A Long Time Coming

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

A Change is Gonna Come

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It;s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”, sang the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. Just 42 years ago Englandʼs womenʼs football team played their first international against Scotland at Greenock since the FAʼs 50 year-long ban on womenʼs football was overturned. Prior to that outrageous ban womenʼs football had been popular. Before the ʻWar to End All Warsʼ it had even threatened to eclipse menʼs football.

The ban had a seriously detrimental effect. Other nations had not stood still and there was now a lot of catching up to do as the lack of exposure, investment and development of infrastructure all took a heavy toll on the sport. The first international that England played was in Scotland, but that squad had trained at Wembley Stadium ahead of that match. That team captained by Sheila Parker, who was later inducted into the Hall of fame, never got to play a match on the famous turf.

Against the Odds

This afternoon – almost 50 years after Cooke was murdered – a seismic change will come to Wembley Stadium. History will be made and itʼs long overdue, as Englandʼs women will play at Wembley Stadium against European champions Germany in front of around 50,000 football fans. Five years ago England met Germany in the final of the European Championship, losing 6-2. Both teams have a very impressive record in qualifiers for next yearʼs World Cup.

Just five years ago the best English talent had to go abroad to develop their skills to the maximum. There was no professional league here. Lianne Sanderson is a classic example. She had the dedication and talent to become a professional footballer, but like Kelly Smith before her, she had to go to the USA where the sport was taken seriously.

She had played for both Arsenal and Chelsea before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. She also played in Spain before another stint in the USA. After that she returned to Arsenal, the club she started her life in football at, a better player, having benefited from a commitment to womenʼs football in the USA that was absent here at the time.

Now the Football Association has demonstrated that it is committed to womenʼs football. In 2010 the FA delivered a long-awaited promise – the Womenʼs Super League. Liverpool recently won the title after a nail-biting conclusion to the season. Sanderson has returned, helping to build that league and pass on what she has learned.

Making History

The challenges are immense. Television wasnʼt interested in womenʼs football at first, but that has changed. The first time they will play at the home of football, the BBC will cover the match live. Another piece of history will be made as Birmingham Cityʼs Karen Carney will receive her golden cap.

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Carney, like Sanderson, has come full circle – a journey that took her to Arsenal and then Chicago before returning to Birmingham. She won her first cap in 2005 – the youngest player given a debut by former manager Hope Powell. The winger has scored 14 times for England. She also played five matches for Great Britain during Londonʼs Olympic Games in 2012 including at Wembley against Brasil.

She will become only the seventh English female player to reach the landmark. She will join Gillian Coulthard, Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney, Rachel Unitt, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey as Englandʼs female centurions. She will also be the youngest, aged just 27. Carney hopes that this afternoonʼs match will be the first of many at Wembley.

Coulthardʼs record of 119 caps was beaten by Yankey two years ago. Yankey is Englandʼs most capped player with 129, but she is over 200 caps shy of the most capped player ever, the USAʼs Kristine Lilley who appeared for her country a staggering 352 times.

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Unconvincing Draw

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 28th 2014)

Honours Even

An unconvincing display by Stephen Keshi’s World Cup bound Nigeria, resulted in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland being pegged back to 2-2 in injury time. It was harsh on the Scots who took the lead within 10 minutes through Charlie Mulgrew. His subtle back-heeled flick from James Morrison’s shot was no fluke. It gave Nigeria’s second choice goalkeeper Austin Ejide no chance.

Scotland created the better chances in the first half but Keshi’s blushes at half time were spared as Michael Uchebo who had been profligate previously was put through by Reuben Gabriel and shot from 22 yards out,”It was a great goal”, Uchebo said with his tongue firmly in his cheek. It took a wicked deflection off Grant Hanley, giving Scotland’s keeper Alan McGregor no chance.

7 minutes into the second half Azubunke Egwuekwe’s attempt to clear Morrison’s cross as he was posed to shoot was sliced into his own net. Scotland’s captain Scott Brown had found Morrison on the right flank. Strachan’s improving team deserved to win the match, but in the first minute of added time Uche Nwofor grabbed another equaliser after being found by another substitute Nnamdi Oduamadi just outside the 6-yard box after a weak tackle by Morrison. It was barely deserved.

Referee Lee Probert had shown a thoroughly deserved yellow card for a cynical foul on Oduamadi a couple of minutes earlier. With the World Cup fast approaching it was the last thing Nigeria and Oduamadi who has problems with such tackling previously needed. Nevertheless, at times it seemed that Scotland rather than the Super-Eagles were playing like the team going to Brasil.

Slippery Brazuca

Scotland were the better team on the night, but to some extent they should have been. Anya exposed right back Kunle Odunlami’s lack of pace within the first five minutes. He really should have scored – tight angle or not. Nigeria’s reserve keeper Austin Ejide’s performance was bizarre. He is far better keeper than was seen tonight. His effort to deny left winger Ikechi Anya consisted of sticking out a leg and being relieved to see it go wide.

After 32 minutes Scotland should have seen their lead doubled. Shaun Maloney’s corner resulted in Ejide coming to punch, but under pressure he managed to catch and throw it into his own net. Was the ball playing tricks? First choice goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama prefers it to the ball used in South Africa’s World Cup. He also said,”I don’t comment on individuals”, when asked about Ejide’s performance.

Controversies

In the second half Scotland had another goal disallowed. That looked a harsh off-side call by the linesman. Before the match had even started it was shrouded in controversy as allegations of match-fixing surfaced. Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi said he didn’t know where they had come from. Keshi’s decision to start a weak team raised a few eyebrows.

Enyeama whose form has been winning awards in France was not even in the squad for this match. Nor were Mikel Obi, Brown Ideye and Ahmed Musa among others. Keshi gave chances to fringe players to play their way onto the plane to Brasil. But was there even a remote chance that some of the players seen tonight would be going to the World Cup?

Playing out of position – he’s normally at centre back – Odunlami was frequently embarrassed by Anya’s pace. The quality of Anya’s crosses and shooting left a bit to be desired, but Nigeria’s opponents will have noted Odunlami is vulnerable against pace if he makes the trip – he appears to be in Keshi’s plans.

Shola Ameobi barely starts for Newcastle United, yet started for Nigeria tonight. Why? Is it really likely he’ll go, especially after snubbing Nigeria for the African Cup of Nations last year, preferring to miss out on a medal and history for a regular place on Newcastle’s bench. And if he doesn’t go – he shouldn’t, both for the snub and more importantly because he is not good enough – what was achieved by him playing tonight rather than a more likely option.

So close to the World Cup it’s hard to believe that African Cup of Nations winning coach Keshi doesn’t already know the squad he intends to take to Brasil. Does Keshi really think that Ameobi has a chance of making the trip and if so why? Keshi has not named his squad yet. There were some in the 22 – starting eleven as well – who have little if any chance of going to Brasil. Why were Nigeria’s fans seeing them? Only Keshi knows.