Tag Archives: Nigeria

Shola the Super Eagle – A Memorable Week for Ameobi

10 Nov
Shola the Super Eagle – A Memorable Week for Ameobi

With a goal in the Europa League, and a fresh call up for the Nigerian national team, it’s been quite a week for Shola Ameobi
Shola Ameobi should have been an international player almost two years ago. It was January 2011 when he was first named in a Nigerian squad to face Guatemala in a friendly. Things didn’t go to plan, however, and it wasn’t until November of that year that FIFA officially cleared the Zaria-born frontman to represent his nation of origin.
Complications had arisen due to Ameobi’s previous international outings for England’s Under-21 team – the youth caps counting against him until a recent FIFA ruling made the changing of national allegiances permissible. After smashing Liberia to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi announced that the powerful striker was firmly in his thoughts, and could well be in line to make his squad for the tournament.
Well that time has come, and Ameobi has been included in Keshi’s list of eleven foreign-based players to make the trip to Miami to take on Venezuela next week. Another Naija friendly in the USA, and another potential debut for Ameobi – this time the signs look good, and Shola must be bubbling with expectation at the prospect of finally slipping into the famous green jersey of the Super Eagles.
Following Keshi’s initial announcement, identifying Ameobi as a future option for the Eagles, several voices of disquiet emerged from the ranks of Nigerian fans. Some suggested that at 31, Ameobi could at best be considered a short-term solution for the national side, whilst others bemoaned the fact that another squad player from a European club was being considered ahead of some of Nigeria’s local-based hotshots.
Ameobi’s performance against Bruges in the Europa League last night could go a long way to appeasing the critics, the striker demonstrating just what he can bring to the table for the Super Eagles. Over the 90 minutes, Ameobi showed off his capabilities as a target man, constantly winning the ball and bringing it down to the deck; he proved his abilities to contribute to the build up play, a snazzy backheel early on setting Gaby Obertan up for a chance which the French winger really should have buried.
The striker also demonstrated the guile that only experience can harness – constantly taking up promising positions, one of which resulted in Newcastle’s equaliser just before half time, and proving himself to be a menace throughout.
When one considers the plethora of attacking options utilised by Nigeria recently, Ameobi brings something that few others do – presence. Whilst the likes of Vic Moses, Ikechukwu Uche, and Emmanuel Emenike offer powerful running and predatory finishing, Ameobi – at 6’3 – could offer variation in attack, ideal for when a change of pace or an altered approach is required.
Despite not yet being an international player, Shola could also provide the experience lacking in a young, vibrant Nigerian side. With Peter Odemwingie’s international future coming under speculation, and Yakubu and John Utaka featuring less frequently, the 31-year-old could bring some much needed composure and serenity to the national side in the cut and thrust of the 2013 Afcon.
His goal against Bruge was his 14th in European competition, an enviable record for a striker who has sometimes failed to win over fans in the Premier League. With opportunities like the one presented to him next week unlikely to be too all frequent in the future, none will relish the chance of becoming an international player more than Shola Ameobi.
It’s been a long wait, but in Miami, Shola has the chance to show that the wait has been worth it.

