Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr deserves commendation after using his influence to ensure that goalkeeper Francis Uzoho trains with Deportivo de La Coruña first team ahead of the 2018 World Cup. The former Nigeria U-17 reserve goalkeeper is the undisputed first choice goalie of La Coruña’s reserve team, Deportivo Fabril, but is often invited by manager Clarence Seedorf to train with the main team ahead of La Liga matches.
”He is a young lad, experience comes with playing games and being exposed to friendly matches and that’s what the coaches have been doing with Uzoho, not just Francis, with the other goalkeepers as well Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi,” Toyin Ibitoye, Super Eagles Media Officer, told Channels Television.
”A lot of work has gone in. The goalkeeper coach that is in Europe, Enrico Pionetti, is following up on Uzoho.
”Gernot Rohr has also used his clout to ensuring that Uzoho is allowed to train with the A team of Deportivo de La Coruña, that gives him a lot of exposure and toughness. The same thing with Ezenwa, Alloy Agu has been on his case, the medical people have also been following up with him.
”We have goalkeepers that are prepared, psyched up to go out there to achieve success for us.” On October 15, 2017, Uzoho debuted in La Liga, keeping a clean-sheet against SD Eibar and became the youngest foreign goalkeeper to debut in the league, before taking his international bow against Argentina a month later.
Bringing back Rufai, Eguavoen, Iroha affected Eagles in France ’98 –Babangida
AJIBADE OLU SESAN, in this week’s edition of the series, My World Cup Experience, spoke with ex-international Tijani Babangida who said Demark beat the Super Eagles 4-1 in the second round match at France 1998 due to mind games before the tie.
Super Eagles B team lost 3-2 to Europa League winners Atletico; are you among many Nigerians who are comfortable with their performance?
The team lost 3-2 to Atletico but the match provided the platform to showcase some players to the coach. Nigeria is a great country with abundant talent, the coach actually saw some players he had never worked with before; even the local players did very well. I think it is a good friendly which showed players good enough to replace those who are there, the coach now has a lot of players from this bunch to look at after the World Cup.
Coach Rohr has submitted his 30-man provisional list but some still believe a player like Kelechi Nwakali should be considered in the final 23 following his performance against Atletico
The coach has selected the best players at the moment but Nigeria is too big and we are getting more talented players coming up at this point in time.
But there is still some things the coach can do, even though he has his plans for the World Cup set out already; we have about three friendly left before the tournament, there is nothing bad if some of these players are allowed to take part even when you are not taking them to Russia. It is not bad to introduce one or two of them to the team now and integrate them to the squad proper after the World Cup, they will gain a lot of experience from that.
The Nigeria Football federation President Amaju Piinick is confident that since the country won a gold medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, the Eagles can win the world Cup in Russia, do you agree with him?
Africa is not ready yet to win the World Cup, our football hasn’t reached that level; of course I will be happy if Nigeria becomes the first country on the continent to win but I certainly think the time has not come yet.
And then how far can this team can go in Russia by your own assessment of the Eagles?
Sunday Oliseh started building the team. It is a vision Oliseh had that time to give younger players the chance to kick start a new revolution but because of some problems, he could not continue and the new man took over from where he stopped. Rohr has a good atmosphere to work, he was given the free hand to do what he wants to do to be successful and you can see that in the results the team is getting. We won almost all our matches during the World Cup qualifiers and qualified without any headache.
It is a new dawn in Nigerian football, a lot of players are still coming up, like those that played against Atletico. A lot of players are going to leave the team after the World Cup and it won’t be a problem for Nigeria replacing them.
NFF has provided a-near perfect atmosphere for Eagles, this should help players deliver in Russia…
The NFF is very happy now because they have their own money in their hands; they have no problem paying bonuses and allowances, even if we win the World Cup, they have said there is money to pay the players. So, it is great to hear what the NFF is saying and the confidence the players are displaying.
The players know the importance of the World Cup, the whole world is watching them; if you play well it could mean more money for you, big clubs will come after you, they want to sign you. So, every player will want to go onto that platform, not only to win the World Cup but to also showcase his talent to the world.
So what do the Eagles need to succeed in Russia?
Let me tell you what is killing African players at a major tournament like this, it is lack of concentration and discipline. We can have the players and team but our level of discipline and concentration is not the same with that of white people; the way they take their matches is not the same way we do our own. I was in 1998 World Cup in France, we had one of the best teams in the world in terms of individuality, the players were playing in top clubs in Europe.
We wanted to play against Denmark in the round of 16, Danish star Michael Laudrup who was playing in Ajax told me that we had a good team that could beat them, this was the kind of thing that was going on at that time and we allowed that to get into our head but what happened at the end of the day? We got beaten so thoroughly. That is the difference between us and the Europeans; we lost it to tactical discipline and concentration.
