Thank You, Liberia
Posted: Sep 13, 2012
REPORTS coming out of Monrovia where Nigeria were held to a 2-2 draw in their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations first leg, final round qualifier by Liberia suggest that the Super Eagles did not have a good game.
Head coach Stephen Keshi reportedly lambasted his players after the match, warning those who cannot show greater commitment to stay away next time they’re called up. Goalkeeper and deputy captain Vincent Enyeama has received the most flak, as the coach, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials, journalists and even some of Enyeama’s teammates have reportedly blamed him for conceding two “cheeky goals” and costing the Eagles victory. Also featuring prominently on the blame list is striker Ikechukwu Uche who reportedly missed several easy scoring chances that would have killed off the game for Nigeria in the first half. Uche, meanwhile, scored Nigeria’s second goal from the penalty spot while Nosa Igiebor got the first.
Note my repeated use of the qualifying term “reportedly” in the preceding paragraph. I was not in Liberia, so everything I’ve quoted so far is not my opinion, but the account by other journalists who were there. I do not necessarily agree with the views attributed, but there they are.
If you ask me, I would say that the 2-2 score line is not a bad result for Nigeria. Going by reports, the result could certainly have been better had Uche been more precise in front of goal and Enyeama did not commit his reported blunders. But it could also have been worse as the Liberians obviously finished the match stronger. In which case, a draw was probably a fair result for both sides. I’m not looking for scape goats.
I can understand the frustration of the average Nigerian soccer fan. If the Eagles cannot beat Liberia on the road, who then can they beat? On the surface, a Nigerian victory is a valid expectation. But the facts suggest something slightly different. The last time the Super Eagles visited Monrovia for a competitive game, they LOST 2-1! That was during the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and many of our “top foreign-based super stars” were still around then: Sunday Oliseh, Taribo West, Finidi George, Tijjani Babangida and a host of others.
This time around, (roughly ten years later), we managed a draw by lining up a team featuring so many home-based players. Not too bad, I insist. Didn’t we say there are no more minnows in African football? Maybe Liberia are not so much of a push-over afterall.
I never thought they were, and that is why I didn’t predict an outright victory for the Super Eagles ahead of the trip to Monrovia in this column last week. I was very much aware that our team was still a “work-in-progress” and we couldn’t have too great expectations of them as yet. All I said was that our Nations Cup qualification was guaranteed because, “irrespective of the first leg result, the Eagles would return home to finish the job.” Read between the lines. My prediction is firmly on course.
When Keshi was appointed in November last year, I suggested here that he (or any other coach for that matter) would need at least FOUR years to rebuild the Super Eagles because the team was completely down and out! I then set a target of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 FIFA World Cup for us to start having a “competitive impact” again on the continental and global stage (SOCCERTALK: Nigerian Football: The Way Forward, Part 3).
I expected us to qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup but, by “competitive impact,” I meant we may not be able to compete for the trophy until 2015. It is with that mind-set that I have been assessing Keshi’s performance since he took charge. And my view is that the team has made good progress in his less than one year in charge.
Obviously, even Keshi wishes he could go faster and further than he has gone with the team within the period, and that is probably why he was frustrated by events in Monrovia. He remembers his heyday in the national team and knows that with a little more fight and composure, his boys could have come away with the victory. Maybe then, even he (Keshi) didn’t realize the depth to which the Eagles had fallen when he took over. And maybe some of us the fans have forgotten so quickly. I will jog everyone’s memory: We were rock bottom! We were completely down and out! We couldn’t qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
But now, I can notice little signs of recovery. Hunger is coming back into the team in the form of real competition for places. Keshi is demanding his players to demonstrate their commitment before calling them up, and saying to their faces to sit up or ship out. That will bode well for the Eagles in the long run, leading ultimately to better performances and better results.
Thank you Liberia for confirming what we already knew that the present Eagles still have a lot of work to do. Thank you, Lone Star coach Kaetu Smith for saying the obvious that our present Eagles are only living on past glory. But there will be no mercy when you (Liberia) come to Calabar for the return leg. As I earlier predicted, Nigeria will “finish the job” and qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. See you in SA!