Peter Odemwingie – South Africa calling for Super Eagle hotshot

10 Nov
Peter Odemwingie – South Africa calling for Super Eagle hotshot

What a week for Peter Odemwingie. No stranger to success and celebration, I have written extensively recently about the Nigerian striker’s impressive spell in the Black Country. Indeed, as West Bromwich Albion enjoy their best start to the season for many years, the frontman is perhaps on the brink of a glorious phase in his career.
Odemwingie’s red card some weeks ago, earned in an away defeat to Fulham, threatened to derail Albion’s decent start to the campaign. The dismissal, for a silly flash of anger directed towards Cottagers right back Sascha Riether, was exactly the kind of demonstration of ego and petulance that can undermine the kind of ethic and unity fostered at the Hawthorns. Instead, the resulting suspension has failed to derail the Throstles’ bright early form, in fact, the team seem revitalised, and a comfortable home win against Southampton on Monday night pushes Steve Clarke’s side to fifth place.
These are heady times for the Baggies. Not traditionally to be found towards the top end of the table, the last decade has seen the team fighting the perception that they are little more than a ‘yo-yo’ club, flopping aimlessly between England’s top two divisions. Founded in 1878, Albion enjoy a long history, but this is not matched by extensive honours: a league win back in 1920, and a respectable 5 FA Cups is all Albion fans have to show for over 130 years of history.
I can’t promise the trophy cabinet will be filling up any time soon, the upper echelons of English football are awash with cash and credibility these days, but Albion’s bright early form, and a genuine class throughout the first eleven, suggests that this year might be their best for some time.
Far from undermining this competent start, Odemwingie’s suspension opened the doors for two of West Brom’s other attackers to showcase their abilities. Shane Long has, for years, been considered a Premiership Leading man in the making, and over the last few seasons has begun to demonstrate that he indeed has all the capabilities to trouble the very best defences in the league. Romelu Lukaku is enjoying a season on loan in the West Midlands after being deemed not ready for first team duties at Chelsea. The towering frontman offers a more physical presence up top, and has the ability to change the pace of an attack from his position as the side’s pinnacle.
However, Odemwingie’s performance against Soton on Monday demonstrates just what the canny Nigerian offers the Baggies. His brace, each goal coming either side of half time, illustrated his versatile capacity to influence proceedings. The first was a shot from outside the box. Defensive laxity contributed perhaps, but the forward’s positioning was good, and the strike demonstrated his capacity to prompt the action with his instinctive finishing.
The second goal, on sixty minutes, confirmed the class of Odemwingie’s all round game, as the frontman leapt to meet Long’s sumptuous cross. The movement and the jump smacked of an opportunist’s vision, and the header, of a predator’s ruthlessness: two – nil, and the points belonged to the Albion.
Currently in fifth, with seventeen points already on the board, West Bromwich sit ahead of the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Liverpool, and whilst this form isn’t sustainable across the season, their bold attacking and composed defence augers well for the year ahead.
The brace marked the end of an important week for the Nigerian. National team boss Stephen Keshi appeared to reveal recently that the Ukraine-born frontman had announced his retirement from the Super Eagles set-up. This news prompted a mixed response from fans of the national side, some congratulated Odemwingie on his decision, suggesting that without the will to be involved for Nigeria, the player would be no longer of use to Keshi. There were others who bemoaned his decision however, arguing that the striker’s predatory nature, work rate, and personality were invaluable to the national side, and ought to be retained at all costs.
In light of the publicity surrounding Odemwingie’s supposed retirement, Keshi was forced to clarify his comments. In a statement released by the FA last week, the head coach revealed that his previous announcement had been misinterpreted – far from retirement, Odemwingie had been merely expressing his concerns over being misused in the past by the Super Eagles. The statement concluded with Keshi confirming that Odemwingie still had a place in the squad, and would be likely to return to the fold ahead of the 2013 Afcon in South Africa. Good news for all those with a vested concern in Nigerian soccer – imagining the possible combinations of Moses, Martins, Emenike, Brown, Utaka, and Odemwingie up front –  but not, perhaps, for Albion fans who could well be without their talismanic striker for much of January and February.
With the Afcon looming, The Albion flying high, and Odemwingie entering the latter stages of his career, there may well be the makings of an Indian summer on the cards. Nigeria and Baggies fans will certainly be hoping that glorious performances like Monday’s will be forthcoming for some time yet.
Ed Dove

