Monday, 23 March 2015

The Ugandan challenge

The Ugandan challenge
Ordinarily, any football match between Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the Cranes of Uganda should not give the Eagles or their teeming fans sleepless nights knowing the calibre of stars that the country has, but the recent slump on the ratings of the Super Eagles on the FIFA ranking and failure to defend the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and the unending impasse of hiring a new coach has made the Super Eagles an easy prey for even the smallest of African football nations at this moment.

The recently hurriedly arranged international friendly for the national team after two massive withdrawals from two South American countries namely Brazil and just last week, Bolivia almost made the rebuilding process of the national team start on a wrong note.
The withdrawal of the Samba Boys still remains shrouded in secrecy but the last minute pullout of the Bolivian national team on excuses of insecurity in the country and a tensed political atmosphere is a dangerous signal to the international community and a perfect excuse to opt out despite the fact that they had forwarded a list of their delegation to Nigeria for visas and preparations had already been made.

Carlos Chavez, President of Bolivian Football Federation had made the explanation just days after the national team coach had complained that it would take five days to arrive Nigeria as we failed to see the signals despite a contract being signed for the game.

The challenge now beckons on the Cranes of Uganda who have gladly accepted to play the Eagles at the Nest of Champions Stadium; the brand new Ultra Modern International Stadium built by the administration of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

The Eagles may just be re-building without a coach as I write this piece as the contract imbroglio of Stephen Keshi still remains stalemated without any end to resolving the mystery of extending his stay and as such I can boldly state that the game against Uganda on Wednesday, March 25,2015 at the Akwa Ibom International Stadium is a waste and offers the Super Eagles no stiff challenge especially where the bulk of the players are mostly the same old faces without any fresh talents as widely pushed by Amaju Pinnick, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation.

The Ugandans are ranked 74th on the FIFA rankings and their best performance on the continent ever has been a second place finish at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations. They have won the regional CECAFA Cup 13 times 1973, 1976,1977, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2003,2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 and have been runners up in the competition four times.

They have played Nigeria six times, won three, drawn one and lost two and in all their fixture have scored five times and conceded five also and the team is presently being handled by a Serbian Milutin Sredojevic who has been on the saddle since 2013.

The Cranes will be storming Uyo with some key players as both teams begin a new process especially as preparations begin for the qualifiers of the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 and the likes of Dennis Onyango will likely lead the charge in goal having been capped 35 times for his country, Godfrey Walusimbi who plies his trade with Gor Mahia in Kenya is a reliable defender for the national team with 55caps and three goals, Isaac Isinde with 29 caps and two goals, while Emmanuel Okwi leads the striking pack with 17 goals from 41 appearances and Yunus Sentamu of CS Sfaxien of Tunisia  with three goals from seven appearances.

The Serbian Coach aiming for a major upset on Wednesday has stated that Mike Azira who features for MLS side Seattle Sounders in the United States of America has been recalled to the team after his last appearance over a year ago in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, while the trio of Alex Kakuba, Patrick Edema and William Kizito who ply their trade in Portugal have also been called to the team.

For the Super Eagles, the goalkeeping department proffers new excitement away from Chigozie Agbim who has become a national calamity as Vincent Enyeama leads the pack while home based goalkeepers ,Theophilus Afelokhai of Kano Pillars and Chidiebere Eze of Ifeanyi Ubah United are fresh faces to the senior national team.

The usual suspects in the defence who have failed to convince soccer fans in the country in the past two years have also been called up by Assistant Coach, Daniel Amokachi and they include Godfrey Obaobonna, Azubuikwe Egewkwe and Kenneth Omeruo while Leon Balogun makes a recall to the National team and Nigerians hope he will bring more unity and forte to our quaking defence.

The midfield has Onazi Ogenyi a reliable player who has distinguished himself so far with the Eagles,Steven Ukoh from Biel- Bienne FC in Switzerland ,Sone Aluko from Hull City, Babatunde Michael from Ukrainewhile Joseph Nathaniel from Sharks and Kingsley Sokari from Enyimba make up the home front challenge in the midfield where Mikel Obi will be absent due to injury and what a pretty good time to find an outstanding holding midfielder to make the Chelsea star sit up with the national team.

The strike force will be led by ‘’ Air Nigeria’’. Ahmed Musa, Aaron Samuel, Brown Ideye who has got his swag back with his recent goal scoring prowess with West Brom, Moses Simon from Belgium,Anthony Ujah from Germany while, Mfon Udoh from Enyimba, Ubong Moses from Kano Pillars , Stanley Dimgba from Warri Wolves make up the home front.

Even if the Nigeria Football Federation should formally sign a contract with Stephen Keshi this week, I would sincerely advise that he takes a back seat role in watching the team and especially the new players while allowing Daniel Amokachi who obviously can lead this team to victory against Uganda and by extension South Africa days later as his technical content remains a strong pillar as witnessed when he took the team to victory against Congo last year in a Nations Cup qualifier.

It is pertinent to note that the outcome of this game will not matter as I believe that even if does not improve our FIFA rankings, it will help begin a process of re-building the senior national team as we await the inclusion of some our outstanding players with the Flying Eagles and the Dream Team to make it that near perfect side we have craved for in recent times.

One hopes that the memories of the Nest of Champions will not haunt the team as we hope to get a victory this time around and push for more respect on the continent,

We must give kudos to the Nigeria Football Federation for its prompt action in securing a replacement for the national team. We acknowledge the difficulties in trying to get quality opposition to play at home that is why we should understand better that our absence at the Nations Cup may have been part of the recent pullout of Brazil and Bolivia and we must realise how much revenue we may have lost including international coverage if any of the earlier approached two teams had accepted the fixture on our soil.

We must also realise that the insurgency we are currently facing has come to bare fully on our sporting sector despite the recent successes achieved and our sports administrators must find new avenues to convince the international community that Nigeria remains safe and can host major international competitions otherwise we may lose the privilege of watching high profile Grade A matches at home for some time.

We believe that Amokachi has chosen the best set of players to prosecute this encounter and the exposure the home based players have had in recent months with the team especially their successful playing tour to Dubai in January this year will be another added advantage.

Nigerians should expect a greater football artistry with these set of players who should be able to distinguish themselves and having the required confidence as we hope to engage stronger teams as the year rolls by.

I have always known the average Akwa Ibom State soccer fan as an individual that remains patriotic and committed and I strongly believe that  on Wednesday, March 25,2015 the 30,000 seater of the Akwa Ibom Stadium will be filled to capacity in green and white colours as we play with a new vision to change the story of the Super Eagles back to a team pitched among Africa’s top five teams and in making this first step to the set goals, we must start with a massive victory at home and it must be convincing otherwise, the crises may just be taking a new and dangerous dimension.

As the Super Eagles arrive Uyo, we welcome the team to a land filled with so many opportunities and possibilities, a land of warmth and hospitality and a land where the people love success and the national team.

We must make the victory big, we must make the songs louder and we must cheer loudest in ensuring that the first step to a new national team ends well. I can only be patriotic at this stage. History will judge the rest. Lets fly Eagles, bring back the glory days.

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