The African Cup of Nations 2015 Edition

by Seun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 15th 2015)

Embarrassing

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Itʼs that time again when Africaʼs best meet to contest which team is the continentʼs best. Of course, my first statement on AFCON 2015 must be that the defending champions will not be at the championship. How come?

It is hard for anyone to understand what happened and how it happened, but the reality is that the national team that won the 2013 African football championship undefeated, that qualified for the 2014 World Cup as one of 5 African countries, and one that boasts one of the best records out of Africa in all global football competitions, will not be at the 2015 World Cup because it failed to qualify. That’s how come!

Previous

The last time Nigeria was not at the championship it was by default – for political reasons. The military government of Nigeria of then dictator Sani Abacha resented criticism from Africaʼs icon and our continentʼs modern hero Nelson Mandela. Abacha deliberately chose not to send the Super Eagles to the championship. That was in 1996.

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The boycott backfired spectacularly. The most significant effect of Nigeria’s withdrawal that year was that the path to victory was paved for South Africa, a country fresh from the shadows of apartheid, to win their first and, to date, only African Cup of Nations championship. And Nigeria was banned from the 1998 edition as well – that will have taught the South Africans!

Absence

We canʼt blame a boycott this time. So, as Africa prepares for the football party, for many South Africans, the prospect of winning again, some 19 years after, particularly in the absence of their bogey team, Nigeria, becomes a realistic challenge! After all the Bafana Bafana have recently been playing football with uncommon determination and confidence, and have posted some very decent results, including their sterling performance against Nigeria in their last qualifying match for this edition of the African Cup of Nations. That surely ranks amongst one their best performances that I have seen since 1996.

From January 17th 16 African countries will congregate in Equatorial Guinea and a lot of eyes will be trained on the Bafana Bafana as they attempt to win their second Nations Cup. A look at the road they have to travel indicates that it will be very rough and tough. They are nestled in the same group with two of the current best football countries in Africa – Ghana and Algeria. For South Africa it may be easier to climb Mount Everest without a guide than to emerge unscathed from that group.

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Back to Nigeria briefly!

In two years, the Super Eagles have plummeted from the highest peak of African football, to the lower rungs. In the course of that tragic situation, Stephen Keshi the most successful indigenous coach in the history of the Nigerian football has fallen from grace to grass with scandalous defeats and performances that once looked remote, but have become a reality for Nigeria.

So dispirited have most followers of Nigerian football become that there is little interest in the championship. Having said that the 2015 championship will still commence this weekend and the Oracle will still peer into the crystal ball for what the immediate future holds for each of the countries.

The Oracle

Group A – Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Burkina Faso and Gabon

This is a very unpredictable and a relatively cheap group in terms of the antecedents of the countries. The only reason that Equatorial Guinea will emerge from this group is because, as hosts, they will ride on the back of home support to struggle and emerge.

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Congo will fight hard but will fade out in the second round. Burkina Faso, through hard work and endless running had their best chance of winning the championship two years ago when they went as far as the finals before being knocked out by the fire-power of Nigeria. Since then, they seem to have lost some of the fire that made their performance very refreshing and exciting the last time.

Gabon has never been such a great football country in Africa as to give any one of the serious contenders any sweatTheir only hope rests with Pierre Aubameyang. From previous records the striker in devastating form for Borussia Dortmund FC may not replicate that form in the championship. One man does not make a forest.

Group B – Zambia, DR Congo, Tunisia and Cape Verde

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Zambia in 2015 are not the same team that dazzled everyone only two championships ago. I donʼt expect them to recreate the magic they provided when last they were in Equatorial Guinea – great memories aside. 2012 was their time. It was fitting that they won the Cup of Nations for the first time in Gabon – the scene of the worst disaster in Zambian and African football, but this is not Gabon and a lot has changed in three years.

DR Congo have invested a lot in their domestic football, an investment that is yet to fully reflect in the national team. They remain dark horses even though the great coach Claude le Roy has left. Tunisia, as usual will play well, defeat the weak African teams, but falter against the West Africans. With none in this group they may succeed and emerge from the group.

Cape Verde are the hardest to predict. I do not really know what to make of this team. Two years ago we saw them display some of the most entertaining and brilliant individual football at AFCON 2013. In 2015, Africa should be ready to dance and celebrate some delightful football again.