Super Six from Nigeria as Super Eagles demolish Liberia

10 Nov

Super Six from Nigeria as Super Eagles demolish Liberia

The U.J. Esuene Stadium played host to one of the Super Eagles’ finest evenings last night as Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria destroyed the Lone Stars of Liberia 6-1 to win the tie 8-3 on aggregate and book their place at the African Cup of Nations 2013.
What ecstasy, what euphoria, what elation – a cross from John Obi Mikel, a header from Victor Moses, and Nigeria’s sixth of the evening. The victory had been secured long before then, but that goal was not only the icing on the cake, but the cherry on top as well. 6 – 1; Liberia, plucky in periods but outclassed on the day, sent home as the immense potential of Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria finally showed in a crucial match. The Eagles had, in one firm stroke, both answered their critics and realised their potential – a place in the African Cup of Nations the immediate reward.
Babajide Alaka, writing for Goal Nigeria before the event, suggested that an early goal was one of the five pre-requisites for a home win. Alaka argued that it was vital that the match didn’t fall into a rut, Nigeria retreating within themselves, after failing to break through the Liberian defence. For him, the Super Eagles needed to come out of the blocks chomping at the bit, ready to strike right at the heart of the Liberian backline, and not allow the visitors to settle.
Alaka was not disappointed, as Nigeria not only hit the ground running, they also managed to open the scoring within the game’s initial minutes. It was ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ stuff; Celtic defender Efe Ambrose latching onto a free kick in the second minute to help the ball past Liberian keeper Nathaniel Sherman – the start was as perfect for Nigeria as it was disastrous for the Lone Stars, and in truth, the visitors never quite recovered from this blow.
Liberia began to gently reassert themselves, but clearly reeling from the opening assault, many of their attacks petered out, or they ended in the arms of Vincent Enyeama. Sekou Oliseh was the visitors’ single attacking menace, and he constantly battled with the Nigerian backline, as well as prompting a smart save from The Cat on 34 minutes. Liberia’s emerging confidence was, however, quashed a few minutes later as Ahmed Musa and Emanuel Emenike combined well – a theme for the afternoon – and the former put Nigeria two goals to the good. Cometh the hour, Cometh the Musa.
The half ended with Nigeria looking fairly comfortable, a carnival atmosphere in Calabar, with John Obi Mikel the darling once more, pulling the strings in the middle of the park. In retrospect, the first half performance had been fairly unconvincing – even if the scoreboard suggested otherwise.
The second period started much as the first had – vibrant, direct attacking from the Super Eagles striking at the core of the Liberian defence. Vicky Moses fired home moments after the restart, and at 3-0, 5-2 on aggregate, Lone Star hopes began to fade. Nigeria’s inexorable ascent continued, as the team’s attacking stars lost their inhibitions and offered a creative display to match any seen across the continent yesterday.
Obi Mikel scored with a penalty to make it 4-0, before substitute Ike Uche scored the fifth late on. These two goals contributed to two of the day’s central narratives; the first being the return to action of Mikel – Chelsea Star, European Champion, Seasoned Performer – it’s not too much to expect great things from John Obi on the continental stage, and Saturday’s display suggests that those who have retained high hopes for the midfielder may not have misplaced them. Brought back into the fray by Keshi, Mikel had an authoritative afternoon in the middle of the park, any success at Afcon is surely dependent, to some degree at least, on the performances of this man.
Today’s result was also due in no small part to the attacking trident selected by Keshi. Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses flanked Emanuel Emenike, and all three offered a display that can rank among their individual best for the Super Eagles. I wrote before the game of Nigeria’s plethora of attacking talent, and this performance provides the render and finish for my opinion. Perhaps the likes of Yakubu, Utaka, Martins, and Odemwingie do belong in Nigeria’s past, and perhaps this trio of young, athletic stars will herald an exciting era for the Super Eagles. Add Ideye Brown and Ike Uchu to these three, and Nigeria will have options that can rival any on the continent in the coming years.
Late on, Liberia endured the ignominy of the dismissal of their captain Gebro after a second yellow for simulation, whilst a late goal through Patty Wleh will offer scant consolation and warm few cockles back in Monrovia. The visitors were outclassed, and the outing took on an extra gloss for Nigeria after a sixth and final goal – this one made in West London; Mikel and Moses combining to great effect. There was even time for Lazio youngster Eddy Ogenyi to make a late debut – great things are expected of the Lagos-born player, and this was not an afternoon he will forget in a hurry.
Whilst the day was a thoroughly miserable one for Liberia, it is one that will be remembered fondly in Nigeria – vindication for Keshi, a coming of age, perhaps even the heralding of a brighter future for a nation so maligned and so reviled in recent times. Doubtless many will be imagining, perhaps even expecting, glory in South Africa – a result as glowing as this has a habit of allowing dreamers to dream, and whilst that may be an unrealistic leap in expectations, Nigerians can look forward to an exciting future, and begin to place the tremors of recent times firmly behind them.
Nigeria 6, Liberia 1 – the continental high table awaits.
Ed Dove

