a very hard fought contest. The gap between champions Plateau and fourth placed Akwa United was only six points. Only one point separated MFM (62 points) from Enyimba (61) while Akwa (60) were only a further point adrift.

At mid-table, it was a bumper-to-bumper affair as five teams (Lobi Stars, Kano Pillars, FC IfeanyiUbah, Sunshine Stars and Tornadoes) finished on 54 points, three (Abia Warriors, Enugu Rangers and Wikki Tourists) finished on 53 while two (Rivers United and Katsina United) finished on 52. Relegated 3SC had 50 points, which means just one more win could have catapulted them to as high as a 12th place finish on the log.

On face value, the close race suggests a League that is vibrant, but insiders and the participants themselves know that there's more to this "vibrancy." The key factor appears to be some crooked referees who continue to manipulate the results of matches in favour of home teams. And because all (or, at least, the majority) of the club sides benefit from this unwholesome act in their home games, the rogue referees simply sit in the middle and rob away clubs in turns.

Remo Stars may have finished bottom of the log deservedly, but I hear that their case was worsened by the proprietor's refusal to ask referees for favours during their home games. Not surprisingly, the club suffered the highest number of home defeats in the just concluded season.

Thanks to the League Management Committee (LMC) led by Mallam Shehu Dikko, the NPFL has continued to improve in crowd attendance, television coverage (despite a mid-season dispute with DSTV SuperSport), international partnerships and overall brand image. But dubious officiating by corrupt and incompetent referees will continue to rubbish all these gains if something drastic is not done about it. Stakeholders in Nigerian football must call out Nigeria Referees Association (NRA) boss Tade Azeez to answer serious questions about the credibility of his association.


The referees don't operate in isolation, however. Club administrators and coaches should stop pretending that they don't know what is going on as the majority of them are complicit. They are the ones giving bribes to the referees to manufacture penalty kicks for them when playing at home, a winning goal is not forthcoming and time is running out. They only cry blue murder when they suffer similar treatment at away games. If the club managers can resolve genuinely among themselves to stamp out the scourge, they can do it. Then, it would be easier to spot the black sheep among them and sanction them accordingly.

The expulsion and life ban imposed on Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey by FIFA over a match-fixing allegation is still fresh in the news even as I write this. South Africa who were the innocent beneficiaries of Lamptey's manipulation have only recently agreed to replay the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Senegal who had petitioned FIFA in the first place after Lamptey awarded against them a penalty kick that did not exist. That episode must have alerted other rogue referees around the world that their days are numbered.


The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) who appoint referees for the NPFL should take a cue and send out a similarly strong message to the NRA. Tade Azeez and his men (and women) should be told in very clear terms that the NFF is willing to impose life bans on corrupt referees who are intent on sabotaging the football league and this should be inserted in the rule books. Azeez equally should show a commitment to fishing out the bad eggs that are giving the NRA a bad name, and stop exposing referees who do their jobs professionally to our collective condemnation. Enough is enough!



DESPITE my explanation last week, I have noticed from feedback that lots of readers still do not understand the minimum requirement for Nigeria to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals. Most people are relying on the head-to-head rule to conclude with finality that a draw in our next game against Zambia would be enough to qualify just because we had previously beaten them 2-1 away in Ndola. This is not so. 

The head-to-head rule was the primary tie-breaker during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and Angola took advantage of it to eliminate Nigeria. But head-to-head is NOT the primary tie-breaker this time around. According to article 20.6 and 20.7 of the FIFA regulations for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the following are the determinant factors (tie-breakers) in terms of priority: 

1- Overall points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 points for a loss)
2- Overall goal difference
3- Overall goals scored
4- Points in matches between tied teams
5- Goal difference in matches between tied teams
6- Goals scored in matches between tied teams
7- Away goals scored in matches between tied teams (if the tie is only between two teams in home-and-away league format)
8- Fair play points
9- First yellow card: minus 1 point
10- Indirect red card (second yellow card): minus 3 points
11- Direct red card: minus 4 points
12- Yellow card and direct red card: minus 5 points
13 – Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organizing Committee
From the above list, the head-to-head tie-breakers are factors 4, 5, 6 and 7 in that order. But these factors can only come into play if factors 1, 2 and 3 fail to separate the teams in contention.

