Nigeria: Super Eagles of Hope

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I will start this weekend's piece by admonishing our good and great ball fans not to judge the Super Eagles by the 0-0 draw with Cape Verde in an international friendly at the Algarve Stadium, Faro on Wednesday.

While, surely we all would have been happier with a win, especially with the Honourable Minister/Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi around, it is important to see the match for what it was and to take positives from that encounter instead of looking at the shortcomings.

Understandably, even Coach Stephen Keshi wanted his boys to win and egged them on during the encounter, but the game ended scoreless and we are all looking forward with great expectations to the 29th Africa Cup of Nations, taking place in South Africa between 19th January – 10th February.

More than ever, South Africa 2013 presents our Super Eagles the opportunity to go full throttle for a third win in the Africa Cup of Nations, as we can boast of an ambitious squad with only six of 23 players having played at the championship previously.

While skipper Joseph Yobo had played at five finals before, between 2002 and 2010, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide were at the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 competition, and Mikel Obi played at the 2006, 2008 and 2010 tournaments. Elderson Echiejile played at the 2010 finals in Angola and Ikechukwu Uche also played in Angola.

For us to have 17 players of 23 who have not been to the Nations Cup before, suggests at first glance an inexperienced team. But the guidance of the 'old heads' will certainly work wonders, and most of these 'new faces' have also gained valuable experience and exposure at other levels.

Goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim has been with the senior team as understudy for a couple of years now and showed agility and composure in the friendly match against Catalonia Selected on 2nd January, in which the Eagles impressed in 1-1 draw. He was also decent in another friendly, against Peru in Lima in May last year.

I was happy to learn that injury to goalkeeper Austin Ejide during the match against Cape Verde was a mere knock and that the player would be okay. That means we are solid in the goalkeeping area with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama also fit and ready.

Of course, we know what Captain Yobo can do as he has always done well when called upon. Apart from his defensive role, he has even come up with the crucial goal for Nigeria when it mattered most. One can surely remember his goal against Algeria in Abuja in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2004; goal against Sierra Leone in Freetown in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier in June 2008; goal against Equatorial Guinea in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Malabo in June 2008; goal against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in a 2012 Cup of Nations qualifier in June 2011 and; goal against Madagascar in Antananarivo in a 2012 Cup of Nations qualifier in September 2011.

Efe Ambrose is one of the most versatile players in the team, and despite criticisms, has done what most players would have found difficult – adopting to various positions in the squad. He played as a central defender at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Canada, but has been used as right back for sometime now and even in the previous dispensation.

While Juwon Oshaniwa has also shown some purposefulness when he played, the duo of Azubuike Egwuekwe and Godfrey Oboabona have played more regularly and been impressive in several games, even in World Cup qualifying matches.

Kenneth Omeruo is a young lad who looks very promising and should have a good tournament, if presented with the opportunity. His confidence on the ball has never been in doubt, since he played for the Golden Eaglets at the FIFA U-17 World Cup that Nigeria hosted in 2009.

John Mikel Obi worked hard especially in the second half against Cape Verde, and would be able to guide the others in midfield. Nosa Igiebor scored that fine goal against Venezuela in USA in November but we have always seen his potential. Fegor Ogude provides steel and Onazi has worked really hard in the past three friendly matches against Venezuela, Catalonia and Cape Verde. Obiora Nwankwo has developed very well and Reuben Gabriel has shown his stuff in a number of competitive games, including scoring against Malawi in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Blantyre.

Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike have tremendous pace, with the other also able to provide steel and power. Ikechukwu Uche was joint top-scorer for Nigeria in the 2010 World Cup qualifying series but missed the tournament in South Africa as a result of injury. He also worked hard in the 2012 Cup of Nations qualifiers but the Eagles failed to reach the finals. This is his big opportunity to explode at a major competition.

Victor Moses has been doing well for his club and we also cannot forget the double he earned against Liberia in the final qualifying match in Calabar in October last year. Brown Ideye also scored against Venezuela in USA.

Ejike Uzoenyi has had more opportunities than Sunday Mba, but Mba scored the two goals that nailed Liberia in a friendly match in Monrovia 11 months ago.

Personally, I have tremendous confidence in the final 23 and believe we are going to South Africa to contest for the Africa Cup.

Good Night, Arena…

I was shocked to learn on phone on Thursday that highly-respected sports journalist and administrator, Deacon Ayo Ositelu (nicknamed Arena) died in Lagos on Wednesday while being rushed to hospital, only three months to his 70th birthday.

Apart from being a journalist, he was also highly reverred in administrative circles and at a time, went into politics, becoming the chairman of a local council. However, it was as a journalist and commentator that he was best known.

We mourn his passing at this time but we are delighted that he left his footprints in the sands of time, through his excellent works. We also pray that God will grant him eternal rest while granting the family and friends that he has left behind the fortitude to bear the loss.

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