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Friendly matches against Ireland, France: a post-mortem

The result of the match in Maputo attracted serious condemnation from Nigerian football fans with most of them calling for total overhauling of the team…

The result of the match in Maputo attracted serious condemnation from Nigerian football fans with most of them calling for total overhauling of the team beginning with the sack of the team’s chief coach, Amodu Shaibu. The anger of Nigerians was understandable because the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia had won their away match against the Harambee Stars of Kenya. The Eagles needed the three maximum points in that match to brighten their chances of qualifying for the world cup.

To avert another excruciating football disaster which enveloped the nation when Nigeria could not qualify for Germany 2006, the President quickly set up a 12-man Task Force to help the Nigeria Football Federation with the team’s preparations for the qualifiers and participation of the team in the World Cup in South Africa. This development buttresses the fact that the whole nation is waiting with bated attention for the football team to pick the ticket to represent Africa in the 2010 World Cup.

Even before the Task Force was constituted, one thing which Nigerian football fans insisted on was the need for the younger generation of Super Eagles players to be given ample chance to salvage the nation’s world cup dream. It was the collective view of Nigerians that instead of overlying on some of the players who are either responding to the law of diminishing return or have developed poor attitude  towards the world cup ambition, those players who have shown eagerness to compete and win laurels for their fatherland should be considered.

Although emerging youngsters like Ayodele Adeleye, Olubayo Adefemi, Mike Eneramo, Joseph Akpala, Sone Aluko, Sam Sodje, and Dickson Etuhu were repeatedly recommended for the senior national team, Super Eagles handlers did not deem it fit to give them a chance. Instead, the coaching crew consistently insisted on the unwilling horses which they forced to several rivers even as they discovered that it was not possible to force unwilling horses to drink water. For instance, John Mikel Obi and Obafemi Martins were forced to Maputo but were not forced to play for the benefit of the national team. It was half hearted performance for the most of the unwilling horses and in the end, the nation suffered the dire consequences which have matured into the ongoing permutations.

Despite the deliberate refusal of the Eagles technical crew to de-emphasis the existing over reliance on players it considers untouchable, the ever vigilant Nigeria sporting press and discerning Nigerian football fans continued to pour pressure on Amodu and his men to throw the camp of the national team open. Nigerians demanded for the camp to be thrown wide enough to accommodate every other Nigerian footballer irrespective of parochial considerations.

It was therefore a worrisome development for most Nigerian football fans who waited in agony without any hope of seeing the new generation of players entering the mainstream of the senior national team.  All the same, such patriotic calls continued unabated and today it is beginning to appear as if the hitherto blocked ears of the coaches have opened and they are willing to do the bidding of other Nigerians who are no less knowledgeable in football matters, especially as it has to do with the foreign based players of Nigerian extraction.

The two friendly matches preceding Nigeria’s World Cup qualifier against the Harambee Stars have shown clearly the true reflection of Nigeria’s ability in the game. Although it was beginning to appear as if without the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Joseph Yobo, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Danny Shittu, John Utaka, Chidi Odiah, Taiye Taiwo, Seyi Olofinjana, John Mikel Obi, Obinna Nwaneri and a host of others, Nigeria won’t be able to win any match, the recent performances of the hitherto marginalized youngsters have proved the fallacy in such reasoning.  For unrepentant believers in the younger Eagles, this is the right moment to celebrate their liberation. The mere fact that the previously untouchables are beginning to sweat under their pants for fear of losing their places in the team is said to be enough cause for jubilation.

The team that played the international friendly matches which have helped enormously in restoring a reasonable percentage of the Eagles lost confidence did not show any need for a Joseph Yobo in the defence, neither did the team miss a Mikel Obi in the mid-field. The attack did not miss someone like Yakubu Aiyegbeni whose contributions to the team usually come at a very high cost.

Beginning from the defence, the youngster from Sparta Rotterdam, Ayodele Adeleye proved emphatically why both Joseph Yobo and Danny Shittu should not be allocated the central defence roles on permanent basis. He along with his contemporaries like Olubayo Adefemi, Sam Sodje, Onyekachi Apam, Elderson Echiejile contained the rampaging Irish players to the amazement of Nigerians. Few days later, the intimidating presence of world acclaimed French players like Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema, and Loic Remy did not scare the youngster who kept at bay the hugely experienced French attackers with ease. Most Nigerians in appreciation of the Dele led defence observed that injury prone and match rusty duo of Joseph Yobo and Danny Shittu wouldn’t have withstood the pressure from the desperate French attack that wanted to avoid home defeat.

Attempts by the coaching crew to serve Nigerians a bit of the old block almost back fired as defenders like Yusuf Mohammed, Obinna Nwaneri, Seyi Olofinjana did not match up with the youngsters exhilarating displays. While Yusuf struggled to justify his inclusion in the defence in the match against Ireland, Olofinjana continued in his tradition of faulty passes. One thing typical of his play is his inability to make accurate passes. He is no doubt a good winner of the ball but his final passes have always failed him. Consequently, when compared with emerging forces like Sani kaita and Dickson Etuhu in the defensive mid-field position, nobody would recommend him for a starting role.

In both matches, a well knitted mid-field was marshalled by kalu Uche and his performance was not surprising. For long, he has remained consistent in his performances for the national team.  He provided the vital link between the defence and attack and that was what frustrated the French who attempted to muscle the mid-field away from the relatively younger Nigerians. All that is needed is consistent pairing of Kalu with Etuhu or Kaita for a c ompact mid-field.

The arrow head of the attack in the match against France was the Getafe man Ikechukwu Uche who enjoyed full supply of ammunition in form of passes from his elder brother Kalu. He also recieved tremendous support from FC Brugge’s Joseph Akpala who proved that in clear terms by being at hand to tap in a re-bound from a ferocious shot off  his left foot. The young attackers were all over the French defence and the presence of legendary captain Patrick Viera could not stop them from freely penetrating the defence. Mike Eneramo had before then proved why he is a champion with Esperance of Tunisia by scoring the vital goal that began the confidence re-building against Ireland.  This is an indication that in tomorrow’s world cup qualifier against Kenya, there may be no need to bother strikers like John Utaka and Obinna Nsofor who can continue with their holiday.

The emerging youngsters have shown enough confidence and even if those saddled with the responsibility of coaching the team decide not to patronise the old brigade, Nigeria may not lose anything. Over indulgence in experience at the global stage will continue to drag the national backward. World over, football is a game for players who are young, agile, energetic and sometimes exuberant. Modern Football as played by immensely talented youngsters like Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo is not for aging players who can no longer last the basic duration of any competitive match. The recently tested Eagles have proved that they are not the type to be used as spare tyres. They deserve more attention.