               CAF Qualification: 3rd round: group B

P    W    D    L     F     A    GD Pts

1.   Nigeria     4     3     1     0    10    3    +7 10
2.   Zambia 4     2     1     1     6     4    +2 7
3.   Cameroon 4     0     3     1     3     7     -4 3
4.   Algeria   4     0     1     3     3     8     -5 1

Looking at the group table as things stands now, Nigeria is well positioned to qualify either on points, or on goals difference or on number of goals scored, the goals count coming into play in the event that Nigeria somehow finish on the same points total as Zambia. Therefore, it's unlikely (although not impossible) that the group will ever be decided on the head-to-head stats.

If Nigeria wins in Uyo as expected on 7 October, they qualify automatically with unassailable 13 points. But should Zambia win or draw the match, then both teams will take the contest to the final match day in November when Nigeria visit Algeria and Zambia host Cameroun.

Obviously, I'm tipping the Eagles to end all these discussions with a clear victory over Zambia on 7 October. As we can see, these head-to-head permutations bring a lot of headache! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

‘Group Of Death’ Lives Up To Billing

WHEN the draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers was made last year, Africa’s Group ‘B’ featuring Algeria, Cameroun, Nigeria and Zambia was dubbed as the “Group of Death.” Well, it is living up to its name 100 per cent.

After four rounds of matches, the World Cup dreams of relative “favourites” Algeria (1point) and Cameroun (2 points) are dead and buried, leaving Nigeria (10 points) to slug it out for the sole qualifying ticket with the group dark horses Zambia (7 points). Just when the Super Eagles thought they had done the most difficult part by eliminating their eternal rivals Indomitable Lions (4-0, 1-1) in last weekend’s double header, the Chipolopolo have emerged as a real threat by also dumping out the Desert Foxes (3-1, 1-0).
The fifth round game between Nigeria and Zambia on 7 October in Uyo has assumed great significance. It will be the next “Game of Our Lives.” A win for the Eagles seals their ticket to Russia. A draw or defeat extends the tussle to the wire in November when Zambia host Cameroun and Nigeria visit Algeria. Surely, the Eagles must avoid the tension that that would bring upon them. They must close out the race when the Zambians come to Uyo in 7 October, grab the win and move to an unassailable 13 points before the final round of games.
Regular readers of this column would recall that 13 points was the qualifying target that I set for the Eagles when the draw was made last year. I projected that we must win nine points from our first three games and 13 overall by match day 5 so that the final game in Algeria would be inconsequential.
After four rounds of games, nothing has changed and the Eagles can still reach the target as projected. My only surprise is that it is Zambia, not Algeria and Cameroun, who are giving us a run for the ticket to Russia.

Humiliation For Cameroun
Zambia are the next focus of our attention, but there’s no way I’m going to pass up the opportunity to rub in the Eagles humiliation of Cameroun last weekend in Uyo and Yaounde. The Indomitable Lions have brought so much grief on Nigeria football fans that whenever we exert some measure of revenge, we must celebrate it. Someone actually reminded me on social media about my resolve to celebrate even if it was Nigeria cockroaches beating Cameroun cockroaches in a race!
I found the Eagles 4-0 win in Uyo particularly satisfying. Also, I extremely enjoyed the various media descriptions of what the Eagles did to the Lions: Humiliate, annihilate, trounce, massacre, tame, disgrace, destroy!
On a more serious note, my reading of the game is that the Cameroun coach Hugo Broos was arrogant and over-confident in his approach probably because of their status as current African champions. Being the away team, I thought they would have started on a cautious note, frustrate Nigeria with some defensive tactics, then take us out on the counter as we got desperate in search of a goal. Broos did exactly the opposite and got punished for it. Right from the kick-off, the Lions went straight into attack and the Eagles had to ride an early storm. But once the storm subsided, it was the Eagles that repeatedly tore apart a disjointed Cameroun defence with some incisive play by Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses who all scored before substitute Kelechi Iheanacho added the gloss.
In the return leg in Yaounde, Broos had learned his lesson the hard way and the Lions were more cautious at the start even though they were now playing at home. Man-for-man, the Eagles had better quality all over the pitch and should have been more than one goal (scored by Moses Simon) ahead before Cameroun managed a late equalizer from the penalty spot to secure the 1-1 draw.