For examples, against Atletico on Tuesday, the boys did very well but look at the goal Fernando Torres scored when he came on, he was standing alone, that is what usually happens to African teams when we go for a competition like this, we don’t know how to mark our opponents man for man, in a free kick, corner situations, with dead balls, you get punished. We don’t take our chanc-es, white men, if they are pressurizing you and get that moment to score, they hit you but that is not the case with us.
Look at how many chances we spurned against Atletico, we leveled on 2-2, we were playing well, pressurizing them but we didn’t take our chances, they got theirs and there was no way they were going to miss that. Luis Van Gaal told me when I was still playing with Ajax that football is a game of moment, when that moment comes don’t lose it. You can wait for almost 90 minutes for that moment but don’t ever lose it when it comes.
What does playing at the World Cup mean to a player?
It is the highest level of football; if you are a politician, the highest position you aim for is to be a president and that is what World Cup means. Only 25 percent of professional footballers would have the chance to play at the World cup before the end of their career.
Could you recall that victory over Spain; they had some of the best players in the world and a club from that country Real Madrid had just won the UEFA Champions League that year, how did Eagles secure that famous win?
Our preparation for 1998 World Cup wasn’t so good; I remember we played a friendly in Holland and we were beaten 4-0. I also remember that they dropped some players and brought Peter Rufai, Austin Eguaveon and Ben Iroha out of retirement to fortify the team with just a few days to the tournament. However, we knew it was a World Cup; we had to face some of the best players, many of us were aiming to play in Barcelona, we wanted to show that we were as good as they were, we were never thinking they could beat us.
Member of the team and revealed that the players decided to change the tactics Coach Bora Militunovics deployed for the game when you got onto the pitch…
That is true; Nigeria has a particular flavour we bring into football which only Brazil has; we know that we have to relax, the kind of football that will allow us express ourselves, that is how we play our football
But before long the team was trailing Spain…
We believed we would come back because we were so strong; look at that header that Muiu Adepoju scored, nobody would have believed he rose so ahead far above those tall Spanish defenders to score the goal, you could see our determination, we had a top striker in Rashidi Yekini, look at the way Oliseh hit a shot from behind to score that screamer, we wanted to at least draw the match and we were lucky we won.
What did Oliseh tell you after the screamer?
Of course he was very happy; we both played for Ajax at that time and anytime we were on the pitch he would say ‘throw stone let me see’. I remember the goal I scored for Ajax; it was from 18 metres from the right side to the other end. So, when he scored that goal, he said to me after the match that ‘you saw that stone, throw your own o’ and I am happy I scored against Demark even though it was a not a long range shot.
Then against Bulgaria, you won 1-0 that was a follow up to a 3-0 win over the Europeans in USA 1994
After beating Spain, we knew we had to follow that up with a win over Bulgaria, we were sure of beating them and that tells you the kind of confidence that we had.
There were rumours that some members of the team ganged up against Rashidi Yekini…
It’s a long story about Rashidi Yekini but the problem with him started at the 1994 World Cup. I think after he won the Africa best player award; he made some comments that did not go down well with his colleagues but I think that was sorted out. I was at the 1994 World Cup, I was in the same room with him I knew all what happened but I can’t remember if that also affected him in 1998.
What other things were responsible for that loss to Denmark?
A loss of concentration because we were already thinking about Brazil when we hadn’t played against Denmark; a loss of concentration because Laudrup and others were already speaking to us that we were going to beat them because we had better players. So, we went into that match with a poor mindset, unlike when we played against Spain and Bulgaria. Denmark had no big name but we had forgotten that they won European Championship only six years earlier , so they were not pushovers.
Could you describe the dressing room after that loss?
It was so bad; I can remember that some players hit out at Bora, some of us who were not happy talked back at him and I can remember that after the World Cup Bora resigned, it is just like you woke up from your sleep and you realized something had happened to you.
Some people also blamed the situation on the injury to Ike Shorunmu just a few weeks to the tournament
The problem was not about Shorunmu’s injury; we had Abiodun Baruwa and some other goalkeepers but because of what happened against Holland where we lost 4-0 because Baruwa was not 100 percent and the NFF at that time was jittery. Bringing back Rufai that time was off, bringing back Austin Eguaveon was off, bringing back Ben iroha was off, they did that because of what happened in that match, you brought them out of international retirement. In history, Nigeria will always remember Rufai as one of the best goalkeepers, except in France 1998.
You qualified for the tournament even with a match to spare but the man that masterminded that Phillipe Troussier was sacked after the qualifications series; did that also affect the team?
