June 12, 2009

Eagles’ Abuja Flap Excites Optimists

By Ikeddy Isiguzo, Chairman Editorial Board
JUNE 20 is decisive for   Nigeria’s mangled   2010 World Cup plan. Maputo, Mozambique would haunt the Super Eagles for a long time. The Eagles got a draw in Maputo, but it is proving a loss in the contention for the single ticket for the World Cup in South Africa, the first one in Africa.

Rades, where Tunisia upped its advantage on Saturday is the venue of the game that would decide the World Cup ticket, with three games still left.

•Nwanko Kanu celebrating Nigeria goal with Ikechukwu Uche after scoring first goal at National Stadium Abuja. Nigeria 1 Kenya 0.  Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.

•Nwanko Kanu celebrating Nigeria goal with Ikechukwu Uche after scoring first goal at National Stadium Abuja. Nigeria 1 Kenya 0. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.

Abuja gave the Eagles a relief, but the worries have endured. Kenya was not supposed to be a stiff opposition, but the scares from that game would make the best optimists to rethink the chances of the Eagles. A more enterprising Kenya would have embarrassed the Eagles in Abuja.

More optimism blurs the reality of Nigeria’s World Cup chances. The Eagles fly more on optimism than any other thing. The reality is that the Eagles MUST win or draw in Rades, and win all their remaining games to get the ticket, while Tunisia MUST lose at least a point to Eagles in Rades for Nigeria to remain in the World Cup train, or maintain its chances.

Coach Shuaibu Amodu is soaking in the plaudits of winning, he came to Abuja with wins in two friendly games against Republic of Ireland and France, none of these count in the World Cup, the only high point of those games is that they produced some of the players who are now key to what for the fixtures.

Nobody can deny the fact that he has brought more competitiveness into the Eagles, resulting in the seeming effectiveness of the team in its last three games. The Eagles suffer from defects in certain critical areas, the defence being one of them. There are still moments of anxiety in the attack and long spells, during a game when it is really difficult to see the team in flight.

Perennial Optimists Optimists are working their calculators again. Eagles would draw in Rades and beat Tunisia in Abuja, a draw in Rades, Group Captain Patrick Akosubo, said, is what is needed. He is Chairman of the Nigeria Air Force Football team, a leading proponent of this miracle.

“Pray for the Super Eagles,” is a regular one-liner in his emails, after the disaster in Maputo. Of course, everything is possible including both crucial games being drawn.

Amodu cannot forget the tardiness of Maputo. Did he notice the difference Nwankwo Kanu made in Abuja? Could he have done the same in Maputo? Amodu would keep asking himself these questions. The two missed points from Maputo could cost the Eagles the World Cup.

Persistent Concerns
Concerns persist about Nigeria’s chances and they cannot be ignored –
•Tunisia firmed up its place on the driver’s seat with its second victory in Rades. It has claimed the maximum six points from two games.
•Another advantage for Tunisia is that its next game is at home, a crucial game because it would decide the World Cup ticket.
•On June 20, the decisive encounter will be in Rades. Tunisia’s two-point advantage means that Nigeria MUST win or draw in Rades to remain in contention.
•A draw in Rades, a huge achievement, if the Eagles get it, would not suffice. Such result would give Tunisia seven points, to Nigeria’s five – the two-point Tunisian advantage remains, but it makes the game in Abuja relevant.
•If Tunisia wins in Rades, the World Cup campaign is over for the Eagles because Tunisia would win its remaining games, maybe like us.
•From June 20 (eight games remaining) are to be played on the same day, the times may eventually be the same. There is hardly any room for manipulations.
• If Tunisia arrives for the return leg in Abuja at nine points and Nigeria with four points (if Eagles lose in Rades June 20), a victory in Abuja still leaves the Eagles two points behind Tunisia. Will Tunisia lose to Kenya and Mozambique?
• The ding-dong continues on September 5, 77 DAYS after the June 20 tie. Both top contenders are home, Nigeria to Mozambique and Tunisia to Kenya. Suppose they win their matches, the table remains in Tunisia’s favour.
• September 5 Eagles home game provides little advantage.  The foreign leagues would be revving up and players are usually more interested in pleasing their clubs. A loss of momentum could also hurt the building cohesion in the Eagles. Tunisia uses players mostly from its domestic league.
• Kenya-Mozambique (June 20) and Mozambique-Kenya (September 5) would shift the gears at the lower part of the table. None of them would qualify for the World Cup, so they would fiercely restrict their ambitions to the remaining Nations Cup space – top three teams qualify from this group.
• Nigeria hosts Mozambique on October 10,  when Tunisia would be home to Kenya – the hosts should win.
• Both Nigeria and Tunisia would be away on the closing day of the qualifiers, November 14 – Nigeria in Kenya battling altitude (and attitude) and Tunisia in the comfort of the synthetic pitch in Maputo.
• The last games would have no relevance if Nigeria lost in Rades. The all-important June 20 game is what the Eagles should focus on as they fight again to work a miracle to qualify for the World Cup.
Amodu is on a high after  his strings of victories. He is acquiring the confidence many thought was beyond him, yet all these would count for nothing if he does not bring the World Cup ticket home with a decisive outing in Tunisia which 32 years ago denied Nigeria a place in the 1978 World Cup: most painfully, at the National Stadium, Lagos, which that day was packed with the patriotic fans of those days.
Tunisia offers no good memories of the World Cup. Amodu’s task is to reverse the memories. He can if Eagles fly in Rades seven days hence.