By Paul Bassey
The fever is on. World Cup fever. This week, ten countries in Africa will be involved in preparations that will lead towards their picking the five tickets allocated to Africa for the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
By this week end the road to Brazil will be clearer depending on the initial gait, first steps, as it were.
For Nigeria, Egypt, Cote D’ivoire, Cameroun and……..it is a dream draw to be playing away first. The argument is always that if you play away first, you can always use the second leg to make amends and progress.
That, has not always been the case. In Africa, it was fashionable to lose two zero, concede three goals at away and come back to level and go ahead and win.
This, is the world cup. These are matches that are televised live, with top of the drawer referees who have been slated to referee in the world cup and are therefore condemned to excellence in the presence of FIFA appointed Commissioners and Referees Assessors.
The argument therefore is that home or away, teams are expected to be on top of their game to be able to make the second leg a formality or easier than usual.
Going by the FIFA Coca Cola ranking, Nigeria in drawing Ethiopia, got the tenth rated club in Africa, the 93rd ranked in the world.
The same ranking that says Brazil, conquerors of Spain and Confederations Cup champions are 8th in the world behind Colombia, Belgium and Uruguay!
Many a football analysts have therefore learnt to take the FIFA ranking with a pinch of salt.
It is heart warming that the initial jubilation by Nigerians, has given way to caution and respect, especially coming from the Eagles Coach Stephen Keshi who has publicly declared that he will not under rate the Walya Antelopes.
Journalists in the land have done a good work of chronicling Ethiopia’s progress so far, merited progression, insisting that though Ethiopia are beatable, they will not go down without a fight.
Ethiopia’s progression in the last four years has been phenomenal. Nations Cup qualifiers, World Cup Africa Zone top ten, CHAN qualifiers. No fluke.
A world Cup qualifying group that had South Africa, Botswana and Central African Republic was considered a bonus to the South Africans but the Antelopes took off from the block, winning their matches home and away, including a draw in South Africa.
Even when they were penalized by three points and three goals for fielding an ineligible player, the South Africans were edged by the Ethiopians who are now standing on the road to Nigeria’s qualification.
The Nigerian players have also come out to believe Ethiopia will not be a problem. Why not? It is called confidence, as long as it is not over confidence. Placed one by one against the Ethiopians, the match will end 11-0 in favour of The Super Eagles yet football is not like that.
What is cheering is that Keshi’s Eagles have taken shape. The players now understand themselves better and they are determined to answer ‘present’ when the roll call is made in Brazil next year.
When referee Alioum Neant of Cameroun blows the kick off whistle this week end in Addis Ababa, Stephen Keshi will not be allowed to get into the fray.
It is those players whom their country has given the privilege of rubbing shoulders with the best in the world come Brazil that will be expected to up their game and quench their thirst with a champagne performance.
Stand up President Aminu Maigari. The NFF Chieftain and his board who must do everything possible to go into the Nigerian football records as one of the few Presidents to have led us to the world Cup.
The NFF must therefore leave no stone unturned in guaranteeing that if we do not win in Addis Ababa, we do not lose either.
History knocks and we must open the door, wide.
Good luck Nigeria.
Back to Thunder Balogun’s “Shots”
Two weeks ago, Nigeria and Africa’s former table tennis champion Demola Ali dropped a bomb shell when he claimed that contrary to popular belief ‘Thunder’ Balogun was so named not because of his thunderous shots but because of his lightening speed that confounded defenders and goalkeepers alike. “Thunder had no shot at all. That distinction should go to Skipper Henshaw,” he insisted
Since then, we have waited for a counter opinion, none has come, instead a lot of people have called and written confirming Alhaji Alli’s position including a retired Consultant Surgeon Frank Ofili who said he was then a ball boy to Dan Anyiam and Tesilimi Balogun “ …carrying their football boots from 107 Bamgbose Street to King George V Stadium.
That Thunder with his bow legs was like a cobra who struck with deadly precision..”………but it was Etim Henshaw who all goalkeepers feared including Gentleman Carl O’dwyer.
Dr Ofili who went on to represent the country in cricket, found the piece very “nostalgic” thanked Fireman Alli for the education just as he recalled the days of “Unijankara” with Ewa Henshaw, Ayanti Udoma, Chuka Momah, Muyiwa Oshode, Peter Anieke and Manuwa among others. He misses even the good old days of his journalism career with Chinaka Fynecountry, Chris Okolie, Esbee, and Fashogbon.
Meanwhile, Alhaji Alli has written in to say that in the piece under review, the UK Tourists travelled in 1949 and not 1945, while the goalkeeper retired by Henshaw was Sunny Hart, not Tony Hart. Facts are sacred.
See you next week as we sing on the way back from Addis Ababa waving the green white green that is set to be unfurled in Brazil