By Patrick Omorodion with FIFA report
Not many know what the 2-2 draw the Green Eagles had against visiting Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in Abuja on September 6 means to Nigeriaâ€™s rating in football circles especially in FIFA which gave Nigeria so much respect after the draws for the final qualifying round were made last year.
For the incurable optimists and especially those sympathetic to the four musketeers, Sani Lulu Abdullahi, Amanze Uchegbulam, Taiwo Ogunjobi and Bolaji Ojo-Oba, they concluded that the Eagles were favourites to carry the day in their group, above Tunisia and pick the sole ticket.
Their reason, no other than the Eagles recorded a 100% in the first stage of the qualifiers which included minnows like Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. The victories, which most often were not inspiring, did not convince some Nigerians like Ayo Akinfe based in London and Adokiye Amiesimaka, himself a former strong force in the Eagles that won the 1980 Africa Nations Cup.
They advised that the Eagles should play more enterprising and inspiring football because when they are faced with stronger opposition in the final and crucial round, they may find it very difficult to hold their own. Of course, some psychophants in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) called the critics names and said the Eagles were on course, at least theyÂ have not lost any match. Even FIFA harped on the fears (future of coach Shaibu Amodu and the players lackadaisical attitude) of these critics and fans of the Eagles.
Today the story and the song are different as the Eagles are on the verge on missing out of the World Cup for the second consecutive time, and most painfully this time, when the football festival is coming to Africa for the first time.
Apart from the optimists and the NFF musketeers who sneaked out of the Abuja stadium with their tails between their legs after the 2-2 draw and are still hoping for a miracle, FIFA bigwigs who rated Nigeria so highly will be disappointed at the way things have turned out with the qualifiers. Read hereunder whatÂ FIFA said about Nigeria and the other teams in Group B of the African qualifiers.
Nigeria certainly appear to be the favourites in their final African qualifying group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africaâ„¢. The Super Eagles were the only side to collect maximum points in the previous round of qualifiers.
Drawing upon players like John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins and Nwankwo Kanu, they have a richly talented and ambitious squad, but uncertainty over the future of current coach Shaibu Amodu and the occasional failure of some of their European-based players to show up for crucial matches have their dedicated fansâ€™ concerned.
Tunisia will be hoping to make their fourth consecutive appearance at the world finals and, although they have parted ways with former French boss Roger Lemerre and hired Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho to replace him, they are brimming with discipline and stability.
The favourites Nigeria: The West African Eagles look to be the best side in the section on paper, especially in physical and technical terms. They will surely have learned their lesson from the last qualifiers ahead of Germany 2006 and will be keen to call up all their stars for each and every contest this time around.
Nigeria have gone through some rocky times since bursting onto the scene in 1994, but they seem to be on the right track now, with a balance of youth and experience. They also boast a collection of players as gifted as ever, with the likes of Taye Taiwo and Jon Obi Mikel swelling their ranks.
The outsiders Tunisia: Appointed in August 2008, Humberto Coelho succeeded Frenchman Roger Lemerre and managed to guide the North Africans to the final round following a goalless draw against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou.
The Carthage Eagles certainly have an impressive pedigree, being four-time FIFA World Cup participants (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006), and boasting players garnering top-level experience in the European leagues. They know how to collect points and play cautiously on the road, making them the main contenders for the fancied Nigerians.
The countryâ€™s biggest
claim to fame is as the birthplace of the legendary Eusebio, the Portuguese striker who ended the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England as top scorer. Its close colonial links with the European country have led to many of Mozambiqueâ€™s players seeking fame and fortune in Portugal, such as former Benfica, Villarreal and Espanyol fullback Armando Sa.
Kenya : The opposition never quite knows what they are going to get with the inconsistent Kenyans, and it is precisely that unpredictability that makes them dangerous. But under the command of local coach, Francis Kimanzi, The Harambee Stars were able to impress in the last round and Dennis Oliech and Co were finally able to get their act together and find some consistency. They did not drop a single point at home and can certainly cause some damage.
The players to watch
John Obi Mikel (NGA), Joseph Yobo (NGA), Nwanko Kanu (NGA), Amine Chermiti (TUN), Issam Jomaa (TUN), Tico-Tico (MOZ), Dennis Oliech (KEN)
The crunch match
would bet on the Super Eagles dropping points in Abuja, so the Carthage Eagles will be going all out for victory in Tunis, where they will be hoping their vibrant supporters can make a difference.
Reactions after the draws were made
This is not a particularly easy draw as many people are suggesting. We have respect for every team in the pool. Tunisia are always hard nuts to crack and Kenya did well to qualify from a group that also included Zimbabwe. As for Mozambique, they might have ended up with eight points while we had 18, but they will fight very hard in the third phase and could prove to be the toughest scrappers in there.
Against North African
sides like Tunisia, anything can happen. Even though it is generally accepted that while the game is declining over there and our football is on the rise, we cannot afford to take them lightly. That is also not to say that we will underestimate the other teams in our group, Kenya and Mozambique, because they have both made remarkable progress. The last time, we made a big mistake when we looked down on teams like Angola and Rwanda and paid dearly for it by not playing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. I know the players will be delighted with this group but we all know that we have to sit up and focus because qualification will not come easy, not just for us but for the other so-called favourites in the other groups.
We have a great team, a
group of players willing to take their nation to greater heights. I do believe this team can make it to the World Cup but the manager and staff of the FA must be sensitive to their needs as players and make sure they are well taken care of.
Itâ€™s tough. Nigeria are a
great team, and the only thing we can do is prepare ourselves well. Mozambique and Kenya are two teams who wonâ€™t be easy to beat at home either. The Nigerians are very solid. They have some superb players and they put together quite a few wins in the second round. Itâ€™s all down to us, though, and we shouldnâ€™t be focusing solely on Nigeria. We canâ€™t afford to drop any points against the other teams and weâ€™ll need to show a lot of determination in every game.
We are in a good group. I
feared we could have ended up in tougher one. Nigeria are a good team but we know how to play against them and get maximum points. I think we have a fair chance to reach the finals for a fourth successive time.