SoccerTalk by Mumini Alao:
I WASN’T going to write a preview of the Super Eagles World Cup qualifier against Zambia this weekend at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo.
My thinking was, what is there to analyse when everybody knew already what was going to happen.
Oh, who says he/she doesn’t know what is going to happen? You, dear reader? Com’on! Of course, you know what is going to happen. The Super Eagles are going to beat the Zambians and qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals. THAT is what is going to happen, in sha Allah!
It’s a very long time that I have felt this bullish about our national football team. As recently as late August/early September this year when we faced Cameroun in that dramatic World Cup qualifying double-header, I wasn’t this confident about our team. In fact, I declared the Eagles as the underdogs against the Indomitable Lions only for them to stun everybody with a comprehensive home victory and an impressive away draw.
But the situation and the circumstances are different against Zambia. The Eagles cannot hide from the fact that they’re the overwhelming favourites this time around. We all EXPECT them to win!
That’s not saying the Zambians will be pushovers, however. Any African team that beats powerhouse Algeria home and away like the Zambians have done deserves respect. But, to be frank, the Eagles are a class above the East Africans.
Since coach Gernot Rohr took over, the Eagles have discovered a new spirit and new confidence. If we have great expectations of them now, it is because of the way they have played so far in this World Cup qualifying race.
However, one real danger that I fear is complacency. Quite often, the Eagles have pleasantly surprised us when they were written off and have disappointed when expectation was high. There’s always a likelihood of a repeat but, thankfully, I can’t see any signs of that happening against Zambia. I have observed the team closely and read many interviews by Rohr and his players. The message I get is that they all seem very focused on the task at hand. They know that the Zambians are coming for a fight and they are ready for them.
A Tweet by left-back Elderson Ehiejile (@Elderson) in symptomatic: “Only one thing on my mind: #NGAZAM.” It was accompanied by a photograph of the player, looking serious and determined.
Another possible danger is what Nigerian Olympian athlete Enefiok Udo-Obong describes as the “psychological stress and pressure that all footballers and sportsmen feel when they are on the verge of accomplishment.” Being just one win away from grabbing the ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Eagles could suffer from this type of psychological pressure. But I expect them to overcome that with the experience of captain Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Ogenyi Onazi who have all been to a World Cup before and know how to deal with such situations.
So, Nigeria ticks all the right boxes ahead of Zambia. History is on our side as we have recorded more wins against them including beating them 2-1 in Ndola in the first leg of this tie; we lead them by three points and a healthy goal difference in our World Cup qualifying group; we are playing at home; we have the better players who are hungry to secure the World Cup ticket; we have more experience at this level; and we have a coach, Gernot Rohr, who I consider to be our “star player” because of his tactical nous.
Nigeria has all the necessary ammunition to silence Zambia’s pre-match boasts on Saturday. My prayer is for mother luck to also be on our side.
See you in Russia 2018!
When City Came To London…
COURTESY of Star Lager who signed on Chelsea Football Club as their latest partners in the elite #StarFootballLeague last week in London, I was in the crowd at Stamford Bridge last Saturday when Manchester City confronted champions Chelsea in what I rate as the best game of the English Premier League so far this season.
For me, City were such a joy to watch with their excellent passing and movements. They were so dominant en-route to their 1-0 win that even Chelsea fans admitted that they’d been let off rather lightly as the margin of victory could have been higher. Where I sat in the crowd, I could feel the tense sense of surrender among the home fans.
From a Nigerian perspective, I Tweeted my disappointment that Victor Moses was not fielded by Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. But when one of my followers responded that the omission would leave the player fresh for the Eagles game against Zambia, I concurred.
#StarFootballLeague is a coalition of football league and clubside partners put together by Star to excite their Nigerian customers. Four lucky winners (Ugochukwu Jay Chikezie, Chinedu Jude Mbanefo, Onyedika Nwokedike and Nneamaka Anyanwu) were sponsored on an all expense paid trip to witness the formal signing of the Star-Chelsea partnership and also watch the Chelsea-City game.
When I asked the winners about their experiences, they were united in
describing it as a “trip of a lifetime.” Even for me, it was great fun too.