Thursday, 26 December 2013

The road to Brazil BY KENNETH JUDE

The road to Brazil BY KENNETH JUDE
Now that Nigerian’s opponents in next  year’s world cup to be staged in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is known, it’s high time those at the helm of affairs of the national team and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), led by the amiable and charismatic Aminu Maigari swung into action by ensuring that the country’s National team performs at optimum when hostilities gets underway in June 2014.

Preparing for the 32–Nation soccer fiesta is not a tea party regardless of the barometer one uses in analyzing a tournament Nigeria has featured on four occasions without really making any meaningful impact except in 1994 where the Super Eagles, under the stewardship of Clemence Westerlof put up scintillating and spell-binding performances that saw them progress to the next round before losing in extra time to a Roberto Baggio’s inspired Italy. It was and has remained the best moment in the much beleaguered Super Eagles.
The world took notice of Nigeria’s good showing in the 1994 World Cup- little wonder they rose to the enviable position as the 5th best team in the world in the monthly FIFA ranking. At the 1998 edition in France, the Super Eagles were no less impressive, with their star performance coming against Spain when they won 3-2 thanks to Sunday Oliseh’s gasping shot that sent the jam-packed stadium into wild ecstasy.

 Having made it to the second round, Nigeria’s quest to keep up with their rich vein of form with an eye in the quarter finals was marred by infighting and allowance brouhaha which more or less culminated in our scandalous 4-1 loss to a smoking Denmark side.  At the 2002 mundial, it was a disastrous outing for Nigeria led by Chief Segun Onigbinde. The trio of Shaiubu Amadu, Stephen Keshi and Joe Erico had saw the team through the qualifying phase and a place in Korea/Japan, but were shipped out in favour of Onigbinde who hastily assembled a side that performed woefully and got reward for that show pierce in Asian soil with a paltry one point which they got in a nil-nil stalemate against England. It is noteworthy that it was the match against the three Lions that served as a springboard for Vincent Enyenma’s meteoric rise to stardom. It was the first full national day for the Akwa Ibom born goal tender whose precision, flair and reflexes endeared him to Nigerians both at home and abroad. Ever since, he has remained rock solid between the sticks for the national team, little wonder then, the rave reviews coming his way in recent time following his man-of-the-match performances for his French League side Lille. 

His Messianic form saw him notch up an unprecedented eleven clean sheets in as many matches. Hence, with this cool headed safe hands manning the post for Nigeria in Brazil, the Super Eagles in sure to make more than a bold statement in Brazil. Nigeria in group ‘F’ comprising perennial foes Argentina, newcomers, Bosnia and Iran. On paper, Nigeria is sure to survive the group ‘P’ phase. When the draws were made soccer buffs in the country were no less satisfied with the caliber of opponents the Super Eagles will do battle with. In as much as Bosnia and Iran; and maybe Argentina are beatable prospect, it will be a mistake of grave effects to take any of our opponents with a pinch of salt.

Football is an unpredictable sport that has dealt big blows to the so-called big teams at different times. 
The Stephen Okechukwu Keshi tutored side must approach each match as if it is the final. All manner of indiscipline and lackadaisical attitude on the part of the players should not be given any room to fester as tolerance of such inimical foibles will spell doom for Nigeria in Brazil.

All cases of player’s allowances and other pecks must be addressed without much ado if we must avoid the mistakes of the past that more often than not derailed our progress in major competitions.
The coaching team led by Stephen Keshi must not be tampered with in any way. There should be no presidential task force (PTF), or any of such superfluous monitoring or regulating bodies as such move often brings unnecessary interference and duplicity of work, much to the detriment of the team. 

Coach Stephen Keshi must, as matters of utmost necessity assemble Nigeria’s best legs in preparation for the showpiece. Players’ fitness, input and consistency in other various clubs should be given a level playing field from where they will be drilled through training sessions and top friendly matches. Joseph Yobo’s exclusion from the team has become a vexed issue in football circles. There have been calls in many quarters for the return of the team’s captain to the fold-with the desire for his return intensifying after Nigeria played out a 2-2 draw against Italy in a friendly match in London. Most Nigerians have expressed their reservations about the pair of Oboabona and Egwukwe marshalling the backline for Nigeria in Brazil although, there is the energetic and talented Kenneth Omeruo in the fold who has recently been on the sidelines due to a niggling shoulder injury.

In as much as Yobo’s depth and experience will be a plus to Nigeria, it is important that invitation to be part of the camping which begins on 25th may, 2014 must be purely on merit and nothing else. There should be no sentiment as regards who should be invited. Lastly Keshi must be given the free hand to choose his players- although this should be done without fear or favour.

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