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7 DAYS TO WORLD CUP DECIDER: Massive invasion!

Posted by Ademola Olajire on 2005/10/02 | Views: 1291 |

7 DAYS TO WORLD CUP DECIDER: Massive invasion!


Members of a 28-man Nigerian national team squad will start arriving camp in the Federal Capital, Abuja on Monday, six days to a hugely crucial World Cup 2006 qualifying match against the Warriors of Zimbabwe.

Members of a 28-man Nigerian national team squad will start arriving camp in the Federal Capital, Abuja on Monday, six days to a hugely crucial World Cup 2006 qualifying match against the Warriors of Zimbabwe.

Nigeria must sink Zimbabwe neatly and hope rivals, Angola, fail to win in Rwanda for the Super Eagles to make a much-anticipated 5th appearance at football’s biggest draw in Germany next year.

Coaches Austin Eguavoen, Samson Siasia, Daniel Amokachi, Ike Shorounmu and Amusa Adisa will tinker a group of players that most managers in international football can only dream of assembling together.

Skipper Austin Okocha makes a return after missing out of Operation Over-run Oran, despite glaring disinterest at continuing his 12-year international career. But he is the only question mark in the 28-man playing party.

During the week, Eguavoen, who played at the 1994 and 1998 World Cup finals, and dreams of joining former national team mate, Stephen Keshi in qualifying an African team to the World Cup finals on the same day, next Saturday, said he was fully focused on the assignment at hand and entertains no distraction ahead of the must –win game against Charles Mhlauri’s newly crowned Southern African champions.

"Saturday next week is a big day for me and other members of the technical crew, the players, other officials of the team and the generality of Nigerians. It is not a game we intend to take for granted. Football is a strange and funny game but we will remain focused on achieving what we have to achieve, that is beating Zimbabwe, and then hope that our closest rivals don’t get a win in Kigali."

World football governing body, FIFA, has set the time for Saturday’s game inside the National Stadium, Abuja, to coincide with the time that the game between Angola and Rwanda inside the Amahoro Stadium, Kigali will also be starting. Burkinabe referee Lassina Pare will be in charge.

While the game starts at 3pm Nigeria time, it would be 4pm in Kigali, and that is the time that Rwanda take the pitch against the ambitious Palancas Negras from Luanda.

So much fear has been expressed by the vocal Nigerian football community locally and internationally about the possibility of an accord game between the Wasps and Negras. Many point to the fact that Rwanda is a poor country wriggling out of a devastating genocide that claimed the lives of over one million people and that since the 1994 pogrom, that country has never really recovered. Official statistics say that 65 per cent of Rwandans live on less than $1 a day!

Both countries are separated by only the Democratic Republic of Congo, and fratricidal wars and internecine carnages have brought most of the Great Lakes people together on different occasions, with loyalty to different camps and persuasions determining which side of the relationship divide an individual would be seen to belong to. Certain peoples in Rwanda supported the now deceased Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi during his decades-long affront on the President Jose Eduardo dos Santos-led central government, while some backed the administration. But it is hard to judge what disposition the present Rwandan government of Paul Kagame has to the Santos-led leadership in Luanda.

There have also been allegations and counter-allegations of attempts to influence the result of Saturday’s clash in Kigali, from both Angolan and Nigerian camps. Both countries are oil -rich and it is believed they could court the favour of impoverished Rwandans to do what would serve their interests.

Nigeria will qualify if they beat Zimbabwe and Angola lose or draw in Kigali. It is not as difficult for the Palancas Negras, who have done the difficult part by beating Nigeria in Luanda and securing a draw in Kano. They lead on the new FIFA head-to-head rule, which stipulates that greater number of goals would only be conceded in international championships and qualifying competitions only if the head-to-head confrontations between the leaders fail to separate both parties.

Nigeria and Angola have 18 points but the Negras are ahead on the new rule. Angola only need to win in Rwanda and they would be making arrangements for a first-ever World Cup final appearance in the summer of next year.

But the job is not as easy as it sounds, with the Negras never having won an away game in the qualifiers, and the words of Federation of Rwandese Football secretary-general, Jules Kalisa ringing in his players’ ears.

"The fact that we no longer have a chance to qualify for the World Cup finals or the Nations Cup finals does not mean that we would want to allow a disgraceful home defeat in the hands of Angola. Moreover, we want to finish fifth in our group so we can be among the 25 top teams in Africa and thereby gain a favourable draw in the 2008 Nations Cup qualifying draw", said Kalisa.

