BY PAUL BASSEY
Just as the clock is ticking down to D day so are the butterflies in Nigerians stomachs flapping uncontrollably(?). The last thing I would have wanted to do is to go back to that match that lowered the expectations of Nigerians as regards our chances at the Nations Cup 2013. The English prefer to allow sleeping dogs lie. Not us. This dog, top dog cannot be allowed to lie. He must be on his feet, biting away!
While that match was on, my phone went wild. From Uyo to Kano, Maiduguri, anxious Nigerians wanted to find out what was going on.
Within the space of five minutes two television stations (LTV and MITV) invited me for a live discussion on our chances in South Africa.
I did say before the match that during the qualifiers, CAF had appointed me as Security Officer for the decisive second leg encounter between Cameroun and Cape Verde and the former Portuguese colony triumphed not because they had the best players on the day, but because they paraded a very tactical and intelligent team that neutralized all the moves of the anxious Camerounians.
I concluded by saying that Cape Verde was going to give us a good test and that is exactly what happened.
The Cape Verde friendly brought with it a lot of other interesting deductions. Whether the 23 chosen by Keshi were the best we had, should Osaze not be forgiven, what about Obafemi Martins? What was Obiora and Uzoenyi doing in that team, why did we have to go to cold Faro to train for a competition that was to hold in a hotter climate, how come the team was subjected to a “comprehensive medical treatment” only after the 23 had been chosen and their names forwarded to CAF…lots and lots of questions and as Christian Chukwu said in a radio interview after the match, some of those questions had no answers.
He said there was no team list any where in the world that was not likely to generate controversy. He said the players he would have chosen are quite different from the ones Keshi has chosen because coaches differ when it comes to orientation, tactics and expectations.
I added that the 23 Eagles so selected were some of the best we had presently plus or minus two and that all we needed now was a team and that that team still had two weeks to blend.
I did also say that the Eagles were a tournament team. That I can hardly remember that Nations cup we had not come back with at least a bronze and that I believed this nations cup was not going to be an exception!
Before I start sounding like a Ben Alaiya who while on commentary that day kept on telling us to look out for “the real Eagles whose experience…” will overwhelm Cape Verde, I did agree, and totally too with the fact that the Eagles were quite ordinary that day. And I added that I was pleased it has taken Cape Verde to draw our attention to the deficiencies that were so glaring.
I repeat and for the umpteenth time that the Eagles have been handed a group that will allow them mature as the competition progresses. Eagles first match is against Burkina Faso. Before that match, Keshi and his colleagues will have the opportunity of watching Zambia face Ethiopia.
After disposing of Burkina Faso, the Eagles will now know how best to play Zambia leading to the final group match against Ethiopia which on paper should guarantee us a quarter final spot.
Yes it may not be that simple, but it can be that simple, and by the time you allow the Eagles to get near the semi final…
In summary, I have set out today to say that despite the poor show against Cape Verde, it is too early, damn too early to write off the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
South Africa is pregnant
As a General Coordinator, I am one of the early arrivals in Jo’Burg and the whole country is expectant. The Nations Cup excitement is in the air and unlike the World Cup, the general belief here is that the Bafana Bafana can repeat the 1996 feat when they hosted and won.
Nigerians here are not that optimistic and the blame goes to the inability to qualify last time around and that Keshi should not be expected to perform miracles in less than twelve months…
Bolarinwa Ajala met me at the airport in Jo’Burg. He had come to pick his wife who was coming in from Lagos and suddenly ran after me, wanting to know why Taye Taiwo and Osaze were not invited. ( We were so engrossed in discussion that he nearly missed his wife who had cleared Customs and was looking for him frantically )
How best to sign off than to say there is hope yet. A lot of hope. And in the words of Barrister Chris Green, the ball has left the half of Stephen Keshi. Yobo and his colleagues must collect the pass and in the process justify the confidence reposed on them.
God help us.