17 November 2012

Nigeria: American Wonder!

Photo: 2010 FIFA OC
File Photo: A Super Eagles fan.


It was six days after President Barack Obama won re-election to lead the United States of America for a second term and a couple of weeks following Hurricane Sandy. A 12-hour flight from Lagos took us to in Atlanta, Georgia and we then proceeded to Miami, State of Florida for the international friendly against Venezuela.

Arrangements were seamless as expected and the Nigeria delegation then got ready for the match against the La Vinotinto after a couple of training sessions.

Wednesday night's (Thursday early morning in Nigeria) match was meant to set in motion the preparations of the Super Eagles for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations championship in South Africa next year (19th January - 10th February, 2013).

Before leaving Nigeria, I received several e-mail and phone sms messages asking why we were going to play Venezuela when in fact, the Africa Cup of Nations would be against African opposition.

Of course, the standard response was that you can only play those you are able to reach agreement with pertaining to venue, time and date, and general logistics. Also related to this is the fact that it is not only those within Africa that you MUST play ahead of a tournament involving African countries.

International friendlies are meant to test strength generally, against teams that can provide quality opposition, afterall, they also are football teams. The match against Venezuela fitted the bill and gave us the kind of overview we wanted.

The same day we played Venezuela in America, the United States senior team (whose next games are in the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup) were away to Russia (whose next games are in the European qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup); Argentina (whose next games are in the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA

World Cup) played against Asian giants Saudi Arabia; Portugal (whose next games are in the European qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup) tackled African side Gabon; Cote d'Ivoire (also playing in the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa) were away to Austria (whose next games are in the European qualifiers for 2014 FIFA World Cup).

Georgia, who have their next games in the European qualifiers for 2014 FIFA World Cup, hosted Egypt (an African side that failed for the second successive time to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations); Algeria (heading to the Africa Cup of Nations) hosted Bosnia (playing in the European qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup); Uruguay, playing in the South American qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, were away to Poland, who are in the European qualifiers for the 2014

FIFA World Cup and; Tunisia, heading to the Africa Cup of Nations, played Switzerland, who are involved in the European qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

I have given these instances to buttress the point that the confederation from where your opposition comes from doesn't really matter, at certain times. That is why we are working round the clock to ensure that the Super Eagles play African opposition onwards, in readiness for the Africa Cup of Nations.

It is not the result from Wednesday's match that mattered (though we all love the victory). What mattered was the fact that the Eagles played a good game, even with a number of debutantes, and gave a good account of our football and defended the green-white-green credibly.

Goalkeeper Austin Ejide only confirmed what we have always known: that he is a good goal-tender. His reflexes were as sharp as ever and he made a number of great saves.

Perhaps, I should then talk about the first-timers. Shola Ameobi, joining the group for the first time, showed strength and ball sense, while Solomon Kwambe and Bright Dike also gave good account of themselves.

When I was told about Coach Keshi bringing a Bright Dike that we had not heard anything about previously, I was anxious to see how he would fare. He didn't do badly on the day. Kwambe did his level best at right back, and showed tremendous awareness and intelligence to assist for the first goal, scored by Brown Ideye.

Former junior international Ogenyi Onazi started his first match, and won applause from several quarters. He was agile, strong and. His goal was a beauty. Umar Zango, home boy, was also diligent and useful.

In his return to the team for the first time in two years, Obafemi Martins showed his usual strength and persistence, and was a constant threat before he left the pitch. Elderson Echiejile, at left back, was fearless and forayed upfront in a beautiful way.

Ideye was his bustling self, and I am sure he was quite happy to score his first senior team goal (few people remember that Ideye and Echiejile played in the Nigeria U-20 team that reached the quarter finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007). The Dynamo Kiev boy gave a good account of himself. So did Raheem Lawal, whose talent and capabilities we first saw at the Africa U-23 Championship in Morocco towards the end of last year.

Yet, the day belonged to Nosa Igiebor, who drove from box-to-box and scored a wonder goal. His ball-winning mentality was superb and his touches took out the opposition smoothly. He worked and worked and never got tired.

There were those who said the central defence pair of Azubuike Egwueke and Godfrey Oboabona must sit up. Surely, they must. But we must concede that they gave their level best and intervened at some critical periods, though they need to be more agile and alert to the opposition onslaught.

One is quite delighted that the victory was achieved despite the absence of several first team players, such as John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses of Chelsea FC of England who both pulled out. Not invited but also definitely in the first frame are skipper Joseph Yobo (Turkey), goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (Israel) defender Efe Ambrose (Scotland); midfielders Kalu Uche (Turkey) and Obiora Nwankwo (Italy), strikers Ikechukwu Uche (Spain), Ahmed Musa (Russia), Osaze Odemwingie (England) and Emmanuel Emenike (Russia).

There are also players like Obinna Nsofor (Russia) Fegor Ogude and Dickson Etuhu. We are indeed blessed with an embarrassment of riches. All that is left is for the technical crew to throw the door open for everyone they feel are good enough to fight for shirts as the Nations Cup camp opens in December.

Tribute to R. B. Jah

It was on Monday while in the United States of America that I learnt of the demise of Chief Ralph Beresford Bamidele Johnston, a former Board Member of then Nigeria Football Association in the late 1970s, serving under the late Sunday Dankaro.

No doubt, he was much more known as the Team Manager of the Green Eagles team that cruised to Nigeria's first Africa Cup of Nations triumph, at home, in 1980.

The Sunday Dankaro administration laid a solid foundation for the emergence of a very strong Green Eagles, and the team signposted its potentials by winning bronze at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1976 and 1978, before lifting the trophy in 1980.

May his gentle soul rest in peace.

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