Troussier had problems with the NFA officials; he is someone that does his job very well, he didn’t want anybody to interfere with what he was doing and his problem started during one of our matches; we were in halftime meeting and the NFF president and other board members came into the dressing room to disrupt what we were doing and Troussier told all of them to walk out and from then he started having problem with them
You worked so hard to qualify for 2002 World Cup but you never made the team to Korea/Japan because of what happened in the African Nations Cup earlier, any regrets?
Of course, I have big regrets. Do you know how we qualified for the 2002 World Cup? There are a lot of secrets that cannot come out about how we picked the ticket but as players we did whatever to make it.
I was the one who scored two goals during the qualifiers, we planned how we were going to stop George Weah in Nigeria and we did that, I played my role in that victory. Things happened in Mali 2002; those NFF members and the Minister that did everything to disrupt that team must be held responsible for everything that is happening in Nigerian football at the moment.
Nigeria had gone far and some people conspired to destroy it, to break the team a few months to the World Cup, they did not know how to bring young players into the team, Nigeria must always hold those guys responsible for the problem we have today. I am not saying this because I did not go to that tournament; I know how I got into the Super Eagles in 1992 coming in and out, how we were watching what late Stephen Keshi and others were doing, picking their balls, learning from them until we were able to take over from them.
By the time Keshi and co were going, no one even realized these big players had gone, by 1996 Olympics, 1998 World Cup we were doing perfectly well because of the foundation Clemens Westerhof had laid. These people came and broke the team and that is why I am saying they must apologize to Nigerians for creating the problems that we have till date.
But there were reports that Coach Adegboye Onigbinde asked any of the Mali 2002 squad members who were willing to go to the World Cup to call him but many of you declined…
It is not true, whenever you want to invite a player you write to his club and he comes, that is the right way. Most of the newspapers at that time were writing that we were invited and we turned down the invitation, how can that be true when we used our blood and whatever we had to make sure we qualified?
They were even taunting us that we were old we couldn’t qualify, there were no concrete support from the NFA at that time, we went to Port Harcourt for a match, supporters were abusing us, they were throwing stones at us because we were three points behind Liberia, but what happened?
We turned it around and we qualified and you said we didn’t want to go there when we players were so desperate to prove to England who were in the same group with us that we were a stronger team by beating them.
But some people came and said they were building a young team just a month to the World Cup. Ha! It’s only Nigeria that can do that; these people really have to come out and apologize to Nigerians.
Lobi’s Kayode, Ogbeide win April LBA
Organisers of the League Bloggers Awards have named Olufemi Kayode and Solomon Ogbeide as the player and manager respectively for the month of April in the Nigeria Professional Football League.
The Lobi Stars duo emerged winners after posting impressive performances with the league leaders in the month of April. Lobi goalkeeper Kayode beat Junior Lokosa of Kano Pillars, Emeka Ogbugh of Rivers United and Kwara United’s Stephen Alfred to the player’s prize.
Kayode’s performance in April was instrumental to Lobi posting a superb outing as he weighed in with two clean sheets in four matches as his club finished the month undefeated. The Lobi stopper also distinguished himself in the games at Abia Warriors and Sunshine Stars where the NPFL leaders secured a point each.
He also stopped a Sikiru Alimi penalty at Sunshine Stars to help his side avoid defeat in Akure on Matchday 19. Ogbeide masterminded Lobi’s undefeated run in April from the sidelines and he brushed aside the challenge for the manager’s award from Stanley Eguma of Rivers United, Hamza Abara of Niger Tornadoes and Gbenga Ogunbote of Enugu Rangers. Lobi under Ogbeide’s charge took eight points from the four games they played — winning two and drawing two to finish undefeated. Kayode and Ogbeide will be presented with their awards in one of their upcoming NPFL games by the LBA.
Nwakali to join Eagles’ squad –Report
Reports coming out of various sources close to the camp of the Super Eagles of Nigeria suggest that Kelechi Nwakali has been added to the World Cup squad of Nigeria for the 2018 showpiece in Russia.
Saturday Telegraph, however, cannot confirm the report Nwakali, is expected to train with the squad as a means of aiding his development and not necessarily for him to break into the World Cup team as he is not in the 30 man provisional list for the World Cup, according to owngoalnigeria.com.
The reports has it that his display against Atletico Madrid prompted coach Gernot Rohr to add him to his squad as part of the process of integrating him into the team for their post- World Cup commitments. Rohr was impressed with the technique Nwakali used in scoring one of the two goals for Nigeria and above all his passing range during the entire duration of the game which ended 2-3 in favour of Atletico Madrid.
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