Road to Brazil: Now, the Real Contest Begins for the Eagles
by Tosin Omojola
After much footdragging, lots of debates and speculations, the waiting was finally ended last week with the release of the 30 man-provisional lists by Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, ahead of the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Expectedly, Nigerians from all works of life have being reacting on the list of players listed with arguments on why some players were included and some ignored becoming the order of the day, not surprisingly though.
Keshi has been at the receiving end both negatively and positively as he has been praised by some and tongue lashed by some others over the caliber of players invited and those snubbed.
Heated argument and sharp division have been raised by the exclusion of players like Ikechulwu Uche, Brown Ideye, Harunal Lukeman, Chinedu Obasi, Obafemi Martins, Dele Aiyenugba and some others and the inclusion of the like of Osaze Odemwingie, Chigozim Agbim, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Joel Obi and few others.
However, further reservations and argument could mean crying over spill milk as the deed had been done already. The release of the provisional list therefore, signals, Nigeria’s preparation in full swing for the mundial which is just few days away.
The real battle now shifts to the invited players who will converge on the Eagles’ camp to sweat it out for shirts to Brazil. Seven players would have to give way by the time the list of the final 23 players would be made and this Keshi has stated would be based on merits, meaning that the players now have their fates in their own hands.
Tosin Omojola, here takes a look at each player listed and his chances of making the final cut to Nigeria’s fifth World Cup appearance.
Vincent Enyeama: He is no doubt the most qualified among the goalkeepers invited, in fact, in the list generally, the former Enyimba of Aba goalie’s inclusion is unquestionable. With his impressive performance for his French club Lille which he joined from Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv. Only injury can stop Enyeama from keeping his number one jersey in the squad to Brazil.
Austin Ejide: He has been Enyeama’s deputy for some time and would remain son except the unexpected happens to the former Enyimba of Aba goalie. However, the ex Gabros of Nnewi safehand who is presently with Hapoel Be’er Sheva FC has not been having it good due to injury and would have to pray against this if he hopes to make the final squad not to talk of beating Enyeama to the number one position.
Chigozim Agbim: His inclusion in the 30 man provisional list was followed by criticism. His below par performance at the 2013 African Nations Championship (CHAN) landed him in the bad book of soccer
loving Nigerians who believe that the ex Warri Wolves goalie had no business being in the national team. Although Agbim has been exceptional so far for his new club, Gombe United so far, he would need to put in extra effort to convince Nigerians that he deserved to be in the Eagles squad to Brazil.
Daniel Akpeyi; To many, he is just in the provisional squad to make the number. It is believed that Stephen Keshi and his crew already have their choices in Enyeama, Ejide and Agbim. However, this is an ample opportunity Akpeyi could capitalize on to make headway, particularly with Ejide prone to injury and Agbim not enjoying public support.
Elderson Echiejile: Since the exit of Taye Taiwo from the national team, Echejile has become the landlord of the left back, holding tight to the position without any stiff competition. Some have expressed reservations about his ability to weather the storm when the tempo his high. Take it or leave it, Echiejile is a sure bet for the mundial baring injury.
Juwon Oshaniwa: The left back is not a regular player in the national team. He made a short appearance at the 2013 Afcon in South Africa. He is based in Israel where he plays for FC Ashdod. Apart from the fact that his chances of making the final cut is bright on the ground that he is one of Keshi’s favourite, his chances are made brighter since he is the back up to Echiejile in the left back.
Efe Ambrose: Injury aside, Efe looks good to join the train of 23 players to Brazil. His performance at the AFCON 2013 gives him a bright chance to make it coupled coupled with the fact that he enjoys more playing time with his Scottish club, Celtic.
Godfrey Oboabuna: One of the stars at the AFCON 2013. His inclusion in the provisional squad did not raise any dust in fact his non inclusion would have caused serious debate. The former Sunshine Stars of Akure skipper was on top of his game in South Africa where he played all the matches of the competition. That scintillating performance secured him a foreign offer and he has been doing well for Turkish club Çaykur Rizespor, a form that would definitely earn him a place in the Eagles’ squad to Brazil.
