Nigeria and the Liberian challenge
By Paul Bassey
There was drama on Thursday as I sent a text to Barrister Green to enquire the ambiance in the hall as CAF got set to draw for the Nations Cup last qualifying matches.
Barrister Green said everything was fine but that we needed prayers to be able to get a favourable draw.
I chorused Amen.
As the draw was going on we held our breath as Senegal refused to come out of the pot.
Of all the teams in Pot B, Senegal was the most dreaded and there were a lot of prayers to avoid the Teranga Lions whose pedigree needed to be respected were as good as any team in pot A if not better.
As Senegal refused to come out of the pot, Nigeria was drawn and the lot fell on our own Daniel Amokachi, Assistant coach of the Super Eagles to pick our opponent.
He dipped his hands, came out with Liberia and there were shouts of joy and relief!
Later, we have had to be involved in series of discussions, how there are no minnows in football, how we should be wary of Liberia and so on.
I agree, but if there should be no difference between Spain in Greece in European football, then even the law equality will need a different interpretation.
I was to encounter the big Boss himself in Ijebu Ode during the Sunshine Stars CAF Champions League match against Esperance and as usual the journalist present had a field day seeking his opinion on the task ahead.
The coach was quick to point at the Egyptian example. How there are no minnows in football, how they will work hard until qualification is in the bag etc etc.
Well spoken. I still believe in my innermost of minds that the Liberia challenge will be surmounted, that it is the same team that Keshi and his boys beat at home and although the stake has been raised, home and away, we will conquer.
I do not want to lose sleep over Liberia. My problem has to do with using the Liberia match to prepare for the battle of South Africa. We have less than seven months to the next Nations Cup and by October when we will be in a position to know who our final group opponents will be, it will be less two months to kick off time.
So, between now and September when we play our first leg match against Liberia, between now and the return leg in October, the bigger picture is definitely the Nations Cup with Liberia as a stepping stone.
We are condemned to beating Liberia, there are no two ways about it. I know how the Egyptians feel, I know how we felt when we could not make it to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and we cannot thread that path again, never.
However, I repeat that qualifying for the Nations Cup is one thing, doing well at the Nations Cup is another. We cannot afford to qualify only to go and return early, that is why there is no room for relaxation.
I believe that by now Coach Stephen Keshi is ready with his programme for prosecuting the Nations Cup, one that has to do with camping, friendly matches, and strategies for the herculean task at hand.
Sunshine’s shaky Start
It was pathetic being a Nigerian on Sunday, as Sunshine Stars surrendered all their football knowledge to visiting Esperance of Tunis, defending Champions of the CAF Champions League.
In the first half the Nigerians had nothing to offer. They over respected their opponents and surrendered the midfield to them. For forty five minutes, the defenders and midfielders were busy lobbing the ball to their forward line advantage the taller Tunisian defenders .
Two goals down in the first half, no thanks to skilful Ghanaian playmaker Afful Harrison,it was all gloom in Ijebu Ode.
In the second half we saw more of the Nigerian champions we saw a fight, we saw determination, we saw them making onslaughts at the Tunisian goal line, and but for hard luck and the expertise of agile Tunisian goalkeeper Ben Cherifia Moez the Nigerians would have leveled up.
It is that second half that gives me hope that all is not yet over. Last year in the Confederation Cup, Sunshine posted some incredible results at away in Algeria and in Congo and this year came back from the dead to oust their Angolan foes.
It is that same resilient and never say die Sunshine that we expect to take their next trip away to Etoile in Sousse, Tunisia and rekindle their cup chances.
To all July people. My son Johnson the “special one”, my daughter Eky she calls herself Annabel. Chief Oyuki Obaseki who was 69 on July 7 and Super Perm Sec Emma who shares the same birth day with me today. Not forgetting NFF President Aminu Maigari who on 26th June had one more year added to his life by the Almighty.
Long life, good health and God’s bountiful blessings IJN
See you next week