Wednesday, June 11, 2014 5:48 pm
When the 20th FIFA World Cup kicks off on Thursday, 12 June in Brazil, Nigeria’s flag will not only be hoisted, but the senior national team, the Super Eagles, will be featuring in their fifth World Cup finals. Expectation is high among soccer-loving Nigerians that the Super Eagles, who are currently the African champions, will go beyond the second round stage they reached in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup editions.
On their road to Brazil, Stephen Keshi’s Eagles played three international friendly matches, against Scotland, Greece and USA, all in a bid to prepare for the World Cup and getting set to face their Group F opponents Iran on 16 June, Bosnia-Herzegovina on 21 June and Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina on 25 June.
With his 23-man average players, comprising the likes of goalkeepers Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim; midfielders Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Ramon Azeez, Michael Uchebo and Reuben Gabriel; defenders Joseph Yobo (captain), Elderson Echiejile, Juwon Oshaniwa, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Kenneth Omeruo, Efe Ambrose and Kunle Odunlami; strikers Osaze Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa, Shola Ameobi, Emmanuel Emenike, Babatunde Michael, Victor Moses and Uche Nwofor, Keshi is set for World Cup challenges that may once again write his name in gold after he won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in South Africa last year.
An analysis of Nigeria’s World Cup list shows that some of the players may not be good enough for the task ahead. Reuben Gabriel made only five starts for Kilamarnock and his present Belgian team, Waasland-Beveren, while Uche Nwofor had only 49 minutes of game time throughout last season for VVV Venlo in the Dutch Eredivisie.
On the other hand, Michael Uchebo did not feature in the last three matches for his Belgian Pro League club Cercle Brugge, with his coach claiming that he has lost interest in the team and was focusing on the World Cup, and this contributed in their decision not to extend his deal.
Another surprise inclusion is Volyn Lutsk attacker, Babatunde Michael, who has scored a paltry four goals in the last four seasons in the Ukrainian Premier League. Reliables such as John Mikel Obi of Chelsea and Liverpool’s Victor Moses warmed benches in most games for their clubs in the English Premier League, EPL, last season.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, some Nigerians still have hopes that the Eagles will have a surprise outing in Brazil. To Gbenga Okunowo, former player of FC Barcelona (1998–99), “Nigeria will see a different team in Brazil. I can see the coaching crew and the players working together to make the country proud. Most importantly, Keshi is parading a set of young players who are hungry to make names for themselves through this World Cup.”
Former Super Eagles’ coach and a FIFA/CAF Instructor, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, posited that Keshi must have drawn up his game plan for the World Cup, the most important reason he carefully selected the 23-man squad.
On what to expect from Eagles in a group that consists of Argentina, Iran and Bosnia, Onigbinde said that football is not mathematics, adding that anything can happen. “I believe that with good preparation on the part of our team, anything can happen in the group. Nigeria should watch out. I can only wish Keshi and the team well,” he said.
Former FIFA and CAF Executive Committee member, Dr. Amos Adamu, has tipped the Super Eagles to get to the quarter-finals, declaring that the present crop of players in the team are good enough to take the country to that stage of the competition and even beyond. The former director-general of the National Sports Commission, NSC, also noted that Keshi is focused; and so far has proven to be the best indigenous coach ever to handle the senior national team.
“Keshi’s brilliance would be showcased at Brazil 2014 and this together with the players’ determination would propel the Eagles to the quarter-finals.
“Even when the Eagles are trailing in a game, Keshi sticks to his plans until he gets desired results and this is a good attribute of a great coach,” Adamu said.
The choice of reserve goalkeepers is a source of worry to Kashimawo Laloko, an Assistant Technical Director of Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, who regretted that the choice of Ejide and Agbim from the outset was unhealthy for Nigerian football, noting that Ejide was already old and was seriously dropping in form.
“Those two goalkeepers who are reserves are no goalkeepers. Because Keshi is the boss, he feels he can do whatever he wants and this is also justified with the inclusion of Joseph Yobo.
“The issue is something we don’t need to overflog, because the team has been slated already,” Laloko said.
Laloko, who is also the Technical Director of Pepsi Football Academy, urged Keshi to work seriously on the Eagles’ defence if Nigeria must go far in the World Cup. “The defence of Keshi will be suspect and he needs to work very well on that.
“As a defender, he needs to work hard to get the best out of them (defenders) so that he does not embarrass himself,’’ he said.
The Eagles are now on the biggest platform once again. How far they can go will depend largely on how best they have prepared themselves tactically and the discipline in the team.