Group C – Ghana, Senegal, Algeria, South Africa.

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What a group! This, indeed, is the Dream Group, not the Group of Death. The group includes Ghana and Algeria two of Africa’s current strongest teams. Algeria, put up Africa’s best showing at the 2014 World Cup. They appear to still be in great shape. On paper they may actually be favoured to win the championship, but against Ghana and South Africa they have equally formidable opposition.

Without question this is the group that will attract the greatest attention. I do not see Senegal emerging from this group. Ghana have the experience and maturity. Algeria have a good young team in great form. South Africa are riding on fresh enthusiasm and adrenalin. Separating them will be a huge challenge.

Group D – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Cameroon

Three West African teams come against the only team from Central Africa in the group.

In qualification, Cameroon look very exciting with several new and younger players replacing Samuel Etoʼo and some other aged players. They will emerge from here.

The other three West African teams will slug it out. I think that even without the recently retired Ivorian great Didier Drogba, they still have the leadership of Africaʼs best player Yaya Touré. Coached by recent AFCON winner Hervé Renard, Côte d’Ivoire will justify their placement as the highest ranked African team – they will stop Mali and Guinea from joining Cameroon.

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Snowy

Finally, on to my crystal ball. As I gaze into it, I see that it is misty and murky – there appears to be snow on it! Nevertheless, summoning the spirit of Tiresias, I see the following happening. I will be placing a bet as usual. Blind Tiresias has inner sight – the best seer ever. He saw that coming.

I am putting my money not on Algeria that looks to have the best team, or Côte d’Ivoire that appears to have the most mature team and superstar players, or even Ghana that may have the most complete team, but on Cameroon. New, immature, no Samuel Etoʼo, and in a relatively difficult group, Cubs or not and in the absence of Nigeria, Iʼm still backing the Indomitable Lions.

Let AFCON 2015 begin!

Segun at Wembley

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Mouthwatering

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 24th 2014)

Segun at Wembley

El Classico – Another War

This weekend there is going to be another battle of epic proportions. It will be fought between two of the biggest and most powerful ‘armies’ in the world. The battleground is the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of Real Madrid Football Club. The invading ‘army’ is, in my humble estimation, the greatest team ever – Barçelona FC!

Leading Real Madrid and Barçelona are with respect to Zlatan Ibrahimović and others the two greatest footballers of their generation – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At stake are the crowns of ‘best team in La Liga’ and the ‘best player in the world’. In the past 6 years these players have held the title of the world’s best player in a vice – Messi four times, and Ronaldo twice. 2014 promises to be no different; perhaps it will be the most interesting contest yet as it is far more open than previous contests where one or other seemed the clear winner.

The Battle Lines

This season there appears to be a new edge to the rivalry between the two players. Although they both deny that their rivalry fuels their performances, the truth is that both players have drawn inspiration from each other and have shared the global limelight in almost equal measure because of each other.

Ronaldo, who always seemed to play second fiddle to Messi before the last season, needs to prove a point. Many people believe that although he was brilliant last season for Real Madrid, but in my opinion he won the title of world’s best player more because the world wanted a change from Messi. The mercurial Argentine had monopolized it four consecutive times. Did Ronaldo win because he was clearly better than the little Argentinian, or for changes sake?.

I have watched Ronaldo play this season. He has not been this sharp and focused in a long time. He is playing with a deliberate single-mindedness that convinces me that he has more than just helping Real Madrid FC to win La Liga trophy on his mind. He has ‘Messi must be beaten’ written all over his game.

Messi, on the other hand, has less to prove, but he has shrugged off the rustiness and casual attitude of the World Cup and is playing now with a lot of physicality and uncommon determination. Surely the avalanche of falling records at club, Spanish, European and World levels is propelling him to even greater heights. The list of his established and near-accomplishment records is very long. What must be noted, however, is that between them they have made goal scoring an art form.

Several great players spend a lifetime chasing after recording one hat trick. Ronaldo is about to break an all time La Liga record in that regard. He needs one more hat trick to beat the late great Alfredo di Stéfano and Athletic Bilbao maestro Tello Zarra (Tello Zarraonandia Montoya) – Marcaʼs award for Spanish scorers in La Liga was named after the Athletic Club great. Ronaldo is already in legendary company, three ahead of Messi.