An evaluation of Nigeria’s squad ahead of their clash with Liberia this Saturday

10 Nov

An evaluation of Nigeria’s squad ahead of their clash with Liberia this Saturday

With a place at the African Cup of Nations in South Africa on the table, West African ‘brothers’ Nigeria and Liberia come head to head in Calabar on Saturday. This article evaluates the men selected by Stephen Keshi to guide the Super Eagles to the Afcon, and considers their chances ahead of the upcoming crunch match. The attitude exuded from the camp has been bullish, and all in Nigeria hope that their boys will redeem themselves after a less than stellar first leg in the suburbs of Monrovia.
With both defences unimpressive in September, much will be expected of the two goalkeepers. Between the Nigerian sticks, Liberia’s strikers are likely to find Vincent Enyeama waiting for them; The Cat spreading himself far and wide, launching and imposing, punching and grasping, and protecting the goal like his life depended on it. Although that’s what they were meant to be expecting in the first leg, when an unfathomable lapse in concentration by the former Enyimba stopper gifted Sekou Oliseh an equaliser. Many will remember Enyeama’s glorious performances of years’ past; once, famously, reducing Lionel Messi to a snivelling, shrugging, stuttering wreck as he put on a goalkeeping masterclass to keep the Argentine starlet at bay.
It’s reasonable to fear that those days are behind the Nigeria number one now; blunders against Malawi and Liberia have begun to plant seeds of concern in the minds of spectators, enough so for the Maccabi Tel Aviv man to be legitimately considered an area of weakness for Liberia to expose. Alternatives do exist in the shape of Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim, but Saturday’s match may well offer Enyeama a golden opportunity to prove he can once more be a big game player for the Super Eagles.
By comparison, young Liberia keeper Nathaniel Sherman was resilient in the first leg, and the Nigerian forwards may need both invention and inspiration to defy him. In front of Enyeama, captain Joseph Yobo will be charged with keeping an eye on the galloping Sekou. The CSKA Moscow midfielder looked lively in the first leg, and his goal blew the tie wide open. Having begun his career in Ebedei, in Ogun State, Sekou knows all there is to know about Nigerian football – what greater motivation to cause an upset then the ability to silence thousands of your adopted countrymen? And for Yobo, what greater inspiration than a place at the continental high table in 2013 – at 32, how many more chances will he have?
In midfield, the addition of John Obi Mikel appears to have rendered all else irrelevant – that is if some news outlets are anything to go by. His return has ignited excitement in the fans, and uncovered hope in the hearts of fans disillusioned by Nigeria’s tepid display in the first leg. It’s impossible to argue that the Chelsea midfielder doesn’t have the biggest profile in the squad; he is Nigeria’s star, perhaps their talisman, a European champion, and, let’s face it, a player with the power to control the game and carry the Super Eagles beyond the reaches of the Lone Stars.
Mikel isn’t flawless, far from it, and indeed in recent years he has been much maligned by fans and reporters alike. Surely though, the colossal figure that he is, competing week in week out in the Premier League, should have too much about him to be troubled by his opposite numbers in the Liberia squad. I don’t wish to advocate arrogance nor complacency, but Naija fans should reasonably be able to assume that James Lomell or Isaac Pupo, playing their football in Indonesia or Malaysia respectively, are unlikely to give Mikel, at the peak of his powers, too many sleepless nights.
The inclusion of the Chelsea man also prompts the examination of some of the interesting internal dynamics that occur within the squad. All eyes will be on Keshi’s ability to meld together Obi Mikel, jetting in from West London, and talents such as Ejike Uzoenyi and Godfrey Oboabona, who play football for local clubs. Nosa Igiebor opened the scoring for Nigeria in the first leg after a counter attack by Victor Moses, and it will be fascinating to see whether the stability potentially offered by Mikel can give the young Betis midfielder a platform to create from.
Up front, Nigeria would seem to have the march on their West African rivals, although considerations can’t help but be made for those players not selected. Despite scoring the sole goal in Levante’s win against Valencia at the weekend, Oba Martins will once more be absent – a career reviving at the domestic stage, but not, as yet, in the green of Nigeria. John Utaka, the highest scorer in the Chinese league, is also missing, while Jude Aneke and Sone Aluko appear not to have performed well enough in recent games to warrant selection, for now at least.
Those chosen appear to have enough about them to strike fear into the hearts of Lone Star defenders. Ideye Brown’s terrific scoring rate at Dynamo Kyiv has continued this season, and the former Sochaux man appears to have taken to the Champions League like a duck to water, having scored in both the third qualifying round and in the play-offs. The Nigerian wonderkid Victor Moses is another striking option for Keshi, and after an impressive display in the first leg, looks to be one of the boss’s sharpest weapons. Moses too is enjoying a maiden season in the Champions League, having made his debut last week against Nordsjaelland, and will be looking to link up with another of the competition’s stars, Emmanuel Emenike, who scored a brace in a losing effort against Celtic last week. Ike Uchu, who missed a few good chances in the first leg, is also selected, and offers a different alternative up top.
Returning to the field after suspension with West Bromwich Albion this weekend, Peter Odemwingie is, however, missing from Nigeria’s selection. This writer fears that if Liberia prove difficult to break down on Saturday, or if Naija’s strikers fail to bring their shooting boots, the Soviet-born striker’s name may well be whispered longingly around the curves and cascades of the Akure Township Stadium.
Until then though, Keshi’s selection offers a keen blend of youth and experience, of pace and of power, of solidity, and of flair; enough, hopefully, to see the Super Eagles comfortably on the plane to South Africa 2013.
Ed Dove