Over the two legs, my man of the tie was centre back Leon Balogun who marshaled the Eagles defence excellently. Captain Mikel Obi was awesome in midfield and Victor Moses was unplayable on the flanks. Apart from Ighalo’s physical presence which perpetually unsettled the Cameroun defence, he also showed some great skills that I never knew he possessed. In goal for Nigeria, home boy Ikechukwu Ezenwa made the error that resulted in the second leg penalty for Cameroun, but overall, the home boy responded well to being blooded in such a crucial tie when Nigeria looked like having a goalkeeping crisis.
Finally, I doff my hat for Eagles coach Gernot Rohr whose team selection and tactics completely overwhelmed the Lions. With the benefit of hindsight, the nine high profile games that Cameroun played (six at the 2017 AFCON which they won and three at the 2017 Confederations Cup) which we thought had prepared them better than the Eagles had only served to expose their weaknesses to Rohr, the consummate tactician.
I was on Twitter throughout the live coverage of the Nigeria–Cameroun double header. I couldn’t resist giving the “Indomitable Lions” a new name: “Domitable Pussycats!”

Zambia Will Be Dangerous
ONE of my followers on Twitter suggested after our second leg game against Cameroun that the Russia 2018 ticket, though so close, was “not yet Uhuru” for Nigeria. After watching Zambia complete a double over Algeria (3-1 at home and 1-0 away), I cannot agree more. With absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Zambians will be very dangerous customers when they visit Nigeria in next fixture on 7 October.
Since the Eagles beat them 2-1 in Ndola on match day one, the Zambians have been a changed team. Coach Wedson Nyirenda has promoted several players from their youth team and they’ve not lost another game since then. They are skilful and athletic, full of running and have a big heart which they demonstrated in getting a third goal against Algeria in the first leg even when playing with 10 men against 11.
Zambia also have a history of close rivalry with Nigeria. In 17 confrontations between both countries at senior level since 1973, Nigeria have won seven, drawn five and lost five. The biggest contest was the 1994 AFCON final in Tunisia where a relatively new Zambian team, assembled after most of the original team died in a plane crash, stood up gamely to our Golden Generation Super Eagles before narrowly succumbing 2-1.
Evidently, Zambia are supremely capable of giving Nigeria another good fight in Uyo on 7 October. Unlike Cameroun who adopted an arrogant tactical approach and got severely punished for it, I expect Zambia to come with a game plan to frustrate Nigeria with some solid defending. They will sit back and look to catch us with quick counter attacks. If they can’t get a win, they will target a draw which will drag the contest for the World Cup ticket to the final day when they would hope to have a better chance at home to Cameroun while Nigeria goes on a tricky road trip to Algeria. It’s up to the Super Eagles to destroy Zambia’s permutations by simply beating them in Uyo. A couple of early goals like we scored in Ndola in the first leg will ease the tension and set us on the way to Russia.
Considering all the hype, our two-legged tie against Cameroun turned out to be an anti-climax of sort, but I suspect that Zambia will be a true test for the Eagles. It’s just as well because it means we cannot afford to be complacent. Thankfully, none of our key players is suspended for that game. Barring any injuries at their club sides and with Gernot Rohr again conjuring the right tactics, Nigeria will win, in sha Allah.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Super Eagles, Just Win!

I KNOW that I speak the minds of most Nigerians when I say that all that we expect from the Super Eagles in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying double-header against Cameroun on Friday, September 1 is nothing short of victory.

Most people that I have spoken to say they really don’t care about coach Gernot Rohr’s team selection, his tactical formation or how well or badly the Eagles played in Uyo provided they won the game “even by half a goal,” if there was anything like that. The mantra has been, “Super Eagles, Just Win!” I cannot agree more.

However, it’s not out of place to still speculate on the players best suited to engineer Nigeria’s victory and how best to overcome the dreaded Lions. deputy editor Nurudeen Obalola (now in Yaoundé) has done an excellent job in his article with the title “There’s more to Cameroun than just brute strength” (See Nurudeen’s column on home page).

There’s also an expose by Soccertalk fan Tunde Ogunnoiki on why Cameroun are so difficult to beat (see below). Even for me, Tunde’s narrative is a revelation.