The Supporting Cast?

But tempting as it is to focus on these two great players, El Classico boasts plenty more great players. Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema is rated by no less an authority than Ronaldo as the best striker in La Liga. Luka Modrić is the cog that makes Real Madrid tick and while finding his feet in a new league Colombian heir apparent James Rodríguez has immense talent and of course thereʼs Sergio Ramos marshalling the defence too. And thatʼs just Real Madrid. Barçelona had a poor season by the their standards last term. It cost current Argentina coach Tata Martino his job. But the Catalans are no one man team. Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta arenʼt just club legends, they are football ones. Neymar is a precocious talent and El Classico is set to witness the La Liga début of former Ajax and Liverpool icon Luis Suárez. Meanwhile another duel with El Classico dimensions to it takes place this weekend too.

Van Gaal versus Mourinho

No roads lead to Rome this weekend and not all roads that will lead to Madrid either. In England Old Trafford is the place Iʼd like to be at as an almost equally important rivalry between two of the BPL’s great teams will be ignited. Manchester United and Chelsea will face off in what promises to be a match up between the coaches – two of the most experienced and renowned football managers in the world – as well as the teams they select.

Louis van Gaal will test his fledging Man U squad against a high riding Chelsea. In this encounter current form would matter little. It is the team that gets its tactics right that will carry the day. Van Gaal is going through a difficult period with his team struggling to find the old rhythm that made Manchester United the most successful team in the history of the Premiership and him one of the most successful coaches around.

Mourinho has donned his armour of confidence and loquacity, and is daring any other team in the premiership to break down his defensive tactics and, at the same time, stop his rampaging forwards. He has been trophyless for two seasons – he doesnʼt like it and seems set to take it out on opponents this season, although he insists that it is far too early to talk about titles. So, this weekend the battle line is drawn between them.

Chaos Theory

It simply would not be Nigerian football if there were no crisis, or at least one around the corner. I truly believed that with the start of the era of Stephen Keshi as manager of the national team Nigeria has seen the last of a foreign coach handling its national team. While Clemens Westerhof was a great success, letʼs not forget the disastrous appointments of Berti Vogts and Lars Lagerbäck, which cast Nigerian football into the doldrums.

We turned to local coaches, eventually settling on Keshi. I thought that Keshi’s generation, with their experiences in Europe and a little training in the coaching techniques, would kick-start the period when only qualified Nigerians would handle Nigeria’s national teams. It should have happened and it still can.

Keshi may have failed in his human relations, and may also have been slightly deficient in some of his tactics, but he surely did better than most of the foreign coaches that Nigeria hired since Westerhof. Success as a coach is measured only with the results of a team. Keshi delivered the African Cup of Nations – the first Nigerian to do so. For that he has our respect and a lasting place of honour in Nigeriaʼs football history.

It would be interesting to see which foreign coach would be hired of all the names being dangled by the media. We are waiting to see, hoping that if it happens it is not Berti Vogts Mark II. Keshi, with all his failings won laurels and went beyond what any coach, local and foreign, had ever done for Nigeria. Of his generation there are a few that could have been challenged to come ‘try their luck’.

Sunday Oliseh is an interesting proposition. His limited experience in handling a big team notwithstanding, his intellect and analytical prowess, which are acknowledged worldwide, should more than be a compensation. Check out several of the best coaches in the world at the moment led by Pep Guardiola, and you would see a trend that swings away from old, retired and tired coaches, local or foreign.

So, a foreign coach? Without great players any coach would ‘fail’. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have exceptional players in this era. Mark my words: Nigeria would soon be back to square one, looking for an indigenous coach from amongst our own.

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

Hail The New President

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 2nd 

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Amaju Pinnick Steps into the Storm

I was in Ghana early this week when the elections for the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation took place. From what I gather there are still a few pending issues that must be resolved before final peace, if there will ever be such a thing in Nigerian football, can be achieved.

But first let me join Sepp Blatter and all other well wishers that have sent congratulatory messages to Amaju Pinnick in wishing him well in his reign as President of the Nigeria Football Association (Federation). It was no mean feat to emerge as President at the congress that was held on September 30 despite a court order that I am told directed it not to hold, as it was against a FIFA advise that the congress be held.

