By Ralph Geeplay
The Nigerian Super Eagles coach, Steven Keshi, is about to lose his high paying job if he fails to beat the Lone Star of Liberia and qualify the Eagles for the continent’s Soccer fiesta called the African Cup of Nations(ACN) finals scheduled to be hosted next year in South Africa, Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) officials are saying.
Echoing the Nigerian football house sentiments quite recently was Mike Umeh, the vice president of NFF. There are reasons to be concerned. Nigeria struggled to beat Namibia on home soil during last month world cup qualification, managing to score a late goal to beat the Namibians. Also, it was Liberia that put the Brave Warriors of Namibia out of the ACN qualification. In a recent friendly against neighbors, Niger, Nigeria drew goalless despite the fact that Keshi charged his team to not see that match against the Menas of Niger as a friendly tie, but a game they must win. Keshi said: “We have been in this revival of our country’s team together, so all I’m expecting from you is to play the match against Niger Republic with the mentality to win. “I want victory and I know that a good result in today’s match will be a big boost to our preparation for the Nations Cup qualifier against Liberia next month.”
Mr. Umeh said the NFF just wanted to let Mr. Keshi know that he would lose his job if he fails to beat Liberia saying, “what we are saying here is that there is no question about qualification, because Keshi himself knows that the thrust of his contract with us is to, among other things, pick the qualification ticket for the South Africa 2013 Nations Cup.” Adding, ” to whom much is given, much is also expected.” His predecessor Siasia was paid 5million naira per month.
Before the ACN draw in South Africa that paired Liberia’s Lone Stars with the Super Eagles, Nigerian football officials openly voiced their wish to play the country against which its qualification ambition would not be threatened. It seems Nigeria got their wish, but Liberian football officials have been talking tough, with its president Musa Bility going on the record and that has given the Nigerians jitters. It can be recalled that it was the Guineans that robbed them the last time when many predicted the fabulous Super Eagles would have gone through. The players and the media have joined in, and they are talking too.
Liberian sensation Sekou Oliseh Jabateh, speaking from his Moscow base where he features for CSK Moscow warned the Nigerians that the game in Liberia would be a lot of fireworks, and that the Lone Stars were ready for the show down on game day. “It is going to be an explosive game.” Oliseh said. He then paid homage to his second country Nigeria. In 2007 the Nigerians called him to their U-17, but he turned down the offer. The Liberian difference maker continued, “I love Nigeria because I have a father in Nigeria, Churchill Oliseh, who made me what I am today, but I have to do my best for Liberia in that game. Nigeria has a good team, but Liberia will fight…the better side should win the match.”
Sekou Oliseh is a gifted player; he was voted the “man of the match” by the Namibian New Era recently when the Stars and the Warriors met in Windhoek.
It said “The CSK Moscow No. 10 was a constant threat and single-handedly troubled the rearguard of the hosts with some deft touches on the ball, while his strong runs and intelligent positional play placed him in a different category from the other 21 players on the pitch. Jabateh was New Era Sports’ ‘Man of the Match’,” the paper said about a month ago, lavishing praises unreservedly on the Liberian.
The pending tie between the two West African nations, slated for September 9, 2012 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Monrovia, has boosted excitement in both countries also. And as if to taunt Keshi, the Nigerian P.M. News banner recently read, “Liberian Star dares Super Eagles.” Only that the paper was quoting a little known Liberian player in the Nigerian league.
Nigeria, say analysts are favorites to qualify.
But Umeh sounded very worried when he said, ”What do we tell Nigerians if we miss next year’s Nations Cup in South Africa after losing out from the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea early this year?” a clear warning to Keshi, a.k.a the boss, as he is sometimes referred to in the Nigerian media that no excuses would be tolerated.
Stephen Keshi got the job because Sampson Siasia his predecessor failed to qualify the talented Super Eagles for the same nation’s cup. Being a manager of the Super Eagles is a privileged and dreamed job for any coach, given Nigeria’s talent. But Liberia, like other countries know that football is a team sport, hence the traditional minnows in African football are fading. The Egyptians can attest.
The reasoning, therefore, according to analysts, is that within the circle of Nigerian football officialdom there is a sense if Keshi cannot beat Liberia he is not worthy of the post. But football on the continent is growing. Uganda are playing well, so are Zambia and Ethiopia. Hence, it was the not so fanciful Central African Republic (CAR) that sent Coach Bob Bradley and the powerful Egyptian Pharaohs packing, denying them a chance at the table in South Africa next year. For example, South Africa struggled to draw against Ethiopia at home recently despite its high profile league, players and facilities, prompting the sacking of Coach Pitso Mosimane. The Bafana Bafana have now appointed Gordon Igesund, a white home grown manager who also happens to be the domestic league’s best coach.
The Eagles also failed to secure a high profile friendly before their tie with the Lone Star, further disrupting Keshi plans at preparation. Arsenal, the top English premiership side pulled out of its planned pre-season match with Nigeria at the last minute. The second leg between the Lone Star and the Super Eagles is scheduled for Oct 12, 2012 in Nigeria. Ivorian Noumandiez Doue will serve as referee for both legs.