Kenneth Omeruo: Another revelation at the AFCON 2013 where he combined well with Oboabona to make the Eagles’s defence solid. Omeruo, a Chelsea of England property who is however on loan to Middleborough, had his game slowed down by an injury he copped during the 2013 FIFA Confederation Cup in Brazil. He has since recovered from that injury and has since been doing well, a pointer to the fact that he is Brazil bound.
Although he has been an integral part of the Eagles team since the arrival of Keshi, most Nigerians are still skeptical about his performance. For most Nigerian soccer lovers, the Warri Wolves big defender has yet to show the stuff a defender that could be banked on should have. However the faith that Keshi has in him could probably be the joker he needs to make it to the World Cup.
Joseph Yobo: After falling out of favour with coach Keshi who ignored him after the 2013 Nations Cup triumph, many feared the Eagles’ captain would not get a call into the provisional squad. Having mend the fence with tactician, the former Everton of England and Fernabahce of Turkey defender who later joined relegated Englsih Premiership side Norwich City is back to fight for a place in the heart of the Eagles’ defence. Yobo would need to up his game to emerge one of the 23 players to don the country’s colour in Brazil. Anything short of this could deny him a place in the final squad.
Kunle Odunlami: An outstanding performer at the CHAN 2013 where Nigeria finished third, Odunlami has improved since then. The Sunshine Stars of Akure defender believes he can pick one of the 23 jersiees to Brazil even though he admitted that he needs to work hard to have that dream fulfilled going by the roll call of defenders in the 30 man provisional squad. If he can go extra mile in reenacting his performance at the CHAN, luck could smile on him.
John Mikel Obi: Unarguably, Mikel is one of the few players who have only in juries to make the Super Eagles team to the mundial. Under Stephen Keshi, the Chelsea of England star has rediscovered himself as a Trojan in the middle of the field. This he proved during the AFCON 2013 and the FIFA Confederation Cup where he endeared himself into the hearts of Nigerians with his commanding role. He is a sure bet for the World Cup.
Ogenyi Onazi: Just like Mikel, Ogenyi is a sure bet to make the party to the South American country for the world’s biggeets showpiece. He showed what he has at AFCON 2013 and was greatly missed at the FIFA Confederation Cup. Baring any form of injury, the Lazio of Italy midfielder should be there.
Ramon Azeez: That he was listed in the provisional squad shows that Keshi and his lieutenant keeping their eyes on each player. This one cap Eagles did well at the youth level and he has taken his game to Spain where he is a key player for UD Almeria. Just recently, the central midfielder scored an all important goal that kept his side away from relegation. Even though he is to contest with ‘big boys’ in the middle of the pack, his skills, strength which stems from his youthfulness could work for him, especially if others fumble.
Ejike Uzoenyi: The Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the 2014 CHAN is one of the home based players called up. The Rangers International of Enugu dazzling left winger faces serious contest to pick a shirt to Brazil but being a natural left footed player could turn out to be the asset that will pave way for him, depending on what pattern Keshi decides to adopt.
Sunday Mba: The hero of Nigeria’s AFCON 2013 triumph, his strikes against Ivory Coast in the quarter final and Burkina Faso in the final proved very vital. After overcoming the hiccups that surrounded his move abroad, he eventually ended up at Bastia of France where he has been scoring goals. The former Warri Wolves player would bank largely on his relationship with Keshi and perhaps the reenactment of his South Africa 2013 exploits to make it to Brazil.
Gabriel Reuben: Formerly of Kano Pillars, Gabriel, one of the players who broke into the team had injury to blame for slowing him down when he was beginning to get himself established. At some points, he was almost shut of the team but has been able to win the attention of the coaches. The Waasland-Beveren of Belgium defensive midfielder would have to lift his game though to grab a shirt to the mundial.
Nosa Igiebor: Igiebor, who plies his trade with Spanish La Liga side Real Betis is another player contesting for one of the midfield spots. He is one of the players Keshi is used to and going by this fact, he could be part of the team to Brazil but that depends on his form during the trial period.
