By Paul Bassey
No apologies for repeatedly saying that for me winning the Confederations Cup was not as important as qualifying for the World Cup. The FIFA Confederations Cup was therefore an opportunity for us to test run our World Cup team.
There is no doubt that that is exactly what the “Festival of Champions” turned out to be, affording us a post mortem of our squad.
Nigerians for the first time are unanimous that the team is far from being complete. We all agree that our attack is near zero, that the defence needs some firming up and the middle could do with some serious and attack minded individual different from the “ don’t touch me, am a Chelsea big boy delay “ style of Mikel Obi. We agree that this team lacks a General, a Yobo figure.
In the process of expressing these and other shades of opinions, many have taken up arms, especially those who believe “ We tried” and interpret such observations as critical of Coach Stephen Keshi.
A reader even sent me a text with annoyance “…..Were you expecting us to beat Spain?” if that reader knew that countries like Cameroun and USA have played to the final of the Confederations Cup, if that reader is aware that the US beat an unbeatable Spanish side in 2009 and that South Africa played in the semi final of this same competition in 2009, then he will better understand why some Nigerians genuinely nursed the possibility of a victory over Spain.
Ok, let us assume we were not expected to beat Spain. What about the poor showing against Tahiti? Why did we not pull at least a draw against Uruguay? Even against Spain, the Eagles played well enough to be able to get a result, but for lack of adequate firepower up front. We tried, I agree, but in fifty years when our grandchildren will come across the result, that Spain beat us 3-0, who will be around to explain that but for those three goals, the match would have ended in a draw?……I believe that is what we are all saying. Some of us maybe saying it with annoyance, others perhaps too harshly but I repeat again that we are all saying that if we must make any impact at the World Cup next year then Coach Keshi has to take another look at his team, his players and that perhaps he needs more eyes to be able to see better.
The Nations Cup is far far behind us. Reality looms. If you have an attacker who goes into six consecutive matches – Mexico, Kenya, Namibia, TAHIT (Capitals mine) Uruguay and Spain and fails to score a goal or two, then that player should be dropped for good. The last time Obafemi came, he played only one match and was dropped. We know Anichebe, Kalu, Ameobi. We know they have quality. Keshi knows better.
What is flowing through the land presently, is to say the least, the fear of September. In September, we are expected to beat Malawi. Expected because so far, our run has been far from satisfactory. Considering that the opposition is just Kenya, Malawi and Namibia, yet we have only won two matches of the five played, leaving qualification to the last match.
Let us believe that Malawi is not the problem. But the draw of the third and final round of the African qualifiers will be held in Cairo on September 16. On that day the five best placed African teams in the FIFA Coca Cola ranking as of September 12 will be seeded.
If that draw is held today and going by the latest FIFA ranking, it means Cote Divoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria and Tunisia will be seeded while the other bowl will contain either Libya or Cameroun, Egypt, South Africa or Ethiopia, Uganda or Senegal and Congo or Burkina Faso. This, is a preferred situation.
But going by the result of our last four matches against Namibia, Tahiti, Uruguay and Spain, what guarantee do we have that the FIFA ranking of September 12 will be kind to us and still keep us in the top five in Africa, given the superlative showings of Egypt, Zambia, Burkina Faso etc who are presently below us and did not have Federations Cup matches to dent their records?
If this happens, then we see ourselves confronting either Cote Divoire, Ghana, Algeria and Tunisia, countries who by their current world cup outings are on fire.
This is the fear we are all expressing. That a two leg battle against Egypt, Cameroun, Senegal, Zambia …will not be a piece of cake, hence the need to be adequately prepared.
I thank Coach Keshi. He is not deaf. He says Yobo remains his captain, that Obafemi, Anichebe and co are in his plans and that if Osaze stops his naughtiness (?) he will be considered. The sooner, the better. Time is definitely not on our side.
See you next week.