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The Cycle

The important thing for now is that, in spite of the faults of the electoral process that I pointed out previously, the elections came and went and a new Executive Committee has emerged. That ‘game’ is over. Despite the protestations, Amaju Pinnick will govern for the next 4 years.

After that, unless that term is used to right all the wrongs of the present, the crisis that almost consumed the country’s football will repeat itself again. You do not plant an orange and expect to reap an apple. I guarantee you, as I did in 2010, that in 4 years time, we shall go through this same cycle again, unless things change.

Without question, Pinnick deserves his victory considering his opponents. He was helped by a whole lot of other factors like where the congress was held: the political party the State belongs to, the previous zonal imbalance of power in Nigerian football and the influence of the Delta State governor and his relationship with the highest level of power in Nigeria. All were great influences on the final result.

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Without going into the details, all the other contestants should have known that for as long as the elections took place in Delta State – one of the contestants was from there – and the incumbent President was not contesting the elections this time, the chances of stopping the hurtling Amaju Pinnick train was almost impossible. That’s the nature of elections here in Nigeria. And there will be more to come.

Pinnick was the Chairman of the Football Association of Delta State – he now has to relinquish that position. That means there must be an election to determine his successor. There will also be an election for the position Executive Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission – Pinnick must also give up tat position to remove any suggestion of ‘government interference’ that may haunt him in his relationship with FIFA. Nevertheless, Pinnick has added yet another feather to his already bulging portfolio of political achievements and offices. However, he faces huge challenges.

The Challenges Amaju Pinnick Must Conquer

At things now stand, Pinnick comes to office with his hands full of serious and, sometimes, complicated issues he has to deal with first. He will need all his wits: human relations and acute political, legal and administrative skills, to successfully manoeuvre through the minefields that lie ahead.

Somehow, he would have to find a way to stop the challenges still in court. Unless, there is a political intervention at a high level, and the courts agree to bend over backwards to allow disregard of their decisions to go unpunished, Pinnick will face a huge challenge. There is nothing new there, as it has happened previously and the last executive got away with it for the 4 years of their tenure. Pinnick may soon find that the simple decision of a high court judge in Jos, who may not even know anything about the game of football, could develop into a cancer that would make life extremely difficult for the new committee. But there are other problems too.

Besides Giwa – the football club in Jos at the centre of the problem with FIFA – there are still other aggrieved members of the last executive committee that appear to have now lost out in the battle of the last election. They are also stakeholders at different levels of Nigerian football and their grievances will just not disappear simply because Sepp Blatter has congratulated Amaju Pinnick. Far from it, he would have to appease them somehow and readmit them into the fold for him to be able to sleep with both eyes shut!

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Furthermore, he would have to take a firm stand, for good or for worse, on who has the rights to manage the affairs of the Nigerian Premier League – a situation that is confounding to everyone. The architects of that body, which is also known as the League Management Committee (LMC) and the NFF members appear to be on a collision course. Pinnick will have to resolve a situation that is unknown in the statutes of Nigerian football, while needing to hold on to the most priced possession of the members of the NFF – the Premier League. He will have to do this despite facing strong opposition. I foresee a grave crisis looming over this.

Even this is not all that Pinnick will face. There will be other issues too, including that of the future of the current coach of the Super-Eagles Stephen Keshi. I foresee a big battle of egos between Pinnick and Keshi, who will have to decide whether to fire the African Cup of Nations winning coach or retain him. The next set of matches will determine how that plays out in the beginning of what could be a turbulent relationship.

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Halting the Repetitive Cycle

Finally, I believe that unless the statutes of the Nigeria Football Federation are amended to accommodate all stakeholders on the basis of equal representation, as directed by FIFA years ago in their letter to the board headed by Sani Lulu, and are designed in such a way that every election is held with all contestants on a level playing field, and is not driven by vaulting ambition that introduces special rules from outside the statutes, the future is depressingly certain. In 4 years time Nigerians should expect a repeat of what we have all just experienced.

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Meanwhile, once again, I wish Amaju Pinnick and the rest of his Executive Committee members the best of luck in their future struggles. They will need it. Congratulations Amaju!

