IT TOOK some time to coin this week’s title of SOCCERTALK. The Super Eagles return to action this weekend as they face Liberia in the first leg of their final qualifier for 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in January. Also this weekend, the 2012 Nigeria Premier League (NPL) is scheduled to end with the final round of matches. I wanted to capture both important events in a short title, and what you see is my best effort.
THERE HAS BEEN no place to hide for me since I returned from the London 2012 Olympics. I actually arrived a few days to the end of the Ramadan fast, so I soon headed for the Eid-el-Fitr open prayer ground to mark the end of the fasting. Just picture the scenario; it was the perfect setting for hundreds of sports fans to confront me with their questions. They spotted me quite easily, the Olympics still very fresh in their minds...
I WASN’T going to write SOCCERTALK this week because I wasn’t in the mood. But with the 30th Olympic Games kicking off in London, England only in a matter of days, I knew there was no way I could skip the column at this time. I just had to write. The Olympics come around only once in four years.
I HAVE MADE basketball the subject in SOCCERTALK today in order to properly recognize the achievement of our national basketball team, D’Tigers last weekend in Caracas, Venezuela. Playing against some of the best teams in the world at the FIBA World Olympics Qualifying Tournament for London 2012 Games, the Nigerian boys repeatedly upset the form books en route to grabbing an unlikely ticket. They have now made history as the first Nigerian men’s team ever to qualify for the Olympic Games in basketball.
MINISTER OF SPORTS and chairman of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi recently over-ruled the appointment of Tom Saintfiet as the Technical Director (TD) designate for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Needless to say that the minister’s decision enjoys my support as I had previously objected to the Belgian’s appointment in this column.
WE ARE all familiar with the popular cliche in sport which reads: “It’s not over, until it’s over.” The lessons were brought home afresh to the Super Eagles last weekend in Blantyre as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Malawi in a 2014 preliminary round World Cup qualifier.
I WILL NOT wait until after the Super Eagles’ 2014 World Cup qualifying match with Namibia this weekend in Calabar before declaring where I stand on the simmering power play between coach Stephen Keshi and his Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) employers.
SUPER Eagles coach Stephen Keshi made a bold statement of intent last week when he released his list of players to prosecute Nigeria’s crucial qualifying matches slated for next month. On the Eagles’ June 2012 calendar are two 2014 World Cup games against Namibia and Malawi followed by a 2013 African Cup of Nations return match against Rwanda in a crowded and potentially slippery fixture list.
ONE of the proudest moments in my journalism career happened on Friday, October 8, 1993, the day Nigeria qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time ever. I stumbled on Rashidi Yekini at the lobby of Hotel El-Aurassi in Algiers where the Super Eagles were lodged ahead of their final qualifying game against the host country Algeria. Time was 2:20pm, roughly five hours to the game that would rewrite the history of Nigerian football forever.
IT IS A WEEK now since Chelsea Football Club knocked defending champions Barcelona out in the semi-final of the European Champions League, but I am still getting series of knocks from the legion of Chelsea fans in Nigeria for predicting that Barcelona would beat them over two legs.
I AM beginning to wonder whether the global football event that Brazil are scheduled to host in the year 2014 is the 20th FIFA World Cup or the Third World War! Since the five-time world champion Samba soccer nation were unanimously nominated as the only candidate from CONMEBOL (the Confederation of South American Football Federations) and endorsed by FIFA in 2007 as the host designate of the 2014 World Cup, virtually the only sounds that have been coming out from that country’s football are the drum beats of war.
LAST weekend was one of the most exciting in the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) as the championship entered the 18th week. Results from several key venues suggest that some integrity is returning to the domestic league despite our well documented challenges.
PEACE MAKER: Ah, thank God that peace has finally returned to Nigerian football. After all these months of legal battles, the Nigeria Football Federation can now concentrate on their task of developing the game. The Super Eagles will soon return to the top of the FIFA world ranking. Nigeria will be one of the favourites for the trophy at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. Ah, Baba God, we thank you o.
I AM WRITING this on Tuesday morning, February 28, 2012, a day ahead of Nigeria’s opening 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda in Kigali on February 29. I contemplated postponing this column by 24 hours to accommodate my analysis of the game that is effectively Stephen Keshi’s first competitive assignment since his appointment as coach of the Super Eagles. But Soccertalk having just resumed after a long, long break, I decided that it would be unwise to miss my schedule so soon. My perspectives on the Rwanda - Nigeria game will have to wait till next week.
STEPHEN KESHI’s decision to recall Yakubu Aiyegbeni to the Super Eagles after nearly two years in the wilderness did not come to me as a surprise. In fact, let me say that I saw it coming and that is partly why I delayed the resumption of this column since the turn of the new year 2012.
My demand on Maigari’s NFF is simple: give us a road map that will lead Nigerian football out of the present rot. The road map must be clear and it must satisfy the S-M-A-R-T principle in management: It must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. It must be SMART.
I WAS still contemplating whether to comment on High Chief Emeka Inyama’s “right wing” attack on Chief Segun Odegbami last week when Barrister Chris Green launched another “midfield” offensive on Sunday Oliseh on Monday this week. That second offensive made up my mind for me.