Second String

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Omissions

A full strength Argentina – the second best team in the World according to Croatian Football Federation President Davor Šuker – will play Croatia at West Hamʼs Boleyn Ground tonight, but the Croatians will be shorn of their stars. Mario Mandžukić, Ivica Olić, Luka Modrić, Danijel Pranjić and Dejan Lovren are among those who will not face La Abiceleste.

Croatiaʼs coach Niko Kovačʼs priority – understandably – was this weekendʼs Euro2016 qualifier against Italy. “My coach decide in that way and we will talk about [it] on Monday, after the game in Italy”, Šuker said explaining the omissions from the squad for tonightʼs friendly amid rumours that Kovač was far from happy with the choice of opponent. So why Argentina?

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Choices

What is the best teams in the world”? Šuker asks. “Playing the best teams and I think is Argentina. They are the second team in the World Cup and itʼs great to play a friendly game in London with big awareness and big players and just the young players can play against Messi and this is next step for these players”.

Kovač is said to have wanted to play the USA rather than Argentina tonight. The Americans play Colombia at Craven Cottage on Friday. Meanwhile, Croatiaʼs stars didnʼt come to London. The ʻfirst team squadʼ remained in the former Yugoslav nation. They are being trained by Kovačʼs assistants.

It could prove to be inspired. Youngsters with no fear and nothing to lose could come of age, or they could be torn apart by facing a precociously talented Argentina team.

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Gamble

Former Barçelona coach Gerardo Tata Martino replaced Alejandro Sabella after the World Cup. Martino has brought a full strength squad, which includes former West Ham hero Carlos Tévez – recalled after a three year absence.

Itʼs a gamble for Croatia. Some answers will come tonight when Šuker and Kovač find out if this untested squad come through the examination. But the real test is against Italy. Only then will it be seen if the gamble has paid off. “Thatʼs the big game and I hope we can surprise Italy of course and we will play a nice game”, Šuker said.

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The Ides of October

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 10th 2014)

BPL – Under Starter’s Orders

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There are two things on my mind this weekend – the Barclays Premier league and Nigeria’s match against Sudan! I am thinking and looking closely at the real contenders for this season’s BPL trophy already. Just one week into the league season I noted that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season – not much insight needed there. But Manchester United was proving an enigma. Was last season just a blip, or is there a bigger problem?

Until last week Manchester United looked out of sorts with the much travelled and successful Louis Van Gaal wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand. Van Gaal conceded that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and he acknowledged how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old.

Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man United resurgence. Whatever happened to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, Radamel Falcao? Colombia’s talisman looks lost in the team, although he and United have the class to demand not to be written off. Falcao has scored goals wherever he [plays, but ominously United don’t play the way that he has thrived on.

English football’s most expensive player, the Argentinian Ángel di María, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good if and when he hits full throttle and finally starts to play as well as we all know he is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that United have bought class players and paid well for them. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver and what place if any will be found for the club’s previous record signing Juan Mata.

Fluctuating Arsenal

The Gunners spent heavily this season, but results show that they still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going. The Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez arrived from FC Barçelona sporting great credentials, but for me, he has been a great disappointment.

His performances during the World Cup for Chile were so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away from Cataluña. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending. He may just need time to adjust to a new league and team and his team-mates to him, but football is not known for patience.

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The team’s performance has kept oscillating between mouth-watering brilliance and the abysmal. Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsène Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defence. Otherwise, despite celebrating 18 years at Arsenal recently – the longest serving manager in the BPL currently – this may be his last season with the Gunners.

Liverpool face different problems. They have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far. Despite new signings led by Mario Balotelli, along with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, world class is hard to replace. Warts and all Luis Suárez is world class and proving hard to replace. Liverpool may find a way to click, but in my opinion they are unlikely to walk alone with the crown this time even if on paper they have the capability.

Impressive Defence

Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Stevan Jovetić.

Yaya Touré continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. When in top form he is the perfect bridge between defence and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!

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But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of José Mourinho written all over it. The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea beat Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season. They are the team playing with the spirit of potential champions.

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles and the Ides of March!

The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment. As Nigeria Super Eagles of play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.

Undoubtedly, while not plumbing the depths of Berti Vogts’ Super Chickens, the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup. Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country. Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behaviour by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefited from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for.

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With a new Executive Committee that appears not to want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team. For now he is hanging on to the job by the skin of his teeth and is likely to be laid off should the Super-Eagles fail to impress this weekend.

The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles. In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.

Samson Siasia, whose name is being mentioned as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach. Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part, but can he walk the walk?

I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.

I do not like it one bit! The Super Eagles and Stephen Keshi must beware the Ides of March, or should that be the Ides of October. But good luck to the Super Eagles.

Segun at Wembley

The World Cup – Opener

Controversy

Despite continued demonstrations over the resources spent on the World Cup by Brasil, when education and other necessities are not being invested in, Brasil’s World Cup is under-way. FIFA shows no signs of going home. Riot police have already been deployed and violent scenes pock-marked the opening of the tournament. Meanwhile, Brasil controversially beat Croatia 3-1.

Marcelo’s own goal gave Croatia the lead after 11 minutes.  Barcelona’s Neymar equalised before controversy reigned after 71 minutes. Dejan Lovren was penalised for fouling Fred. The forward’s blatant dive was rewarded not just with the penalty that Neymar just converted, but Lovren was booked for dissent.

Sepp Blatter gets a lot of criticism – much of it deserved – but Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura’s shocking blunder is exactly the type of decision that Blatter’s call to follow cricket’s system of allowing the manager to review decisions would have benefited. The replay would have shown that it was no penalty and that Lovren was the wronged party. A booking for Fred would have been the right decision – something the replay could have shown. 

Such a system would have prevented Nishimura being surrounded by irate Croatian players too, as it would simply have been reviewed. The blunder affected the course of the game as Croatia had to chase an equaliser, leaving them vulnerable to counter attack. Chelsea’s Oscar ensured a Brasilaian victory in added time with the third. The Samba Party is in full swing.