 

The ‘Monster’ called FIFA

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (September 6th 2014)

Same Old Problem

Segun at Wembley

This must be the worst period in the history of Nigerian football. I cannot recall a time quite like this: domestic football has grounded to a halt; the Super-Eagles are in tatters, losing scandalously by 3-1 at home to Congo in an AFCON 2015 qualifier – the first such defeat in a competitive match in living memory. The national team coach, Stephen Keshi, has been in a running battle with his employers over a contract that may now never materialize following the manner of the Congo defeat and a serious crisis has engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) following disputed elections to the Executive Committee. The problems are pouring!

Headless Chickens

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The tragedy is that no one appears to fully understand what to do in order to ride the raging storm of the chaos everywhere. As a result, there is panic and confusion everywhere, fuelled by the threat of an international ban by FIFA. Yes, FIFA again!

They appear every 4 years, invited by warring federation officials during what should ordinarily be a simple act, a straightforward electoral process into the board of the NFF that degenerates into a convoluted, incomprehensible conundrum. The elections have become a dangerous political power tussle to control the lucrative position of President of the Nigerian Football Federation.

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In the past 10 years a ‘game’ has been mastered by successive incumbent presidents intending to perpetuate themselves in office, FIFA-style. The ‘game’ effectively sidelines the real owners of clubs, disenfranchises the public, bars the law courts or ignominiously disregards their decisions, handicaps security agencies and ensures that government’s involvement is anathema.

Unfortunately, the government fights back every time to stop them because it claims that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’. The incumbent runs to FIFA claiming interference in its affairs and FIFA threatens the country with an international ban should the government not back off. But in Africa, no one fights governments and wins. So, crisis!

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The Stick

Having tasted an international ban once in the past and seen its devastating effect on the people, the entire country of some 180 million Black and proud Africans now catch cold every time FIFA ‘sneeze’. FIFA have put the fear of God in all Nigerians. Nigerians are quivering in submission to the threat hanging menacingly around their neck like the fabled Albatross.

Every 4 years they keep repeating the same question: how has an election into the board of an agency of government, established and funded almost entirely by government and run by a handful of ordinary Nigerians hand-picked by government, become such a convoluted, confusing process that brings the entire country to its knees at election time? Some things obviously do not add up. Something is wrong with the system and the process.

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In the past 10 years elections into the board have become disruptive, an international humiliation and detrimental to the progress of Nigerian football. In 2014 we are about to tread that path again. We already can see the devastating effect of the present crisis in the disastrous outing of the Super Eagles on Saturday and the grounding of domestic football in the country.

Catastrophic

Football is a team game where every department of the game has to contribute to the maximum for the team to perform well and to win. So far, in the absence of administrators that can provide the physical and psychological incentives and motivation for the players to win, the Eagles played one of the worst games by any national team in Nigeria’s history. This must stop.

Segun at Wembley

As the national team prepares to confront Bafana Bafana next week another disaster looms. FIFA must ease off its pressure on Nigeria and not stampede the country into another badly organized election that would do more harm than good to the country. FIFA know that the NFF has always been an agency of the federal government. It knows that the NFA Act 101 exists. They know that Government funds the secretariat of the Federation and all competitions.

In almost 60 years of knowing this they have not suspended Nigeria for this ‘breach’ because that is how things are in this part of the world. So, why would FIFA be interested in the local elections into the NFF board? Why should Nigerians be reduced to a bungling bunch of school children as a result of FIFA’s seeming interference?

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At the moment the whole country is frozen in dread. FIFA, the ‘monster’, is lurking in wait to clamp down on Nigeria because of a faulty electoral process that can be fixed internally without the menacing threat of a sanction by FIFA. Instead, FIFA must help the country to look into its peculiar situation and challenges, and advise on a way out, not put an axe to their head and watch the country’s football go to ruins!

Les Bleus France Advance to Quarter-Final

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2014)

Super-Eaglesʼ Jinx Continues 

With just over ten minutes remaining a tight match turned decisively in Franceʼs favour. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama flapped at Mathieu Valbuenaʼs corner and palmed it to Paul Pogba. Juventusʼ midfielder nodded it in to give Didier Deschampsʼ team the lead. It was a pity that the last keeper to concede a goal in the first round and jointly led keepers throughout Europe in clean sheets and made important saves in this match made the mistake that cost the Africans champions dear.