Nurudeen and Tunde’s articles may elicit more worry than cheer for the average Super Eagles fan about the onerous task ahead on Friday. But rather than worry, we should simply show more support for our national team in whatever way we can. Fans at the Godswill Akpabio stadium must be the Eagles 12th man by cheering them from start to finish. The rest of us should pray and believe.

On my part, I am wearing my cap of Positive Thinking and expecting the indefatigable “Nigerian Spirit” in captain Mikel Obi and his troops to shine through. Last week, I admitted in this column that the Eagles were the underdogs against the Lions, but I still BELIEVE that the Eagles will win.

Clearly, Victor Moses running at Cameroun with the ball at his feet, carries the biggest threat in the Eagles attack. But our match hero may yet be the unpredictable Ahmed Musa!

As usual, Musa has been blowing hot and cold in the new season at Leicester City, scoring twice in a Cup game, then getting benched last weekend when Leicester lost to Manchester United in the English Premier League. He may not even make it into Rohr’s starting line-up against Cameroun. But, even as a substitute, I have a feeling that his pace could prove decisive if he delivers his final balls accurately.

Between Moses and Musa lies our match winner as the Eagles pounce to devour the Lions for Sallah meat on Sallah day. Good luck, Nigeria!

Cameroon’s Secret Exposed!

By Tunde Ogunnoiki:
THE Indomitable Lions clash with Nigeria this weekend brings to mind, some fascinating recollections of Cameroonian teams’ exploits. Their ability to secure victory on foreign, often hostile grounds has always amazed many football lovers. Indeed the remarkable performances of Canon Sportive and Tonnere in African Clubs competitions were precursors of the national team’s domination of the continent.

Surely one of the most ruthless of these fearless feats on a foreign soil occurred in 2002. At the semi final stage of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Indomitable Lions encountered the host team, the Malian Eagles. Before commencement of the match, former goalkeeper Thomas Nkono, at that period, a member of the Cameroonian technical crew, walked around the pitch. In spite of his fame in virtually all African stadia, he was pelted with all manner of missiles by the crowd and had to flee quickly to the dressing room. The Cameroonian players took note of the disgrace meted on Nkono and proceeded to inflict a comprehensive 5-0 whipping on the host nation before the very eyes of their rude fans.

The secret of such eye catching results was revealed to me in 1981 when Stationery Stores confronted Union Douala in Yaounde during the first leg of the African Cup Winners Cup final. The amazing performance of Tarila Okorowanta was ably complemented by goalkeeper Peter Rufai when he caught Cameroun national captain Rene Ndjeya”s penalty kick. Even Cameroonian President Ahmadou Ahidjo sprang to his feet in the presidential box in amazement.

After the scoreless match, a group of Cameroonian youngsters, numbering about eight (8) came to the Nigerian supporters begging for Stores souvenirs such as scarf, caps etc. Extremely joyous at the wonderful result, I engaged the boys in the following conversation in French.
Me: “It is all over for Union Douala in the return leg in Lagos”.
One of them replied: “We shall win in Lagos”.

Me: “Impossible!”

This time, all of them in unison replied “impossible” N’est pas Cameroonians (“impossible” is not a Cameroonian word).

Sadly enough, their utterance was proved prophetic two weeks later. Before the very eyes of the vociferous Stores supporters, Union Douala won 2-1 in Lagos!
The Lesson? From infancy, Cameroonians are indoctrinated that no obstacle is insurmountable. IT IS A NATIONAL MANTRA. This explains why their teams, both at club and national levels conquer hostile environments and succeed against all odds.

On Friday, September 1, 2017, the Super Eagles players must keep in mind that they will face an opponent SUICIDALLY DETERMINED to win the match. The Eagles’ psychologists and technical crew must not believe the Cameroonian coach who said he would be satisfied with four of the six points from both matches. Such a result will be of no use to the Lions as it will still leave Nigeria on seven points with Cameroon on six points. Therefore, Nigeria can still qualify by winning her two remaining matches.

Cameroon will strive to win in Uyo. It is in their DNA to believe that it is possible. Fortunately, we have a team that can beat Cameroon on Friday, but the Super Eagles must come, suitably prepared for a real war.

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