Posted: Jun 21, 2012
SUPER Eagles coach Stephen Keshi last weekend completed his much anticipated three-match June 2012 competitive fixture schedule and came out unscathed, even though he wasn’t smelling of roses either.
Prior to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Namibia and Malawi and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations return leg qualifier against Rwanda, I had challenged Keshi in this column to “collect the full nine points at stake” and nothing less. Now it’s time to take stock.
But for the unfortunate last-minute blunder by goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama in the away match against Malawi which allowed the Malawians to pull a 1-1 draw, Keshi would indeed have collected all nine points as demanded, following home victories in Calabar against Namibia (1-0 on June 3rd) and against Rwanda (2-0 last weekend). Ganiyu Azeez, a mathematician and regular reader of Soccertalk, quickly did the calculation and informed me that Keshi’s two wins and one draw in the June fixtures translated to 83% score which is by all means a pass mark.
Consequently, the Eagles are top of their 2012 World Cup qualifying group with four points and are also through to the final qualifying round for the 2013 Nations Cup. Not a bad return for a team that is “rebuilding” but that is where the kudos end.
The June matches are over, our opponents have returned home and the time to tell ourselves some home truth is now. If what we saw in the last three games is all that Keshi and his technical crew could produce with six months of planning, my verdict on their performance is: “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”
Especially in last weekend’s game against Rwanda which I watched from start to finish, the Eagles did not inspire much confidence despite winning 2-0. Initially, I thought that the bumpy Calabar pitch was a hindrance. But as the game wore on, I noticed that the visitors were more comfortable on the ball, their passing and movements more cohesive in spite of the uneven pitch. I came to the conclusion that it’s still the same old problem that we have with the Eagles: great individual abilities, but poor teamwork.
In the past, the Eagles disguised their deficiencies in team work with the outstanding individual skills of players like Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu. Just one or two quick passes in midfield and a long ball upfield or down the wings by Christian Chukwu or Sunday Oliseh was enough to feed Odegbami or Yekini who single-handedly took on their markers, out-ran, out-witted or simply over-powered them and scored.
In the case of Okocha and Kanu, their skills were so exceptional that they opened up the tightest of defences with their visionary passes and dummies. And when things got really, really tight, Okocha would simply curve the ball home from a free-kick. The Super Eagles had some very explosive and outstanding players who could win games on their own and they did. That was why it never really mattered that they were not very cohesive in the passing game.
The biggest problem that I have noticed with Keshi’s Eagles is that it is lacking BOTH cohesion and the exceptional players that could single-handedly decide games. Against Rwanda last weekend, the players showed good physical strength as usual particularly in defence. But link-up play was very poor and there were no players with the individual ability to seize the moment and expose the Rwandans as the below average side that they were. Instead, it was the visitors that had the temerity to knock the ball around rather more confidently.
Last week in this column, I observed that Nigeria was lucky to have drawn the likes of Rwanda, Namibia, Malawi and Kenya in our qualifying games because these appear to be relatively weak opposition even by African standards. That luck will soon run out as we progress to the decisive stages of the qualifiers and the opposition gets stiffer. By then, Keshi must have made up his mind on a core of players for his emerging Eagles or else he would be brutally exposed. He must also decide which way he wants to play - is it a passing game or a pressure game - and this must be determined by the quality of players at his disposal.
For now, the seeming concensus is that Keshi’s six months experimentation has thrown up some good prospects especially from amongst the domestic league players who hitherto may not have been considered for the national team. But with key qualifying matches coming up thick and fast and reaching the crucial stages soon, the coach doesn’t have the luxury of time for some of these players to truly mature.
On the other hand, many of the foreign-based players considered to be “mature” and experienced were the same heady guys that failed under Samson Siasia to qualify for the last Nations Cup finals in Gabon and Equitorial Guinea.
I truly understand Keshi’s dilemma and I do not envy him at all. But he must find a way to give Nigerians a better team than we have seen in the last three matches before the decisive Nations Cup final qualifying round is played in September. That is why he is occupying the hot seat as coach of the Super Eagles.
