Posted by Nelson Dafe | 5 June 2014 | 3,123 times
The final list of players to represent Nigeria has been released by Coach Steven Keshi. The anxiety and wait of the players and fans have given way to excitement, satisfaction, anger and disappointments – depending on the faces that one was hoping to see lined up to fight for the Green and White in Brazil 2014 World Cup.
The controversy that surrounded the exclusion of Ike Uche, who has been dropped for his perceived disloyalty to the coaching methods of Keshi, the inclusion of other players (i.e. Osaze Odemwingie and Joseph Yobo) who had had some now-settled (publicly at least), disagreement with the gaffer in the recent past would surely still constitute talking points when the Mundial begins. But, knowing Nigerians for their general love for their national team, the success of the Super Eagles would be wished, hoped and prayed for fervently both by those who love and those who loathe Keshi.
But, still, we are bound to peruse the released list of our World Cup representatives and make our thoughts known on the choices made by the man in whose head the enormous pressure of fine-tuning a side that would not bring sporting disgrace to the nation lies. And even if there’s nothing our opinions can do to alter the list now, still we must satisfy our conscience by expressing our thoughts, anyway.
The obvious shock of the list released on June 2 is the exclusion of Sunday Mba and the inclusion of Michael Babatunde. Many Nigerians have grown a sentimental liking for Mba after his exploits in last year’s Africa Nations Cup held in South Africa helped Nigeria lift the Africa’s top football prize for the third time in its history. And for good reasons.
It can be argued that Mba was the main revelation for Nigeria at last year’s Nations Cup. An unheralded home-based player, he showed the grit and graft expected of a ‘home-boy’ and also displayed tactical and technical brilliance, traits many would not usually associate with someone plying his trade in Nigeria’s domestic league. His crucial goals en route the South Africa success (culminating in the winner in the final against Burkina Faso) was a testament to his talent, and justified the bravery of Keshi to include a number of home-based lads in the squad.
Alas, Mba has been overlooked for the main event that the World Cup is. Was it because he wasn’t fit enough, or he arrived camp late? Was it a case of Keshi simply having better midfielders at his disposal? Well, looking at the Eagles midfield, it is hard to argue that a better midfielder has been named to replace Mba.
If Mba’s exclusion is a surprise, then the choice of Babatunde is baffling indeed. In fact, he has never in his previous few appearances lit up the team. It is understandable that Keshi would need a number of natural wingers in the team and Babatunde is a right winger, but then we already have Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and even Osaze Odemwingie, who can play from the right side of attack. Babatunde doesn’t come across as a player we can’t do without. Rewarding Ejike Uzoenyi, who was the best home-based player in CHAN this year, sounds a sounder idea. And, of course, Uzoenyi can operate from the right and has a better eye for goal than Babatunde, as his beautiful goals for the home-based Eagles testify.
Watching Babatunde play in Nigeria’s most recent friendly against Greece in the United States, it was hard to fathom what was special about him to have displaced the aforementioned lads who have sweated to give Keshi pride as coach. He often looked shy to take on opponents, lacks the incisive instincts to produce moments of magic, and generally looks out of his depths in the Eagles team.
Well, there’s nothing that will ever change the list now, save for any serious unforeseen circumstances. We shouldn’t pray for that. And, of course, the natural nationalistic feelings that sweep us when our country is involved in a sporting event would and should guarantee that we will be rooting for the Eagles, no matter who is wearing the country’s jersey. Only real sadistic Nigerians would wish the team anything but success now.
•Nelson Dafe is a News Express/Business Express Correspondent. Photo shows the Super Eagles in training.
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