Posted by Nelson Dafe | 5 March 2014 | 4,778 times
Who makes it to the World Cup? Which player gets left out of the Nigerian team to Brazil 2014? These questions become more the subject of intense debates in Nigeria’s football firmament as the Super Eagles led by Chief Coach Stephen Okechukwu Keshi and his assistants file out in the wee hours of May 6 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, for their Grade A pre-World Cup international friendly against Mexico.
Atlanta! Good old Atlanta. It was there in the sunshine of August 1996 that thorough preparations were rewarded when Nigeria’s Olympic football team became the first African team to pick up an Olympic gold in the football event of the Olympics. Now it is there that the final lap of international friendlies for Nigeria would give the Eagles coaches a clearer view of the team that would fly the Green White Green to hopefully another historic outing in a top football competition, surpassing Africa’s best ever placing in the Mundial, which is the quarter finals.
One man that was at the heart of the Atlanta ’96 success as player was Daniel ‘the bull’ Amokachi. Today he’s assistant coach of the Super Eagles and he’s expressing optimism about not just Nigeria’s chances, but Africa’s as a whole in Brazil 2014. “It’s football, you never know what will happen,” he said, while expressing confidence that the Eagles and other African teams have quality players that can fetch success in the World Cup.
But back to the issue of which players get into the World Cup party, and who get dropped. Some regular faces have been left out of the trip to Atlanta, while in their stead, some new faces have been given a chance to stake a claim for World Cup places. For those relative regulars in the recent past for the team who have been dropped (like Brown Ideye, Sunday Mba and Ike Uche) it is safe to guess that they are (more than) halfway out of the Super Eagles list. At these crucial moments of Nigeria’s World Cup build-up, it is hard to see how the coaches would leave out any player they are seriously considering taking to the World Cup.
Of the dropped players, Ike Uche’s exclusion has proven to be the most controversial. The striker has been ever present in the last few years in the Eagles fold, scoring many crucial goals for his country. At the moment he is Nigeria’s hottest striker in Europe with 12 goals so far for his clubside in the revered Spanish La Liga.
However, at very important moments for the national team he has been dogged by bad luck. He failed to make the World Cup team to South Africa 2010 because of injury, and badly struggled (also because of injury) in South Africa last year when Nigeria went all the way to winning their third Africa Nations Cup title.
The trouble this time for him is that despite having regained his form and firing in goals for his Spanish La Liga outfit Villareal, he has been overlooked by the national team handlers for reasons of his reported lack of discipline. It has been reported that Keshi isn’t satisfied with his level of discipline, and has let the NFF know that it is the reason for his exclusion.
However, many Nigerians have not been convinced by Keshi’s recent stance on Uche, especially with former Super Eagles Coach Samson Siasia, who worked for long with the player, rubbishing claims that he is indisciplined. To many Nigerians, Keshi should find a way of managing his top players better, than just resorting to slamming the ‘indiscipline’ label on them and denying Nigerians the chance of being represented by their best legs.
One player’s misfortune is another’s gain. Belgium-based duo, Imoh Ezekiel and Michael Uchebo are two strikers hoping to profit from the absence of IK Uche and Brown Ideye. Ezekiel stars for Standard Liege and has scored 9 goals so far this season, while former under-20 star Uchebo (with a towering height at 6ft 4) has notched 5 goals so far for his club Cercle Brugge. Both players are being presented with a huge chance of being in the World Cup plane by Keshi.
Another player hoping to secure a world cup place is Ramon Azeez who stars for Almeria in the Spanish La Liga. The former youth international is an intelligent defensive midfielder who has an amazing vision, pass range and strong tackles to break up opponents play. Another player who has a chance to play his way into the team is unknown Germany-based defender Leon Balogun, who was called in as a last-minute replacement for injured skipper Joseph Yobo.
Whichever players make up the final 23 man list after the trial match in Atlanta and subsequent camping, Nigerians would be throwing their backing on the team and hoping to see them sparkle in Brazil come June.
•Photo shows the Super Eagles.
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