The NPL Surrender
lTHE NIGERIA Premier League board will not admit directly that the threat to sue by journalists Toyin Ibitoye, Colin Udoh and Bode Oguntuyi (which I highlighted in this column last week) forced them to expel Ocean Boys from the league ahead of the final round of matches last weekend. One board member actually claimed that they would have expelled Ocean Boys anyway. But the question is why it took them so long to act when the rules were so clear?
Nevertheless, I will still salute NPL chairman Victor Rumson Baribote for allowing good reasoning to prevail eventually. Despite whatever pressure he might have come under from his kinsmen, he must realize that leadership comes with the responsibility to take tough decisions even against your “own people” if they broke the rule like Ocean Boys did.
Kano Pillars were the lucky beneficiaries of Ocean’s expulsion as Pillars won the 2011/2012 League title even before the final round of matches were played last weekend. I congratulate the boys from my wife’s “second city” by saying to them: Ranka dede! Up Kano Fillers!!
And from my wife, it’s: Sanu nku de aiki. Kun si kowa! (Meaning: Weldone. You’re better than the rest of them!)
Meanwhile, the main task before the NPL board ahead of next season is how to resolve the logjam surrounding the sponsorship of the Premier League. Telecommunications giants GLOBACOM and MTN are still locked in a court battle over the rights to the title sponsorship. While the ego fight continues, it is the football league that suffers. For instance, I’m told that Pillars will not receive a kobo as bonus from the NPL despite all the rigours involved in winning the title. Yet, we claim to be running a professional league?!
Baribote and his board should do whatever it takes to resolve the sponsorship brouhaha. That, again, is the responsibility of leadership. The matter might be in court, but we all know that a lot of politics is involved. Baribote should hit the road and seek out the right contacts that can talk to Globacom and MTN for a resolution. If we wait on the court for a decision, this matter might drag on for years.
The Falconets’ Shortcoming
lTHE only two matches that I watched of the just-concluded FIFA Under-20 World Cup were Nigeria’s semi-final loss to eventual winners USA, and our third-place defeat to host country Japan. Our Falconets lost 2-0 to the Americans and 2-1 to the Japanese.
A lot has been said about the talent and skill of the Nigerian girls which I corroborate here. I was particularly impressed by their passing and movements which were so smooth that I sometimes had to pinch myself to be sure I was watching a Nigerian women’s team. That is what FIFA President Joseph Blatter also saw when he declared that our team was one to look out for in the future.
The Falconets’ major failing, however, was their total lack of tactical savvy on how to break down a well organized defence and score. Against the USA and Japan, the Falconets came up against two tactically disciplined and very well organized defences and didn’t have any ideas what to do in the final third. It took a blunder by the Japanese goalkeeper for Nigeria to get a consolatory goal from a free kick. Otherwise, our girls couldn’t fashion out scoring opportunities in open play.
That, in my opinion, was a serious coaching deficiency. Head coach Edwin Okon can be proud for scouting and putting together a very talented team full of skillful players. But he couldn’t offer them a tactical template to deploy against the less talented, but better organized USA and Japan.
Blatter’s praise is positive and well deserved by the highly technical Falconets. But if we don’t address their tactical deficiencies, they will go to the next major tournament, dazzle again with their superior technique and still come up short against any tactically discipline teams.
Simply put: The coaching must improve for the girls to fulfil their potential. Congrats, girls and welcome back home. Better luck next time.
Murray 5th Time Lucky
ANDY MURRAY became the first British man to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament in 73 years when he out-lasted Novak Djokovic in five epic sets at the final of the 2012 US Open in New York on Monday night going into Tuesday morning.
Coming after his Wimbledon final defeat and Olympic gold medal win both against Roger Federer during the past few months, 2012 has suddenly turned out to be the most successful in Murray’s career so far.
I rooted for Murray against Djokovic because he (Murray) was the underdog. Djokovic already had five grand slam titles, but Murray was still searching for his first after four final losses. He did take a two-set lead, but Djokovic who doesn’t concede defeat easily, characteristically roared back to 2-2. I was so relieved when Murray bounced back again to win the final set and record a 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory.
Trust the British press. The Murray celebration will go on for very, very long time. You can’t blame them: They have had to wait 73 years to see this day. Congratulations to Andy Murray.
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