OGUFERE @ 80
AS I rounded off this article, an sms text message bounced into my phone announcing the 80th birthday celebration of Chief Jonathan B. Ogufere on the 23rd of June, 2013. Whao!
I never knew that Chief Ogufere was this advanced in age. The last time I saw him (admittedly several years ago) he was still looking boyish with his trademark well-groomed hair and ready smile.
For the benefit of young soccer fans, Chief Ogufere is one of the veterans of Nigerian football administration. His most visible position before he retired was as secratary general of the West African Football Union (WAFU).
Ogunfere incidentally is an avid reader of Soccertalk and he often sends me letters of commendation. On this occasion of his 80th birthday, I want to publicly thank him for always encouraging me.
Happy birthday, sir and God bless you.
BLESSINGS upon you, Uncle Oracle. Our Eagles (I won’t tag them ‘Super’) beat Rwanda 2-0 but their unconvincing victory leaves much to be desired. The team lacks: 1) Authority in ball control, possession and distribution. 2) Killer instinct at goal. What if we meet a deadly team? – Lanre Aladegbaiye, Ikorodu.
GOOD scoreline against Rwanda. Yet Keshi has LOADS of BIG WORK to do before this Eagles can fly. God help our weak Eagles. – Israel James, Olodi Apapa, Lagos.
DEAR Mumini, Keshi should by now know the nucleus of his team. He should be humble as a sheep, yet be ferocious as a lion. Nigerians are already getting edgy. – Ose, Benin City.
HI MUMINI, Keshi cannot do without foreign-based players if he desires to take Nigeria to Brazil 2014. – Michael, Lagos.
PLEASE Mumini, tell Keshi to use foreign-based players because our national team is not a trainning ground. – From Osagie Okunbor.
Keshi will make mistakes like Siasia and NFF will sack him because they don’t have any good plans for Nigeria. – 0803296xxxx
ALAO, tell NFF to recall Siasia the best coach in Nigeria before Keshi gives us heart attack. God forbid! – Patrick Iriferi, Ughelli, Chelsea for Life.
If the present Eagles should meet a stronger team in the next round of the qualifiers, I doubt if they can win unless we bring back all the foreign pros. Does Keshi have the technical ability to face the top teams in the world? – Osas from Warri.
HI, EDITOR. I am not happy the way some of our best players are kept away from the national team in recent times. Keshi should know that things have changed from his time. He should allow players that are in form and ready to play for Nigeria do so with no hindrance. Whether foreign or Nigeria based, let the best in any position represent us. Football is the only thing that unites us, let nobody toy with it again. The present coaches were not the most disciplined when they were players; they were managed by mature coaches and the best of them came out. Let them do same and Nigeria will benefit from it. – 0803500xxxx.
OGA Mumini, Keshi should check himself and put his house in order if he wants to succeed. Every fighter goes to war with his best soldiers. – Apostle Charles Azoro, Lagos.
HI, MALLAM. Having seen the Eagles’ result from their last game, some players may claim that the era of rebuilding is the cause of their average performance and that we should exercise patience. (The patience that we couldn’t have when someone else was coach). I pray that the god of soccer will forgive us for our past misdeeds with our former coaches and players, amen. – Olaide.
I HAVE listened to many sports analysts. No one has the gut to criticize Keshi’s handling of the Super Eagles including you, sir. I may know little about football. But I know that a new team is built around regular players by gradually introducing few young, talented players to replace old ones. I disagree with Keshi’s current method. By the way, who knows the age bracket of his home-based players? – From Henry GodlyGodlly, Ikorodu, Lagos.
NO serious team in the world rebuilds from zero. Rather they fortify weak areas of an existing team. Keshi has decided to go the Arsenal way: endless rebuilding, no trophy. The Super Eagles/Nigeria is too big to go that way. – Etinosa, Benin City.
IT IS A ride in foolhardiness when a team or a country decides to perpetually remain on the learning curve. Given our recent experiences with last minute losses, what happened against Malawi in Blantyre was not a lesson but a tragic outcome of our refusal to learn from our own history. – Asuzu Eche, Abuja.
