28 June 2014

Nigeria: Osaze Odemwingie - a Wonderful 'Rejected Stone'

The 'rejected stone' was on hand not only to score Nigeria's only goal to place Eagles in good stead for the knockout stage but was also voted the 'Man of the Match' for his exemplary performance. Odemwingie was once a key member of the Super Eagles team until he fell out with erstwhile national team coach, Samson Siasia after his below-average performance in Nigeria's ouster by Guinea in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. But with the World Cup approaching, he upped his game and with pressure on Keshi, Osaze was included in the Brazil party and he has so far justified his inclusion writes Kunle Adewale

In a chat with THISDAY before the World Cup kicked off, former Super Eagles midfielder, Waidi Akani said the national team needed the best legs to the Mundial and that Odemwingie had peaked at the right time and should be included in the World Cup team.

"I will not call for Odemwingie's invitation to the national team on the grounds that he has been scoring for his premiership club but because he has shown a lot of consistency in the past 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.

"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 at that time. 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 said the dream of any player was to play at the highest level of football, which is the World Cup.

"I think the experience of Osaze will come to the 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 medalist said then. True to type, in Nigeria's first game against Iran Osaze was introduced in the second half and the general opinion was that his inclusion added bite to the team's attack, but Keshi felt otherwise, blaming the former West Brom Albiom player for not adhering to his instructions, a situation that infuriated former Nigeria Coach, Adegboye Onigbinde. He expressed dissatisfaction with Keshi's outburst over Odemwingie's performance in the Nigeria-Iran match.

"The professional ethics are there but don't forget that the individuality in everybody is also always there, and then it depends on one's background. I have never enjoyed picking quarrels with my players. Football is a team game, and the coach must be very good in the management of human beings.

"Like your team loses the match and then you come out to say that it is because the player did not play to instruction. You are exposing yourself by telling the whole world that you are not capable of controlling your players. So, instead of ridiculing the players, you are ridiculing yourself," the Modakeke high chief said. Osaze said after the match with Bosnia: "I am inspired by the team's performance. This gives me faith that we can go far in this tournament. Our goalkeeper, Vincent proved to be a match saver again. Our defence was brilliant in dealing with Edin Dzeko and their moves. They had a lot of clever moves; our midfield was hardworking, pressed well and our attack was excellent. "I think our statistics say it all; we had so many shots on target and so many shots in general. We showed pace and that's what teams don't want to see. Teams don't want to face a tough defence, hardworking midfield and a fast frontline.

All these only give me confidence and belief in my team that we can really do well in this tournament. Especially after what some people thought was a poor performance against Iran to bounce back basically and show our potential was really good to see. "Because of the happiness and the mood of everybody over the victory, I have even forgotten that I scored. The victory was down to 90 minutes of concentration and effort from my team-mates. The most important thing today was the character shown by my team mates. We even enjoyed defending together."

Reacting to his goal that gave Nigeria its first World Cup victory since France 98, the former Bendel Insurance FC of Benin forward who resorted to playing in the right-back role in the dying minutes of the Group F game in Cuaiba said: "I am buzzing, absolutely buzzing, very happy, especially looking at my circumstances; being out for a while from the national team to come back to get a goal, a winner in the World Cup in Brazil is a dream come true. The World Cup was the only major tournament left which I haven't scored and you know that was the only one thing I always wanted to accomplish before hanging up my boots. It did come to pass and I feel very satisfied." Playing for my fatherland is an honour and a pleasure. I didn't expect to come back (from Eagles exile) and score a winner in such an important game, but I'm very happy. Right now I'm so high on our team's performance."

He however admitted that it was a difficult match despite the fact that Nigeria was on the offensive almost all the time. It was very difficult getting the goal but there was no option than to bounce back after a poor performance in the first game. "The weather was difficult it was very difficult to play under the weather but we have to stay in there and fight it out to get three points. It was very important to win and henceforth we are looking forward get points that will get us through to the second round and after that you know anything can happen because we are inspired," he noted.

Odemwingie recently accepted full responsibility for his clash with Keshi blaming the breakdown with the 'big boss' to his poor adaptation to the change in management of the Eagles after Coach Samson Siasia era. "Coach Keshi took over and in the first game against Rwanda I was subbed quite early, which I've never been used to because I always played 90 minutes, both for club and national team. So I felt: 'OK, he's probably not sure about me.' I thought I should leave the national team for now. It could be that I misjudged the situation, and after watching how he does it ... he made a lot of early substitutions during the qualifiers and the African Cup, so then I was like: 'OK, I shouldn't have taken it in the way I did,' Osaze told The Guardian UK. He also revealed that he decided to make peace with the 'big boss' after admitting his fault. "I'm humble enough to admit that, because when the same things happen to other players, then clearly it's not personal to you. So for me it was then a case of coming to him and saying: 'Let's hug it out and move on.' I was happy to do that," he added.

Odemwingie indeed expressed his disappointment for not being in the squad to the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa citing it as one of his biggest regrets of his career. "In the past few years, my only regret is that, as I've become a better player, I probably would have got more goals for myself and the country but I missed out a bit. I've missed a year and a half, missed out on the cup they won, unfortunately. I wish I was part of that squad because I've played in four Africa Nations and got three bronze medals, never gold. But I can't look back. This is another opportunity for me," he admitted.

The 31-year-old was overlooked by Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa for reasons many believed to be unrelated to his football prowess. He was subsequently frozen out of the West Bromwich Albion squad after he tried to force a move to Premier League's bottom club, Queens Park Rangers but the attacker reckons his many problems are not down to a "bad attitude" but his "transparency." Odemwingie famously fell out with former Nigeria coach, Samson Siasia and the WBA attacker tried to reveal the reasons for the impasse. He revealed that his "commitment" to club duties was responsible for the misunderstanding. "Very little thing made me fall out with ex Eagles coach Siasia, and that's club commitment. And that commitment was questioned after," he said.

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