Lesson From Blantyre
Posted: Jun 14, 2012
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.
Leading by a late, late goal scored by Kano Pillars midfielder Gabriel Reuben in the 88th minute, the Eagles must definitely have thought they had the win and three points wrapped up against the boasful East Africans. But deep into added time and with virtually the last kick of the encounter, the home team pounced on a mistake by the Nigerian goalkeeper and captain, Vincent Enyeama, to grab an equalizer through a grateful John Banda.
For Malawi, it was a point gained, but for Nigeria, it was two points dropped as the Eagles fell short of the six points target they had set for themselves from the first two games of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. But the lesson from the disappointment may yet serve coach Stephen Keshi and his boys very well much later in the long race to Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium where the 2014 final will be played.
Keshi’s boys should know that a football game is not finished until the referee has blown the final whistle. They have seen many matches decided in the final seconds, the most recent high profile examples being Chelsea FC’s heroics in the European Champions League and Manchester City’s triumph in the English Premier League. But now that it has happened to our boys, they will better appreciate the importance of staying focused until a game is truly, truly over. Experience, they say, is the best teacher.
On that basis, I’m willing tolerate the Eagles’ 1-1 draw in Malawi. I had expected a victory but I’m willing to accept the draw in Blantyre as the latest lesson to be learned by Keshi’s new Eagles as they rebuild for greater challenges ahead.
It is impossible to analyse a game that you have not seen, so I really cannot pass any judgement on the Eagles’ performance in Malawi. But having now scored just two goals in two World Cup qualifiers, it is safe to assume that Keshi’s team are having difficulty scoring goals. The coach must find a solution to this problem and fast.
I observed during the first game against Namibia in Calabar that the Eagles lacked the aggression to force the issue against the opponent’s packed defence. They (Eagles) played possession football and waited patiently until the lone goal arrived from Ikechukwu Uche late in the game. If that was the approach also adopted in Blantyre, it’s no surprise that Nigeria’s goal came so late again.
Keshi will need to change this approach. Particularly when you’re up against teams that are very physical and the referee fails to provide adequate protection, you may need to rev up your level of aggression, too. Barcelona’s failure to do that against Chelsea has been fingered by many as the reason why Barca couldn’t break down the “Blue Wall” in their Champions League semi-final second leg at the Camp Nou. Going forward, Keshi will need to find some “fighters” in attack to make life more difficult for opposing defences. Luckily, his present assistant, Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi, used to play that role for the Super Eagles, so a model is right there within the technical crew.
The 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Africa have now taken a long break to resume in March next year, and that gives Keshi a lot of time to try out more strikers and combinations in order to find a lasting solution to what is appearing to be a goals drought at the moment.
We must count ourselves lucky to have drawn a group of relative paper-weights as it gives us some room for error; to make mistakes and to correct them. With Namibia beating Kenya 1-0 in our other group match last weekend, Nigeria remains on top with four points despite our slip in Malawi, and in a good position to extend that lead when the race to Brazil 2014 resumes next year.
But first, there is the equally important matter of the second leg 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda this weekend in Calabar. The Eagles are clear favourites to advance to the final stage following a goalless first leg in Kigali a few months back. They must not only win but win handsomely with a handful of goals to reassure their supporters and doubters alike that Keshi’s “rebuilding project” is on the right course.
I WAS in Okeho, my wife’s hometown in Oyo State, last Saturday for a wedding while the Super Eagles slugged it out with Malawi in Blantyre. In the evening, I searched out a television viewing centre and joined yelling local fans to watch the action of the on-going 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
Germany beat Portugal 1-0 in a very absorbing game but what fascinated me more were the side-shows at the viewing centre as spectators argued and flaunted their “expert knowledge” of football history, facts and tactics. That got me thinking: “These guys are so well informed. I may have to start looking for another job!”
There was a technical hitch and the TV signal was lost. While searching for a reconnection, the operator stumbled on the Brazil-Argentina friendly in New York on another channel!
