By Ade Ojeikere
Sunday Dare has shown that Sports ministers can be busy doing other relevant sporting matters instead of being mascots to the Super Eagles by attending every game in Nigeria and outside. Dare spent last weekend inspecting facilities slated to host the FIFA U-20 Women’s Championship in Lagos, ahead of the inspectors’ visit. Nigeria is listed among countries bidding to get the hosting rights from the world soccer body.
The minister wasn’t alone in the inspection exercise. the executive governor of Lagos State Babajide Olusola Sanwo-olu and his deputy Kadri Obafemi Hamzat spent close to six hours walking the length and breadth of the derelict National Stadium Lagos, Teslim Balogun Stadium in the Centre of Excellence and the Onikan Arena in the country’s economic hub. Teslim Balogun stadium is functional, although needs facelifts. Onikan Stadium is almost complete with state-of-art facilities. Sadly, National Stadium (in ruins) typifies the shame of our nation.
It made more sense reading that the minister chose to talk to the players on telephone from the inspection venues than a physical appearance in Singapore, wasting taxpayers’ cash. No prize for guessing that the Lagos State governor who was on the inspection tour also talked to the boys. Both men’s messages sank because Super Eagles were held to a pulsating 1-1 by Brazil’s Samba Boyz.
Dare’s absence from Eagles’ or other soccer teams’ game has saved the country the unpleasant moments of seeing our ministers sitting alone in the state box after a defeat. Trust the European media to capture such scenes and feast on it. Dare’s busy schedules saved us from seeing the inglorious video clip of a minister sitting around where our sports women were sharing money, which they said he gave them. Interesting. Anyway, this piece isn’t about Dare or ministers.
Sitting at work before Sunday’s game between Nigeria and Brazil in Singapore, my silent wish was for the Super Eagles to leave the pitch unscathed, with plenty of talking points. A defeat (God forbid) would have brought out the long knives of critics, eager to vent their spleen on everyone, even though their targets are the federation’s bosses. The Brazilians played a game against Senegal the Tuesday before ours and used the Eagles’ game to correct the mistakes noticed in the 1-1 draw against Senegal, their third in a row of recent friendly matches.
Samba Boyz played their best players. They wanted to win to break the drawn games’ phobia, but the Nigerians were resolute and determined to justify why they play regularly for various clubs in Europe and the Diaspora. Playing against Brazil for many Nigerians is like attempting a suicide mission, especially when a few people suggest that the Samba Boyz are beatable. Don’t blame these Nigerians because the Brazilians are not easy meat to chew.
Shortly after the Russia 2018 World Cup, Eagles had issues with goalkeeping, even though Francis Uzoho manned the post for Nigeria. But on Sunday in Singapore, Uzoho showed reason why he should be the country’s number one goalkeeper until he sustained the unfortunate injury which will keep out of the club and country’s soccer for six months.
One of the hazards of the game but we hope that NFF chiefs can stand by him during this trying period, knowing he sustained the injury playing for Nigeria. Did I hear you ask about Eagles’ insurance and welfare packages for such things as injuries? Don’t go there. NFF should be informed about such things. Let’s hope Uzoho doesn’tcry out about neglect.
While Uzoho was being treated on the turf on Sunday afternoon, thoughts ran wild over his likely replacement. Eagles had Okoye and Ezenwa on the bench. Based on seniority in the camp, people expected Ezenwa but Rohr opted for Germany based Nigerian goalkeeper Okoye. Fans waited with bathed breath but the fair complexioned goalkeeper stood his grounds and raised the debate about the country’s number one, when Uzoho returns.
Already, FIFA have cited clauses in their rule book on injuries during firnedly games in its FIFA-free windows for such an exercise. Part of it makes it mandatory on FIFA to pay Francis Uzoho’s six months wages for the period of his treatment. It also includes others packages which FIFA didn’t specify.
The Brazil vs Nigeria friendly is recognised by FIFA as it was played on a date on the FIFA international match calendar and both teams did not field more than six substitutes each.
Under FIFA’s Club Protection Programme, clubs whose players suffer injuries whilst on international duty are compensated and the maximum daily compensation has been set at €20,548.