Two minutes into injury a different corner routine also involving Valbuena led to the second. A short corner to the Marseille midfielder caught the Nigerian defence out. Valbuena squared it for substitute Antoine Griezman. Enyeama was beaten by a deflection off Super-Eagles captain Joseph Yobo. Shortly after the Fenerbahçe defenderʼs error, Deschamps allowed Valbuena to receive a well earned ovation from French fans and waste a bit of time.

Deserved

On the balance of play France deserved to continue Nigeriaʼs last sixteen jinx and put the horrors of their wretched campaign four years ago firmly behind them. Deschamps chose to deploy Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on the left and Arsenalʼs Oliver Giroud in the striker role. Both proved ineffective. The introduction of Griezman proved to be the turning point.

Nigeria had been the better side in the first half. After 18 minutes CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa – the first and so far only Nigerian to score two goals in a match at the World Cup Finals – crossed for the much touted, but so far ineffective Emmanuel Emenike to score his first goal with a deft flick past Tottenham Hotspurʼs Hugo Lloris. Sadly for Stephen Keshi and his assistant Daniel Amokachi it was ruled offside and it was – just.

Turning Points

A mistimed but reckless tackle by Paris Saint-Germainʼs Blaise Matuidi ended Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaziʼs afternoon. Matuidi was shown a yellow card by American referee Mark Geiger. Matuidi was genuinely apologetic to Onazi, but the midfielder was stretchered off. He would not return.

Enyeama made a couple of important saves, but could do nothing when former Newcastle United favourite Yohan Cabaye picked up the pieces of John Mikel Obiʼs clearance and shot from outside the area. He was very unlucky that it beat Enyeama, but struck the crossbar.

Midway through the first half Pogba surged through the centre, playing a neat one-two with Valbuena before volleying. Enyeama denied him. With just over twenty minutes remaining Benzema and Griezman combined on the left to create a golden opportunity for Benzema. Enyeama took the pace off it and Victor Moses scrambled back to clear.

Eventually the pressure told. France got the goals to take then through to the quarter-final and a tie against either Algeria or Germany.

Super-Eagles Soar Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Resurrected

African Champions Nigeria resurrected their hopes of qualification with an impressive performance against World Cup Finals débutants Bosnia-Herzegovina. Stoke Cityʼs Peter Odemwingie scored the matchʼs only goal, although Manchester Cityʼs Edin Džeko had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside.

Replays proved that the officials led by New Zealander Peter OʼLeary were wrong. Both the referee and his assistant were in perfectly good position to see that Džekoʼs goal should have stood – yet another poor decision by the officials.

As the match was drawing to a close Džeko, who had been profligate, especially by his high standards, turned and shot. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama saved with his leg onto his post. Replays established that OʼLeary had missed a blatant hand ball by Džeko to control it when turning to shoot. It was a bookable offence.

Historic

Nigeriaʼs victory was their first at this stage for 16 years and its was deserved – they were by far the better team. Emmanuel Emenike – anonymous against Iran was galvanised to justify his tag as potential star of the tournament. Targeting Bosnian captain Emir Spahić, Emenike out-muscled the Bayer Leverkusen defender and pulled it back for Odemwingie to shoot between Asmir Begovićʼs legs for the only goal of the match – the one that condemns Bosnia-Herzegovina to elimination at the group stage.

While Begović excelled and Romaʼs Miralem Pjanić pulled strings to supply Džeko, the Manchester City forward found Enyeama equal to his efforts. Musa was denied by Begović twice and John Mikel Obi hit the side-netting from 20 yards out. Pjanić brought a smart save from Enyeama.

Meanwhile, Spahić was proving to be a liability. His dreadful pass after just 6 minutes gave possession to CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa. Haris Medunjanin was booked for hauling Musa back. Odemwingieʼs free-kick went close, but a clear deflection for a corner was missed by the officials. Spahić would later be out-muscled by Emenike for the goal.

Nigeria in particular chased more with efforts by Emenike, Michel Babatunde and Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaze thwarted by Begović. Enyeama proved to be an effective final barrier too with his second clean sheet afte, r denying Pjanić and Džeko after the break. Only a Iranian victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina can deny the Super-Eagles a place in the last 16. With a likely clash against a rampant France in store for the second placed team in Group F, Stephen Keshi knows that a victory over group favourites Argentina would be welcome, providing an extra incentive if one were needed not to settle for a draw.