Day 4 with the Eagles: Pressure, no pressure?

The Super Eagles on Thursday woke up to their 4th day in camp ahead of Saturday’s game against Rwanda.

We all know it is an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game that the Eagles must win to qualify for the next stage of the competition.

1st leg in Rwanda ended 0-0.

After the events of Wednesday night, me walking through the flood and all that, waking up was very difficult for me on Thursday morning but I had to. That’s why I’m in Calabar, innit?

Calls through to Wazobia FM, Port Harcourt and Cool FM Abuja, letting them know the latest in camp was a good way to start.

Then after breakfast I had to dash down to the nearest pharmacy to get some over the counter medication. Looked like I had caught a cold.

An ikwerreman in Calabar

At 4pm I was at the stadium to watch the Eagles train. Would be good to read the mind of Stephen Keshi- What team was he planning on playing, how would he play them, what tactics was he going to adopt? These thoughts filled my mind as the taxi took me to the U.J. Esuene Stadium for the session.

I tried to get pitch side but a security man dark glasses stopped me.

I told him my name and the next thing he was speaking my language.

Nwonda meka o, e biarnu pa? Which means, my brother, how are you? So you came around.

At first I was shocked and thought he was just a wanna be ikwerreman, probably nwo isoma (Igbo man) who had lived in Port Harcourt and wanted to blend and I accused him but he said, Ozah o. Mbu nwo iwhuronhna (that’s not true. I am a true son of the soil).

He was supposed to stop people from going pitch side but language power enabled me and that was how I got a pass to walk pitch side.

First thing I noticed on walking in was Heartland’s Obinna Nwachukwu on the bench, rather than training with his colleagues.

I asked and was told that he received a knock they said was not so serious.

I have personally ruled him out of the match.

I saw on the pitch what looked like the possibles side, Azubuike Egwueke, Godfrey Oboabona, Juwon Oshaniwa, Obiora Nwankwo, Henry Uche, Victor Moses, Ike Uche, John Utaka and Ejike Uzoenyi with Vincent Enyeama, naturally in goal against them.

Keshi wants to start the same set of players who started against Namibia and Malawi.

Yes it’s good for confidence and continuity, besides they say you don’t change a winning team, but is this really a winning team?

One win at home and two draws on the road but let the coach do his job.

I saw Moses at the top of his game taking on defenders, nutmegging them and distributing the balls with very accurate passes even cross field passes like Sunday Oliseh in his day.

I saw Keshi insist on possession football. I saw him tell the boys not to hesitate to shoot as soon as they have a chance.

I saw him encourage Ejike Uzoenyi to take on his marker, create an opening for himself and either go for goal or free his man to score.

I saw once again the commanding presence of Obiora Nwankwo in midfield reminding us of Sunday Oliseh.

Then just as we were getting excited, the training session was over just like the day before.

I looked at the time and it was just a one hour session.

I asked and was told that the coach did not want to exhaust the players so soon.

Having the same set of 24 players in camp for a month who have played three games already in Lima, Calabar, Blantyre and now back to Calabar meant they may be getting weary and he did not want to push them too much.

That argument made a lot of sense.

I had a chance to speak with the president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Aminu Maigari who I thought would not want to see my face when you consider the number of reports I had previously written about him but he seemed a nice man when I introduced myself and when he found out I am his in law he became even more accepting.

For Maigari, the NFF completely support what Stephen Keshi is doing. The Project as we all choose to call it now.

But Maigari wants Nigerians to understand that they actually have two projects with Keshi and not one as the country is wont to believe.

“You know the coach is building a new team which we can all see. That is one project.

“Then while building that new team we must qualify for the World Cup in 2014 and the Africa Cup of Nations next year which is another project so you see that it is a big task ahead,” Maigari said.

“We want Nigerians to know that we at the Federation are in full support of what Keshi is doing and they should support him too.

“Right now it is not about how many goals we score in games but about the fact that we are at least winning the games and making visible progress. If we all go behind the coach and the team the results will begin to show and they will play under less pressure.”

Good talk from a man many people see as one who does not know what hes doing.

I also cornered Ahmed Musa who admitted that there was immense pressure to play well and deliver a win for Nigeria.

“There is a lot of pressure on us to win but we as players also know that if we allow the pressure overwhelm us it will get difficult for us to win.

“We also know that it is a game we must win in the first half. Go for goals and score early. Then there will be less pressure on us in the 2nd half of the game.”

Recognised at last
Later that night I was at the Metropolitan hotel to see if I could grab an exclusive or two from Vincent Enyeama and Obiora Nwankwo.

There I met Romanus Ugwu who works for Soccer Star and Sam Ahmadu, the only Wigan Athletic fan I know in Nigeria and of course the media officer of the Eagles, Ben Alaiya.

I didn’t get to see Vincent or Obiora but at least I got Ikechukwu Uche who surprisingly recognised me from the Nigeria V Argentina match in Abuja last year.

Finally, a Super Eagles player recognises me from the past.

“How now? He asked. “Why you come do as if no be you come my room that time for Abuja? I don forget your name o.”

I reminded him and we exchange pleasantries

Of everything Ike Uche talked about on the night, most important for me was the fact that he says he misses the presence of his elder brother, Kalu in the Super Eagles camp.

“It is not out of place that I miss my brother. After all he is my brother. Then again, we have played football together all this while and even at the national team we have been together so it cannot be out of place,” Ike said.

“There’s really nothing I can do about that. We have a coach that decides who plays and he didn’t invite him so I don’t think there is any issue about that.

“We have so many players and he chooses his team so life must go on. This is football and we play with the personnel we have around us so there is no problem about that.”

That done, I didn’t get to chat with Vincent Enyeama or Obiora Nwankwo but I believed I had done enough for humanity for one day and it was time to shut down but not after enjoying Calabar night life.

I dashed down to my hotel, dropped my valuables and then off to Gennys at Atekong junction for roasted plantain and barbecue fish.
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