The compensation payable is based solely on the fixed salary that the club pays directly to the player as his employer and the temporary total disablement (TTD) suffered by the player has to prevent him from representing his club for more than 28 days before a claim can be processed.
Eagles have two matches in November for the qualification ticket to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations slated to hold in Cameroon against Republic of Benin inside the refurbished Samuel Osagbovo Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City on November 11 and an away fixture against Lesotho. Two ‘cheap’ matches considering Eagles’ pedigree and the way they played against Ukraine and Brazil. But that is where soccer is a cruel game. It is a respecter of nobody. The best team which takes its chances wins matches, not the side that plays to the gallery or wait for their big stars to conjure victories. Soccer is team work which makes it quite difficult for the coaches to pick the best 11, except after playing quality friendly games like the Eagles have done.
Uzoho’s injury offers another window for a goalkeeper to emerge. Rohr’s assistants should help him by nominating the best domestic league star in that position to camp. Rohr opted for Okoye because Ezenwa hasn’t been busy with matches in the domestic scene. Now, Ezenwa has two hurdles to scale rather than cement his quest for the number shirt, due to inactivity in the domestic league.
Against Republic of Benin inside the Ogbemudia stadium, Rohr will pick Okoye ahead of Ezenwa, leaving a defensive four of Chigozie Awaziem, William Troost Ekong, Semi Ajayi and Jamilu Collins, who laboured hard to stop Gabriel Jesus, the Manchester City lad who tormented him on Sunday in Singapore. Collins learned a few lessons from handling such articulate strikers. The essence of friendly games. Against Brazil, Awaziem forgot he was playing at the right wing back. This flaw was exploited by the Samba Boyz, largely because Awaziem drifted to the central defence area, where he naturally plays for his European side.
The Brazilians are skilful dribblers of the ball but met a resilient Nigerian defence that marked them effectively such that the Samba Boyz opted for the long ball to break the Eagles defensive line. It worked a few times, except that Wilfred Ndidi wasn’t able to replicate his Leicester City form playing for Nigeria. He was slow to the ball and was easily ripped of the ball, a trait not known in his games. Perhaps, Ndidi was over confident, but not his day in Singapore on Sunday. Ndidi made some poor positional decision that exposed Super Eagles defence in the game although there weren’t costly. He also failed to track Philippe Coutinho well into the Nigerian box in the second half.
Joe Aribo defied the fact that he recovered from 20 stitches on his head with his impressive box-to-box performance in the midfield that awed the Brazilians. Aribo, stepped forward from an overlapping run to pounce on the ball, dribbled an on rushing Brazilian before hitting the ball to right side of a dumbfounded Brazil goalkeeper. He was full of energy his intensity was a problem for the Brazilians. Nigeria had opened scoring. Brazilians were shocked, but picked up the pieces to fight back. The first half ended 1-0 in Nigeria’s favour with Aribo, a standout performer in the midfield.
Aribo’s showmanship in the midfield dwarfed Alex Iwobi’s role more so when the Brazilians singled him out for marking before the game. It must have stunned them that Eagles had such a talent. Iwobi did well. He underlined reasons pundits have canvassed that he plays in the number 10 position for club and country.
Samuel Chukwueze was missing in action on Sunday. He style was predictable. He managed to dribble past Renan Lodi once and held onto the ball too much. He was clueless when left in one-one situations with defenders. He managed just one shot target. Sadly, Chuwkwueze’s inability to track back and help his mates retrieve the ball when we lost it, exposed Awaziem who played as right back, even though he was always in the heart of the team’s defence.
If Chukwueze was clueless, then Moses Simon just ran around the pitch not able to distinguish himself defensively or otherwise. Simon, however, did well to set up Aribo’s goal. He offered little going forward. It will be difficult to grade Victor Osimhen because the Brazilians cut off the supply of passes to him from the midfielders.
Osimhen placed his first shot on target of the game after a fantastic turn and started the move that led to Nigeria’s goal. He was replaced by Paul Onuachu in the 74th minute but failed to have any impact in the game. He failed to cause problems for the weary Brazilian defence.
Nigeria has a legion of young boys in Europe to make the Eagles the toast of Africa if we stick to the high standards set. Unfortunately, the domestic league is lying prostrate – the drumbeats of hope from Europe should jumpstart a new dawn for the beautiful game here.
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