By Onochie Anibeze
I’m sure Stephen Keshi must be savouring the 3-1 victory againstVenezuela in an international friendly inFlorida Thursday morning.
Venezuelawere semifinalists in the last CopaAmerica. They lost the third place match toParaguayon penalties. They are, therefore, no minnows in football.
The good thing about that victory was the withdrawal of Mikel Obi and Victor Moses from the match. It afforded Keshi the chance to try other players who probably might not have played.
Mikel and Moses, for now, would always win first team shirts in Eagles. But no one could say so of Brown Ideye and Ogenwo Onazi who scored brilliant goals. Nosa Igiebor stood out inLiberiain the 2-2 draw in the Nations Cup qualifier and lived up to expectation in Calabar. But inFloridahe seemed to have sealed a regular shirt in the Eagles. Many will tell the story of his superb goal for long.
Not to forget the performance of debutants Shola Ameobi and Bright Dike. Keshi described Ameobi as awesome and said that Dike played as if he had been part of the team for long.
They all made a tonic out of the match and now the talk is on returning to the glorious past. But I’m also happy that Keshi is not over celebrating. He warned that the Eagles were still work in progress. This is simply the truth especially knowing that inAfrica, it’s always a different ball game.
They have the Nations Cup inSouth Africaand the World Cup qualifiers to contend with. Games inAfricaare usually tougher.
Style of play, the grounds, the weather and other circumstances make it so. African football is different. Ever wondered how Cameroon were knocked out in the first round of the Algiers ’90 and went to Italia ’90 World Cup and got to the quarter finals?
Those who make a case for the return of the likes of Osaze Odewengie to the Eagles do so on the basis that they are still playing for their clubs. It doesn’t follow. Osaze was so awful againstGuineainAbujalast year that many, including Kashimawo Laloku, accused him of sabotaging the team. He had issues with then coach Samson Siasia and Laloku feared “he was vengeful.”
But Keshi took him toRwandaand he appeared worse than he was inAbuja. Surprisingly, Osaze laid bare his heart to Keshi in a recent well publicized chat. Did you read about Osaze’s feelings? He was not happy that he was substituted inRwanda. He told Keshi that he helpedNigeriaqualify for the World Cup but found himself on the bench inSouth Africa.
He queried that and blasted Lars Lagerback for benching him, the same man he had praised to high heavens while condemning Shuaibu Amodu. After the World Cup Osaze regretted thatNigeriasigned Largaback and said that Amodu should have continued. His tone in the discussion with Keshi appeared to be spelling some conditions or warnings before he could return to Eagles.
His place is not on the bench, Keshi must know. Osaze once excelled inAfrica. But he seems to be losing the power and character of African football.
Space constraints would not allow me to go into technical details but I just want to warn Keshi to beware of certain players who may not give the best on the field and would cause confusion in the team.
Even if you single-handedly qualify a team for a tournament you may not make the team for the tournament if you lose form at crucial time. Football is about current form. And no matter your status or position in a team you may be substituted on a day you are not playing well.
In fact, after reading the comments attributed to Osaze I wondered if he ever wanted to play for Eagles again. Keshi replied him that if he had his way the entire team inRwandawould have been changed but that the rule allowed only three changes.
Keshi has been diplomatic in the management of players in Eagles and interaction with the media. While I urge him to continue in such mature manner he should be ready to be blunt in some absolutely necessary cases before some people rock the boat