By Sulaiman Alao:
MOSES, EMENIKE PUSH ON FOR EUROPEAN TICKET
West Ham set for home tie against Crystal Palace
The duo of Nigerian international forwards, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike will be available for selection for West Ham today when they play host to Crystal Palace at the 35,303-capacity Boleyn Ground. West Ham who are currently 5th on the EPL table with 50 points will be gunning for the maximum points to keep their European football hopes alive for next season. The Hammers have been enjoying a good run of recent having won 3 and drawn 2 of their last 5 matches and they will be going into this tie boosted – aside home advantage – by the form that saw them draw 2-2 away against Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge before the international break.
Crystal Palace are currently on a low sitting in the 16th position on the log with 33 points. Besides, coach Allan Pardew led team had recorded only 1 draw and 4 losses in their last 5 games. However, with the possibility of slipping into the relegation zone rapidly settling in, the Eagles will be looking to dig in and will be content to take any point away from West Ham in today’s clash.
Moses especially will be looking to return to winning ways after his return to international football with the Super Eagles ended on a disappointing note. The talented forward was arguably Nigeria’s best player against Egypt in the double-header African Cup of Nations cracker against Egypt and was unfortunate not to have scored in Kaduna and Alexandria. Moses could have sealed the victory for Nigeria in Kaduna but his goal-bound shot was cleared on the line as the Eagles played 1-1 against the Pharaohs in Kaduna. In Alexandria, Moses’ goal-bound low drive unluckily ricocheted off the upright, as the Eagles succumbed to a 1-0 defeat which saw them crash out of the Nations Cup.
Emenike who teamed up with West Ham during the January transfer window, was not part of the Eagles squad having turned down overtures to rescind his decision of quitting the national team. The power-playing striker who has featured in 6 games for his new club is still hunting for his first EPL goal.
MIKEL EYES CONSOLATION AGAINST ASTON VILLA
Newly appointed Super Eagles skipper, John Mikel Obi will be looking to put the disappointment of AFCON ouster with Nigeria behind him when he files out for Chelsea in an EPL away tie against Aston Villa today at the 42,788-capacity Villa Park. Mikel was made Eagles captain in place of Ahmed Musa by caretaker coach Samson Siasia ahead of the double-header African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Egypt but despite wearing the captain’s armband, the Chelsea midfielder’s heroics was not enough as Nigeria crashed out in the qualifiers for the 2017 African Cup of Nations after losing to the Pharaohs of Egypt in Alexandria Tuesday.
Chelsea started the league season very poorly despite being the EPL defending champions but they have enjoyed a recent resurgence of form which has seen them climb to the 10th position on the league table with 41 points. Despite still being way off from earning a ticket to Europe next season, the Blues would still fancy their chances of picking the maximum points against a hapless Aston Villa side that have lost their last 5 EPL games and whose relegation is almost but confirmed. The Villains currently sit at the base of the EPL table in the 20th position with paltry 16 points after 31 rounds of matches and with take a miracle of the highest order for them to retain their EPL status with just 7 rounds of matches to go before the close of the season.
Mikel, like Chelsea, has experienced better fortunes since the exit of erstwhile coach Jose Mourinho and the Nigerian international’s form of recent for club and country has no doubt been instrumental to his being rewarded with the Eagles captainship. A possible win for Chelsea today would keep the Blues’ hope of a possible UEFA Europa ticket alive provided they can at the least finish in the 5th position.
DORTMUND TEST FOR UJAH
Super Eagles striker, Anthony Ujah is set for a difficult outing with his German Bundesliga clubside, Werder Bremen as they go on the road trip to the 81,359-capacity Signal Iduna Park today to take on high riding Borrussia Dortmund. Ujah who has been overlooked by national team selectors of recent is currently Bremen’s second highest goalscorer with 9 goals behind Claudio Pizarro with 12 strikes. This game will see the Nigerian forward come up against Gabonese international and current African Footballer of the year, Pierre-Emmerick Aubameyang who is the leading marksman for Dortmund and currently the second highest top scorer in the Bundesliga with 22 goals.
Werder Bremen are currently 14th on the 18-team league table with 28 points and the side who drew 1-1 at home against Mainz in their last outing, will need to be at their very best if they don’t want to return home with basket-full of goals like they did against league leaders Bayern Munich who trounced them 5-0 penultimate weekend.
Dortmund are currently second on the league table with 64 points and they will be banking on form and home advantage to pick the maximum points against Bremen to keep up the pressure on leaders Bayern with 69 points. The home side will be further boosted going into this game having recorded 4 wins and 1 draw in their last 5 matches while Bremen have managed 2 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss in their last 5 games.
It will be pretty difficult to bet against Dortmund in this tie, don’t you think?
EAGLES ARE NO LONGER SUPER!
Catalogues of woes continue as Nigeria crash out of the AFCON qualifiers for the third time in four attempts…
Nigeria will not participate in the African Cup of Nations scheduled for Gabon next year after the Super Eagles lost 1-0 to the Pharaohs of Egypt in Alexandria Tuesday. It will be the second consecutive time Nigeria’s flag will not be hoisted in the continental championship as the Eagles had previously failed to qualify for the 2015 edition hosted by Equatorial Guinea and which was won by Cote d’Ivoire. Missing the 2015 edition could be waved off as unfortunate but to again miss the subsequent edition in 2017 can’t be excused as it simply shows that the Eagles are no longer Super again. For Nigeria to be ABSENT from THREE out of FOUR editions of the African Cup of Nations is nothing but failure – our triumph in the last appearance in 2013 notwithstanding!
