opinionBy Onochie Anibeze
Can the Eagles withstand the physical attributes of their Burkina Faso counterparts and win the Nations Cup in South Africa on Sunday?
That is my wish.
Last week, in this column, I wished so many things as Eagles were to face Ivory Coast, favoured by all to win the ongoing Nations Cup.
I wished that the Eagles played more compact rather than the loose positioning we saw in their previous matches against Burkina Faso, Zambia and to a little extent against Ethiopia in the group matches. I wished that they moved more forward than their many passes back to their area when not necessary.
I wished that Ahmed Musa and Ike Uche were left out of the quarter final tie against Ivory Coast. And I felt that Fengor Ogude's disqualification from the match due to card offences was a divine action and said that we would not miss him. I also wondered how he even made the team.
He was slow, marked and passed poorly and never created any thing in the midfield but he kept on playing. But to be fair to Stephen Keshi, the Eagles coach, he agreed on many of the points I raised with him while the group matches lasted.
He said he would work on those flaws. He did and my wishes came to pass in the match against Ivory Coast. And to be sincere, it did not take an Onochie Anibeze to discuss these with him for him to act. He already knew and only agreed with me on the way out.
And in the morning of the match day I sent him a text, telling him that he would win the match. I sent the same sms to Christopher Green, chairman of the Technical Committee of the football federation and he replied with one word: AMEN.
I commend Keshi for his vision. I commend the players for being good students of the game. They sang a song with the ball against Ivory Coast. We had never seen the Eagles play with so much passion like they did in that match for a long, long time.
They passed well, marked well, attacked well and put smile on our faces with their deserved 2-1 victory. Onazi was quicker and more professional than Ogude and it showed in our midfield. I also wished that Brown Ideye and Emmanuel Emenike be paired in the attack. It happened and it showed in the way we attacked. Special thanks to man of the moment, Victor Moses.
He is the engine of Nigeria's attack in South Africa. Emenike uses his energy well. In fact, the Eagles have improved and now play as a better unit. But like Adokiye Amiesimaka and Kojo williams observed, they have not arrived yet.
I wish they could, win the Nations Cup on Sunday, qualify for the World Cup in 2014 and go to Brazil and play well, possibly be the first African country to reach the semifinal in the Mundial. It is achievable. It is my wish.
For now, we are talking about how they can beat Burkina Faso on Sunday to lift the Cup 19 years after they did so in Tunisia '94. They won the cup in style in Tunisia and arrived USA '94 World Cup as Africa's champions.
Can they repeat that feat and be in Brazil as Africa's champions? Keshi was captain of that team and now he is the coach of the team attempting to set same record. It is doable. But it may be difficult. When Ghana and Burkina Faso were pummeling it out after we had sailed past Mali, I wished that Ghana won for I knew that Eagles would have a better game against them than with Burkina Faso.
This is based on two observations. Burkina Faso are very physical, direct in their approach and have endurance more than any team in this tournament. They are very fit and they keep attacking, coming at you until you burn out.
That was how they equalised in the last moments of the match against Ghana and in the extra time, they were still running as if the match had just started. But they missed many chances and the game dragged into penalty shoot out.
Eagles experienced this in their first group match when they led 1-0 but resilient Burkinabes equalised in the last minute of the stoppage time. Ethiopia used their ball possession football to deal with Zambia but Burkina Faso studied them and simply used power game to muscle them in a 4-0 victory where they showed tremendous physical character.
So what should Eagles do against them? They should do exactly what they did against Mali. Score two or three goals before Burkina Faso start running at them ceaselessly. Most teams that rely on physical football lack patience when opponents play many men around the ball especially deep in their half.
Eagles should try to do that even if they have to be as direct as possible in their counters. They could also get into their area with passing game. And if they do it well and have many players around the ball I see Burkina Faso committing many fouls and possibly a penalty.
Where is Victor Moses? He will understand what I'm talking about. Wa shere jo. What about Sunday Mba? Is the cup coming home?
I prayed that Emenike recovered in good time when he hit a shot and fell in pain as if he had suffered a muscle tear in the last moments against Mali. May God heal you to be fit on Sunday.
Since Burkina Faso like running and they have energy to do so, we must try to knock them out of their stride with a passing game but emphasis should be on one- touch play which will help us conserve energy to withstand them in the dying minutes and at the same time make them chase the ball all the time.
Unnecessary shielding of the ball like Mikel Obi does every time and losing it may destroy us. When you lose such balls you may be punished.
Scoring first and playing very compact in the defence and midfield will neutralise their game because they may not have the space to attack and run. I know that it is easier said than done but I hope the Eagles come up with a winning strategy.
In football, they say, you don't change a winning team. And so I expect to see Vincent Enyeama in goal, Godfrey Obaobona and Keneth Omeruo in the central defence, Ambrose Efe and Elderson Echejile in the full back positions, Mikel Obi, Sunday Mba and Onazi in the midfield, Brown Ideye, Emenike and Victor Moses in the starting line up on Sunday.
History is staring these guys in the face. Let them make it. After winning in Tunisia in 1994, we came close to doing so against Cameroun in 2000 but lost in a penalty shoot out in Lagos.
I'm afraid of this Burkina Faso team but let me end it this way. The Eagles we saw against Ivory Coast and Mali will beat the Burkina Faso we saw against Togo and Ghana. So, all things being equal, Nigeria have a great chance of emerging African champions.
And my confidence went high when I discussed with Keshi yesterday. I was still talking about the qualities of Burkina Faso team and how I would have preferred to play Ghana when Keshi responded in a way that boosted my confidence.
"Don't worrrryyyy, Onochieee. You go see." He really stretched it for emphasis. I felt good. I knew that he must have worked out the way to approach the game. Good luck, Skippo. I hope our politicians will not distract them. Good luck Eagles. I may start adding Super to your name again. But win this one, first.