22 March 2014

Nigeria: Odemwingie - Making a Case for a Return to Super Eagles

Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images-Stanbic
Peter Odemwingie of Nigeria and Haminu Dramani of Ghana (file photo).

He once formed the bedrock of the Super Eagles team until he fell out with erstwhile national team coach, Samson Siasia. This is added to his lacklustre performance in Nigeria's ouster by Guinea in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations jointly hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Now that the World Cup is approaching, Odemwingie has really upped his game and only last week, he scored a brace in Stoke City's 3-1 victory over West Ham in the English Premier League. Kunle Adewale asks if he really deserves a place in the party to Brazil

Osaze Odemwingie has struggled for form since his failed move from West Brom to Queens Park Rangers last year, which weighed him down psychologically. Even an eventual switch to Cardiff last summer couldn't solve the problem as he failed to adapt, and had to leave the Welsh club barely six months after he signed. He has however scored three goals since joining Stoke and is set to be recalled to the national team after mending fences with the team managers.

Odemwingie said after scoring last weekend for Stoke; "Things are going well for me. You're still nervous sometimes because it's a new club and I want to do a lot because they gave me that opportunity in January. But with time and goals, I will feel more at home and just play my football. You're not playing on the pitch thinking they might substitute me now. I feel relaxed. I'm not playing as a centre-forward, but sometimes I tried to run towards the middle to get some scoring opportunities.

"For me, I had maybe not the best six months and now I'll be satisfied to be part of a group that's doing well. Every goal for me is a bonus and most importantly, I got the move and things are going well for me. All the rest is a big bonus. I will be happy, but if we can get a top-10 finish that will be a successful season. I just fitted well into the team. I know what the manager wants from me and I've been doing it game after game. The quality is there. They find Peter Crouch, he drops it and then I can run behind and then it gives me extra scoring opportunities. I've scored a couple now, so I just fit in to what the plan is, how to play football."

In a chat with THISDAY, former Super Eagles midfielder, Waidi Akani is of the opinion that the national team needs the best legs to the World Cup and that Odemwingie has peaked at the right time and he is strongly playing himself to Eagles invitation.

Akani said, "I will not call for Odemwingie's invitation to the national team on the grounds that he scored a brace for his premiership club last weekend, but because he has shown a lot of consistency in the past one month. On that ground, he deserves an invitation to the national team. A player that plays first team football for his team week-in-week-out cannot be easily wished away. Therefore, I will recommend that Osaze should be considered for an invitation by coach Stephen Keshi. Every coach wants the best players in his fold for a competition like the World Cup and that includes Keshi."

Already, there are very strong indications that out-of-favour Odemwingie may likely re-join the Eagles in their remaining friendly games before the team hits Brazil for the World Cup in June. He was left out of the Eagles in 2012 when he took offence for being substituted after a very poor outing in a Nations Cup match in Rwanda, which observers believe was responsible for his being blacklisted from the South Africa 2013 Nations Cup party. The former West Bromwich Albiom took to tweeters to express his frustration .

"One thing is clear; for sure Odemwingie wants to play for the national team to prove he has changed. Actually, he has never really had issues with Keshi except for the fact that he was not invited for the Nations Cup in South Africa and the coach understands why he didn't invite him, the former Nigerian international opined.

Akani also noted that during World Cup year, players all over the world whose country have qualified for the Mundial always up their game ahead of the competition and that is exactly what Odemwingie has done. He says the dream of any player is to play at the highest level of football, which is the World Cup.

"I think the experience of Osaze will come to fore in Brazil if invited. Experience counts a lot in tournaments, even if it's not the World Cup. Keshi is aware that Odemwingie wants to give his best for Nigeria," the 2005 World Youth Championship bronze medallist said. The former NEPA of Lagos player however advised against an open camp for the World Cup. "35 players should be enough for screening after which they will be screened down to 23 for the Brazil party. An open camp will amount to a waste of time considering that the World Cup is just few months away," he said.

Born to a Russian mother and Nigerian father in Uzbekistan, Peter Osaze Odemwingie is seen as one of Nigeria's best current players. The 30-year-old kick-started his career with Belgian club, La Louviere before further enhancing his reputation with France's Lille between 2005 and 2007.

He then moved onto Lokomotiv Moscow and was one of Africa's finest representatives in the Russian premier league until 2010 when he moved to England to play for West Bromwich Albion.

In his first season in the Premier League, Odemwingie was a sensation for the Baggies, scoring 15 goals to establish himself as a cult figure.

Meanwhile, Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, has said he is yet to decide on whether to recall Odemwingie, who has been on fine form with Stoke City in the English Premier League.

He has scored three goals in the league with Stoke since he moved in the winter from Cardiff City. But the striker has not played for Nigeria since 2012 after a public spat with Keshi, which eventually led to the player being axed from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

Keshi has insisted his team is not about a particular player, and would rather want to maintain team harmony. "I am happy that Osaze is scoring for his club and he is now back to regular action, but that is not enough for me to call him up to the Eagles world cup squad. What most Nigerians don't understand is that, this team is not about a player, but about the team. No player is a boss in the team, but all players are equal. I don't want to invite a player that would unsettle the team-chemistry and unity," Keshi disclosed.

He added: "How come some Nigerians keep talking about two players only? Ikechukwu Uche and Osaze Odemwingie. Are they the only players doing well that have not been invited? How about Lukman Haruna, Michael Babatunde, why are people not talking about them? One thing we must know is that it's only the best we will pick to the World Cup. But what we will not do is pick players who want to lord themselves on other players in the team."

Nigeria has up till May 13 to name a 30-man provisional squad for Brazil 2014. Meanwhile, Keshi is not worried about the prospect of masterminding an upset over Argentina at the World Cup finals in Brazil. Eagles will face the Albiceleste on June 25 at the Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre in a Group F game.

Nigeria will be meeting Argentina for the fourth time in the World Cup group stages following earlier encounters in 1994, 2002 and 2010.

The Super Eagles lost all three previous encounters against the South Americans and Keshi is keen to end the trend. "I didn't feel bad about the fact that we will play against Argentina in the group stages because even if we didn't draw them, we would have met teams like, Spain, Germany, Brazil or England.

"We have been drawn against Argentina. There's nothing we can do about that. We just have to get ourselves ready," he said. Nigeria will open her World Cup campaign against Iran at the Arena da Baixada, Curitiba on June 16.

Five days after, the African champions will take on Bosnia-Herzegovina in their second game at the Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá before rounding off their preliminary campaign against the two-time World champions, Argentina.

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