Rwandan football was thought to be on the ascendancy 18 months ago, after they beat four-time African champions, Ghana to reach the African Cup of Nations for the first time and then drew with Guinea and beat the Democratic Republic of Congo at the finals in Tunisia.

But the departure of Serbian coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, who accused the federation of lack of commitment to the national team, spelt the beginning of the downfall, and presently, Rwanda lie at the bottom of group four, having won only one of nine matches and drawn two, losing six.

Kalisa assumes that should Rwanda beat Angola, they would be in good position to finish a level above bottom place, as 5th-placed Algeria visit Gabon in Libreville in a game the Rwandans are hoping Gabon will prevail.

Gabon destroyed Algeria’s Fennecs 3-0 in Oran in the reverse fixture, leading to the departure of Belgian coach, Georges Neeskens.

For Nigeria, a win is imperative while they hope that by the time they enter recess against Zimbabwe in Abuja, they would be met with news that Rwanda are leading in Kigali.

"We would truly be delighted to reach the World Cup finals. It looks a long way off, so near yet so far. But things do work your way when you least expect and we are committed to doing our own bit by ensuring victory over Zimbabwe. By the time we go into the break against Zimbabwe, one would be happy to hear the Angolans are on the back-foot in Rwanda", said assistant coach, Samson Siasia, who took the U-20 team to runners-up spot at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland in July.

Siasia, billed to arrive from his United States of America base today, reckons the technical crew would have no problem picking the starting 11 from a quality band of 28 players all struggling to win the coaches’ attention and confidence.

"This is our job. We can’t have any problem in that area. We would rather, be spoilt for choice. But everything would depend on current form, and what you demonstrate in training. We are not going to say because someone scored in Algeria, he is automatically in the team.

"Five weeks is a long time in sport. A lot could have happened between the time he scored in Oran and the match against Zimbabwe. That is why it is necessary to have some time to assess players you are going to use for an important match", added Siasia.

Those who will start arriving camp on Monday include three goalkeepers who are considered the best that Nigeria can offer at the moment: Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide and Bamidele Aiyenugba.

There are also defenders Chidi Odiah, Joseph Yobo, Obinna Nwaneri, Joe Enakharire, Taye Taiwo, Ode Ogah, Nojeem Raji and Onyekachi Apam.

Odiah has been part of the team during the qualifiers and plays regularly for UEFA Cup holders, CSKA Moscow, a club funded by the same man who has heaved Chelsea from the position of another Premiership title contender to the indomitable juggernaut they have become in the past year - Roman Abramovic.

Yobo has acquitted himself well in two African Nations Cup finals and the 2002 World Cup finals, and while Apam and Taiwo were key members of Siasia’s winning train in Holland, Nwaneri, Ogah and Raji made name with two-time African club champions, Enyimba FC of Aba.

Okocha leads midfielders Sani Kaita, Seyi Olofinjana, Kazeem Ayila, Garba Lawal, Osaze Odemwingie, John Mikel Obi, Christian Obodo, Daddy Bazuaye, Wilson Oruma and Nasiru Saliu. Kaita, Obi and Bazuaye were Flying Eagles in Holland, Olofinjana played at the last Nations Cup and Lawal needs no introduction. Nasiru plays for Premier League side, Nassarawa United, Osaze was star at the Tunisia 2004 Nations Cup, Obodo has firmed up a place during these qualifiers and Ayila made a strong statement to be considered a regular with his showing against Algeria in Oran. He plays in Ukraine.

The strikers are led by Nwankwo Kanu, and they include Obafemi Martins, Stephen Makinwa, Julius Aghahowa, Joseph Akpala and Kelechi Osunwa. Osunwa has been really exploding for CAF Confederation Cup contenders, Dolphins, Makinwa sealed a place with his performance in Algeria, Akpala is league’s second highest scorer and plays for Insurance FC of Benin, while Kanu, Martins and Aghahowa need no introduction.

"From this pool, we should be able to pick a team that will do Nigeria proud and lead us to the World Cup, hopefully", said Siasia. Sensationally missing but sure not to be missed is Middlesbrough of England striker, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, whose attitude to national team assignment has never been worthy of emulation. Defender Ifeanyi Udeze misses the game due to injury.

The team will camp at the Le Meridien Hotel in Abuja.



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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.