A huge argument erupted amongst the spectators on which match to watch as there was only one TV monitor working. Brazil were leading 1-0 at the time but then Lionel Messi scored two cracking goals for Argentina before the Euro 2012 fans won the argument to change the TV channel again. (Messi later completed his hat-trick as Argentina beat Brazil 4-3. It was a truly fearsome performance by Messi and Argentina which places them as one of the early favourites for the World Cup in 2014 in my reckoning).
Back to the Euros, I have also seen Spain versus Italy and France versus England both ending in 1-1 draws which suggest that we are in for a very close tournament. Andriy Shevchenko also turned back the hands of the clock at 35 years of age to grab two goals as co-hosts Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1
It’s hard to tell which team will eventually emerge champions of Euro 2012 (My Octopus is still on vacation!). But if these are the same teams that Nigeria have to face at the 2014 World Cup finals two years from now, we had better speed up the project of rebuilding the Super Eagles to double quick pace.
HI, MUMINI. I’m happy to know that there are people like you who are ready to tell Stephen Keshi the truth. He needs to have a good back-up plan, mostly from among foreign-based players that are ready to fight for the team with zeal. We have bigger games coming ahead and we need players that can make the difference when the going gets tough. – Israel, Lagos.
HELLO, Mr. Mumini. How can Keshi refuse to invite Mikel Obi who is fully in form for the on-going qualifiers? – Oladapo, Victoria Island, Lagos.
*Something is definitely amiss between Keshi and Mikel but both of them have been diplomatic about it so far. Don’t let us speculate. All will come out in the open soonest.
KUDOS to Keshi for having the boldness to drop some of the big boys especially the pompous and truant Mikel Obi. The home boys should be encouraged. – From Patto, Lagos.
I DIDN’T expect much from the Super Eagles against Malawi. Why? The failure started from home where their travel plans were a mess. The same problem happened prior to the Peru friendly match in Lima. Why can’t we be organized for once? – Bola.
IT’S A SHAME that Nigerians can’t watch Super Eagles away matches live on television. How can we pray for a team we can’t see. It’s a disgrace. – Nwafor (Soccer Expert), Benin City.
* Truth is the TV rights holders appointed by CAF are greedy.
DEAR Alhaji Alao. I was deeply touched by your prayers for the victims of the recent disasters in our country. I also join you to pray that God should avert bad things in Nigeria in Jesus name, amen.
FRANK Lampard of Chelsea said of their former coach, Andres Villas Boas: “He focused on the future and lost sight of the present.” Chelsea ‘ogas’ said, rebuilding or not, Chelsea must remain competitive and relevant. Please pass this message to Stephen Keshi; “Rebuilding or not, Super Eagles must not go down the drain!” – Etinosa, Benin City.
PLEASE Mumini. Tell NFF to sack Stephen Keshi now and recall Samson Siasia. Keshi no be coach oo! – Soja.
BABA MUMINI, good day, Thanks for the prayers you said for Nigeria in your column. May God grant the prayers, amen. The Super Eagles have started well in the race to 2014 World Cup. They should keep it up. – Felix Ololo, Ajegunle City, Lagos.
WHAT are the contributions of the NFF and NPL to the success of Sunshine Stars of Akure in the CAF Champions League? If Sunshine fail to progress to the final as the only Nigerian team left in the race, NFF and NPL have failed! – Adenuga G, Ondo State.
GLORY be to God. The Bini Arsenal (Bendel Insurance) are returning to top flight football in Nigeria next season. Forward ever, backward never. Join me to salute my darling team oooh! – 0705946xxxx
* Sorry, Insurance have not been promoted. The promoted teams from the National League are El-Kanemi (Group A), Nasarawa United (B), Nembe City (C) and Bayelsa United (D). Insurance finished 5th in Group D.
IRREPARABLE damage was done by tha Dana air crash and other disasters. But our prayers can still reach all the victims. We wish them eternal rest. – Kazeem Adewale Kolapo, Geri-Alimi, Ilorin.
IF THE Super Eagles failed to beat Rwanda this weekend in Calabar, the NFF should sack Stephen Keshi and his techincal crew. Nigerians deserve joy like Chelsea gave England recently. – Rev. Dr. OOA Odebo.
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