Joel Obi: Once the toast of Nigerians due to his skills. The FC Parma of Italy midfielder was a time the real man of soccer fans until sometime when he lost form and was shut out of the national team. Many reckons injuries has being his major problem and this the former Inter Milan player would need to avoid if he nurses the hope of reestablishing himself in the team before thinking of picking a shirt to the mundial in Brazil. He
Michael Uchebo: He is seen as one of the players Keshi has listed to make the numbers. Not many Nigerians have seen much of this player either for the national team or his Belgian club Cersie Brugge. The fact is that, Uchebo’s chances of making it to Brazil, on paper is not that bright.
Ahmed Musa: The ex Flying Eagles striker may not have done well enough to win the hearts of all Nigerians, yet he remains one of the sure bets for the World Cup. All he needs to make the team is to pray against injury and also work to improve on his goal scoring ability.
Shola Ameobi: Talk of power and strength, Shola could be useful but for him to make the team, he must perfect his scoring skills very well and also pray against injury. Many still find it difficult to understand why he was listed but the fact remains that this Newcastle player is an asset if he gets his bearing.
Victor Mose: Forget the fact that Moses has had a very dull season failed to get enough playing time at Liverpool which he joined on loan from Chelsea but take it or leave it, he is one of Nigeria’s best when he wears the green white colour. He is without doubt, a sure bet for the Brazil bound Eagles. Only injury can stop him.
Emmannuel Emenike: Apart from the Stephen Keshi led technical crew, if any Nigerian is called upon to pick Nigeria’s main team, Emmanuel Emenike would be the first choice striker. In a nut shell, he is Brazil bound baring any form of injury.
Obinna Nsofor: The former junior international has one thing he can bank on and that is his ability to shoot with both legs. He is a diehard striker who can bring out results at tight situation. These attributes could earn Nosfor a place in the final 23 man squad.
Osaze Odemwingie: The once rejected striker is making a return to the team after a long layoff due to attitudinal problem of which he said he has turned over a new leaf. Osaze recently rediscovered his form which he demonstrated at Stoke City in England. That really helped in his recall. On a good day, he has a bright chance of getting a place in the team but many things would be considered before he could make it.
Michael Babatunde: Well, having been listed in the provisional squad, he would fancy his chances of making it to Brazil but that could be a tall dream not too high to be realized though.
Nnamdi Oduamadi: Sleeky though but he seemed prone to injury. This he must overcome to get the chance of being named among the final 23 players.
Nwofor Uche. The ex 3SC and Rangers International forward has a big mountain to climb if he is to be part to the squad to Brazil 2014. Impossible is nothing though but his chances are very slim.
Worst Blunders at the World Cup
The 10 biggest mistakes at the finals (This is the concluding part of the feature)
You can’t blame referees for every error at the World Cup, although a few have made this list.
Inevitably, goalkeepers also feature prominently but we have found room for the odd striker, too.
Central Hall security
The Jules Rimet trophy was stolen in 1966 while on exhibition under the ‘watchful’ eyes of the police at Central Hall in Westminster, London. It was found by a dog called Pickles, which was being taken for a walk by his owner.
Needing just a draw to win the 1950 World Cup, Brazil was level 1-1 with Uruguay when goalkeeper Barbosa was beaten at his near post, leaving the hosts in mourning. He was made the scapegoat and, speaking in 2000, said: “Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years, but my imprisonment has been for 50.”
In the 1982 semi-final Patrick Battiston was clean through, only for Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher to smash his hip into the Frenchman’s face. One of the most horrific fouls in World Cup history went unpunished by referee Charles Corver.
Ali Bin Nasser
Diego Maradona used his hand to score against England in the quarter-finals in 1986 tournament but Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser allowed the goal to stand. After the match Maradona claimed the ‘Hand of God’ had helped him to score.
The Scotland winger was part of the 1978 squad and played against Peru before being sent home for failing a drugs test. Scotland then drew with Iran and did not reach the next round despite beating Holland.