I HAVE never preferred Stephen Keshi to Samson Siasia. May God deliver us from our so called NFF. – Ifee, Ketu, Lagos.
NFF should have given Samson Siasia a second chance instead of gambling with our national team. – Ifeanyi, Ketu-Lagos.
OUR football loving fans should know that we are rebuilding! For now, they should forget about going to the World Cup or winning the Nations Cup. Afterall, Clemens Westerhof spent five good years before he won the Nations Cup for us. – Oyaisi from Ore, Ondo State.
DEAR MUMINI, Keshi should scrutinize the competence of his goalkeeper trainer or better still extend his “fit & current form policy” to the goalkeeping department. Ike Shorunmu foisted a shaky Dele Aiyenugba on us which cost my favourite coach Samson Siasia his job. Again, he’s presenting rusty Vincent Enyeama which equally cost us valuable 3 points in Malawi when a more recently tested Ejide or even Agbim is available. – Bassey Isoh. Lagos.
MUMINI, Keshi will soon sack himself, for he will not qualify Nigeria for 2014 World Cup. Take this from me. – Ogamune from Benin
MUMINI, your analysis is in the right direction. But let’s get the true mission of Keshi’s assignment at this early stage. He is expected to build a new Eagles devoid of the mafias that had held our football to their dictates either because of too much money or self pride. I attribute this arrant decline in our football to the seasonal appointment (not election) of the NFF board by government. Those usually appointed are political job seekers that are only interested in money. – Samson.
MR. ALAO, thanks for your analysis of the Super Eagles match in Blantyre. This had happened to us before, yet it is happening again. It is high time we corrected this. Was it because a home based player scored that they over celebrated? – Biyi Emmanuel, Lago.
PEOPLE should stop calling for Keshi’s head. A year is not enough to rebuild a team. Let us give him some years and see what he can offer us. And to the players, let them stop this attitude of making silly mistakes. We are tired of hearing “we’ve learnt our lesson” yet they repeat the mistakes. Moreso, the NFF should stop killing our football. Each time we are playing away they should let the team travel three or four days to the match. – Shobowale Kayode.
OGA Mumini. We already have a new power playing forward in person of Ekigho Ehiosun or have we all forgotten his exploits so soon? Please tell Keshi to encourage this New Bull. – 0807846xxxx
DEAR Comrade, the issue of late goals is a global trend and teams should learn to invest more on scoring goals when the opportunity comes. Keshi is on the right track, but Nigerians need to be patient. – Joseph, Sports Intelligence Magazine.
SIR, I was so impressed when you mentioned my home town (OKEHO) in your column. My greetings to your lovely wife who is my sister from the same L.G. As for Keshi, he should stop his politics with the foreign-based players for now because this is how Siasia started his own that led to a disaster – 0809932xxxx
MY DEAR brother, Please I want to know why you refer to Okeho fans as local fans. You no de fear your in-laws? – R.O.Biyaosi, Ojo Alaba, Lagos.
THANK YOU very much for publishing my letter about live coverage of our away matches. I spoke with coach Keshi yesterday on phone. I told him to stop using 4-2-4 formation and that he should use 4-3-3. We spoke for about 30 minutes. – By Patrick Nwafor, Football Made Easy.
MUMINI, teams in the NPL must be rueing the promotion of El-Kanemi of Maiduguri to the top flight from next season. They would have wished otherwise like Harry Redknapp prayed that Chelsea would not win the UEFA Champions League. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
THE appointment of Roberto Di Matteo as full time manager for Chelsea FC is a deserved one. I really appreciate the management of Chelsea FC for taking that decision. My only advice to the coach is to integrate both the young and senior players. And I am also thanking Hon. Bolaji Abdullah, Nigeria’s Minister for Sports for giving the post of Technical Director to an indigene who knows the country instead of a foreigner who will stay in Belgium to develop youth football in Nigeria. – Adesope Y.A. Saki.
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