The big question is how did we arrive at such inglorious junctions? I dare say it is sheer CARELESSNESS considering the manner Nigeria lost out in the qualification races for the 2012, 2015 and now 2017 editions of the Nations Cup. The roles played by our football administrators, coaches and players smacked of nothing short of carelessness and Nigeria is paying the price in full.
It was carelessness in 2011 when the NFF and the Eagles technical crew led by coach Samson Siasia simply failed to properly monitor proceedings on the last day of the qualifiers to know that Nigeria’s 2-1 lead over Guinea at the National Stadium in Abuja would have been enough to book Eagles flight to the 2012 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon considering the results of other matches that had ended earlier. Rather, the bench urged the Eagles to poured forward in search of a supposedly ‘insurance’ third goal only to fall prey to a late equaliser on the counter-attack which effectively ended Nigeria’s qualification. With Nigeria grouped alongside Guinea, Ethiopia and Madagascar, no one saw it coming that Nigeria won’t be able to pick the lone automatic ticket in Group B or at the least qualify as one of the best losers to book their flight to the 2012 edition. Eventually, Guinea topped the group with 14 points while Nigeria’s 11 points was not enough to earn them a back-door entrance to the competition as one of the 4 best losers made up of Cape Verde, Libya, Sudan and Tunisia.
The disappointment of 2012 non qualification was quickly forgotten following Nigeria’s qualification and surprise triumph at the 2013 edition in South Africa under coach Stephen Keshi. The Nations Cup success was followed by the qualification for the World Cup a year later with Nigeria getting to the second round of the FIFA Mundial held in Brazil in 2014. One would have expected Nigeria to build on those successes ahead of the qualifiers for the 2015 AFCON and with Nigeria again drawn in a relatively easy group made up of South Africa, Congo and Sudan, no one thought the Eagles will have any difficulty booking their flight to Equatorial Guinea especially as two teams are expected to qualify automatically from the group. But, carelessness set in again as Nigeria lost the very first qualification match 2-3 at home to visiting Gabon. Then a goalless draw away to South Africa followed by a 1-0 away loss to Sudan saw Nigeria pick only 1 point in her first 3 matches with non-qualification already starring us in the face. As usual, request for fasting and prayers coupled with calculations and permutations took the forefront to salvage the situation and by the time the Eagles played host to the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the last qualifying match at the Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo, Nigeria luckily had her fate in her hands as all that was needed was a simple victory over the South Africans who had nothing but pride to play for having already secured their qualification. Beside, a victory of any shade would have seen Nigeria tie on points with Congo at 10 points while the head-to-head advantage and superior goals difference would have seen Nigeria edge out Congo to the second position. However, the Eagles made an easy job become difficult going down to Anthony Rantie’s brace in the 42nd and 48th minutes at the Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo. A late rally by Sone Aluko who scored twice in the 68th and 90th minutes was not enough as the match ended 2-2 ending in Nigeria’s ouster from the 2012 AFCON. Nigeria’s scorecard saw the Eagles pick just 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses in 6 games to end up with 8 points while South Africa and Congo went through with 12 and 10 points respectively.
Qualification for the 2017 AFCON billed for Gabon saw Nigeria drawn in Group G made up of Egypt, Tanzania and Chad. With the group leader billed to pick the single automatic ticket in the group, it is no rocket science to know that the battle for the sole automatic ticket in the group will be a two-horse race between Nigeria and Egypt considering their pedigree in African and World football. Nigeria did got their campaign on a good start with a 2-0 victory over Chad after which Keshi was sacked as Eagles coach. Sunday Oliseh was appointed in Keshi’s stead and drew 0-0 away to Tanzania. That was to be Oliseh’s only game during the qualifiers as he quit the job ahead the crucial double-header against Egypt while Samson Siasia was brought in as the caretaker coach for the remaining qualifying games. But Chad’s withdrawal after the third round of matches saw all the results against them cancelled and dashed any hope of any team in the group earning a best loser ticket to the African Mundial. The situation left Nigeria in dire straits with 2 points after 2 matches as the Eagles could only muster a home draw against Egypt in Kaduna while the Pharaohs then led the group with 4 points. Efforts to salvage the situation proved abortive as Egypt were not careless like Nigeria as they made home advantage count against the Eagles in the return leg following their 1-0 win in Alexandria to go 7 points atop the table. The result effectively put an end to Nigeria’s hopes of featuring at the 2017 AFCON while rendering the last game at home against Tanzania inconsequential.
To sum it up, a determined and serious Egypt simply did what they needed to do to secure qualification while Nigeria simply did the opposite and crashed out. While the Egyptians were perfecting strategies, playing friendly games ahead the crunch double header against Nigeria, the Nigeria Football Federation were enmeshed in diverse crisis. Events in the coming months ahead the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will show if the NFF has learnt any lessons from our recent AFCON non-qualification.
One thing that is however, crystal clear is that the Eagles are no longer Super!