FIFA 2014: My Team Nigeria verdict

Nigeria’s Super Eagles start its World Cup campaign on Monday, June 16 against Iran and my verdict is simply a win for Nigeria.

But how did I come up with this verdict? Let me take you to school.

I happened to have been part of this team from the very first game played by Stephen Keshi in Benin, a friendly match against Botswana in November 2011.

That game ended 0-0.

After the game it was certain that Stephen Keshi had issues with the team.

In a personal chat at the lobby of the hotel at night, Keshi said he needed to work on his defensive/ central midfielders and he needed a new attitude in the team.

Keshi also promised two things- He said he will give Nigerians a team with alternative players they can depend on (he never said he would build a team of home based players), he also said by the time the country plays at the World Cup he would have given Nigerians a team they would be proud of.

In that game against Botswana, Keshi used a lot of the old guard like Taye Taiwo, Isaac Okonkwo, Chinedu Obasi, Joel Obi, Yusuf Ayila, Kalu Uche and Ike UChe

It was the same a few days later in another friendly game against Zambia in Kaduna and a few months later in an AFCON qualifying match away to Rwanda that ended goaless.

At this time, Keshi had begun to build a home based team, playing friendly games against the likes of Egypt, Liberia, Niger and Peru.

By the time Keshi was one year old on the job, players like Chigozie Agbim, Shola Ameobi, Izu Azuka, Bright Dike, Papa Idris, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Sibi Gwar, Barnabas Imenger Jr., Uche Kalu, Solomon Kwambe, Solomon Jabason, Raheem Lawal, Sunday Mbah, Victor Moses, Nwankwo Obiorah, Godfrey Oboabona, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Ogenyi Onazi, Ejike Uzoenyi, Sani Sanusi and Gege Soriol had made their debuts.


Keshi was blooding players in the Nigerian League as well as abroad and from the littlest of clubs.

He was on to something, trying the get not just the best, but alternatives, especially when the best was not available or did not make themselves available, he wanted to have options.

At the end of 2012, Nigerians saw that the National team could actually play without John Mikel Obi because they played all but one of the AFCON 2013 qualifiers without him.

Nigerians saw an Onazi Ogenyi break into the team, grab a jersey and hold on to it.

Nigerians also saw that something good could come of the Nigerian League as the likes of Godfrey Oboabona, Papa Idris, Gabriel Rueben, Izu Azuka, Henry Uche, Sunday Mba and many others held their own in the team.

The sieving process continued until Keshi named his final squad for the World Cup a fortnight ago.

A peep inside Stephen Keshi’s head


Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille/FRA), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva /ISR).

In goal, he kept faith with Vincent Enyeama, his undisputed number one.

In his three years as coach, (A lot of Nigerians won’t like this) Keshi showed he was a good manager of players.

In his first year in charge there was a general outcry by fans and the media to have Vincent Enyeama dropped from the team.

Enyeama was hardly playing games for this French side, Lille and his errors cost Nigeria a couple of games on the road.

Keshi stuck with his first choice keeper against public opinion and Vincent is arguably one of the top five goalkeepers in the world today (on the last one year’s performance).

At the Championship of African Nations, CHAN in January 2013, Chigozie Agbim was so poor in goal that there was a nationwide campaign to have him dropped from the team.

Keshi has not dropped him. He keeps faith with his players.


Defenders
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco/FRA), Efe Ambrose (Celtic/SCO), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor/TUR), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough/ENG), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod FC/ISR), Joseph Yobo (Norwich City/ENG), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars)


The thing about the way Keshi has his defence set up is that there are lots of utility players in there.

Efe Ambrose has played in RB for the Eagles all along and many did not know until the friendly game against Greece that he can also play in LB.
At his club in Scotland he plays in center back.

Joseph Yobo started his International career as a right back while the duo of Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona are also very comfortable in right back.

In Kunle Odulami, I see the defensive revolution of the World Cup. He will get his playing time and will deliver.

Starting back four, baring injuries will certainly be Efe Ambrose, Kenneth Omeruo, Godfrey Oboabona and Juwon Oshaniwa and these can hold their own against the Iranians. The games against Bosnia and Argentina will take care of themselves.

Midfield


Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea/ENG), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio/ITA), Gabriel Reuben (Beveren/BEL), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge/BEL), Ramon Azeez (Almeria/SPA)


When I spoke with Keshi in Benin in November 2011, he was not too happy the way Dickson Etuhu played in midfield and voiced out that he had problems in that area.

He also said he would look for a replacement in that position from the Nigerian League.

Soon after, Rueben Gabriel of Kano Pillars became the most consistent player in the Eagles and playing well too, winning the Man of the Match Award on at least one occasion during the AFCON 2013 qualifiers.

Gabriel was also the best player in the Nigerian LEague for 2012 as determined by the League Bloggers Awards.

Illness at the AFCON and an injury later limited his appearances for the team but
Keshi, keeping faith with him is akin to holding on to a player with potentials to be your best.

Ogenyi Onazi and Mikel Obi have struck a near perfect partnership. Onazi can run and he can mark. He can shoot too.

Mikel can give Nigeria the creative edge upfront when he forays forward but will come in useful if the Eagles have to park the bus. He proved time without number at Chelsea that he is good at that.

Forwards

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United/ENG), Victor Moses (Chelsea/ENG), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce/TUR), Peter Odemwingie, (Stoke City/ENG), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen/NED), Babatunde Michael (Volyn/UKR)


What Nigerians think is the biggest miss is certainly the non-inclusion of Ikechukwu Uche and then Brown Ideye but those two have been overtaken by events.


Ahmed Musa can run and he can mark. Every coach need a player or two who will run nonstop and mark too. Chelsea have Ramires and previously Michael Essien; Liverpool have Henderson and Keshi has Ahmed Musa and Onazi Ogenyi.

Ahmed Musa may also be listed as a winger but he plays in center of attack most times at CSKA Moscow so has versatility.

Keshi, in his time has always loved the big, strong center forward, hence his choice of Emmanuel Emenike and the duo of Uche Kalu and Bright Dike in the past, but the inclusion of Uche Nwafor shows the gaffer has a plan B in mind.

Uche may not shoot from distance like Emenike or Ameobi would. He is more like the fox in the box, the old fashioned goal poacher, an Emilio Butragueno kind of player and if the balls come in to the box, he will pounce.

Very few Nigerians understand the inclusion of Babatunde Michael to the team but that’s the same way very few Nigerians understood the inclusion of Gabriel Rueben, Sunday Mba, Ejike Uzoenyi, Brown Ideye and Kenneth Omeruo to the AFCON team in 2013.

Keshi has shocked Nigerians positively enough to make some bizarre selection decision.

The team is certainly not Nigeria’s best at this point in time, in terms of players in Brazil, but no country has its best team, just the best collection of players to do a job.

My Team Nigeria verdict for the World Cup


1. Nigeria will not win the World Cup
2. Nigeria will not lose to Iran
3. Nigeria will play in the 2nd round of the World Cup and after that, anything can happen.
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