Might Moses want to think twice about joining Chelsea’s ranks?

31 Aug

Might Moses want to think twice about joining Chelsea’s ranks?
This is the summer of Van Persie – of the long, the drawn-out, the duplicitous; it is the summer of Modric – promises claimed and broken, and foreign dreams in golden lands; it is the summer of Zlatan – of the exotic meeting l’exotique, and bona fide box office on the Champs-Élysées.
Comparatively, Victor Moses’s protracted move from Wigan to Chelsea has slipped under the radar, but it is a narrative followed acutely by Nigerians everywhere. After pledging loyalty to the Super Eagles, and impressing in his three appearances to date, all in Nigeria are hoping for the best for their latest attacking star.
But what is best for the boy?
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan certainly doesn’t believe the answer to be Chelsea. While hesitant to let his club’s brightest star leave, Whelan has conceded that if the price is right, then the youngster will be off. The initial asking price was £10 million, but that has gently dropped in the face of Chelsea obstinacy, and at the time of writing, a fee of £8.5 million looks likely to be settled upon.
This was always to be a summer (and a season) of transition for Chelsea. With Didier Drogba leaving along with Kalou and Bosingwa, new boss Roberto Di Matteo was charged with renewing and replenishing the squad with fresh talent; lowering the average age, and building a Chelsea that could compete comprehensively in the future.
While André Villas-Boas appears to have failed with a similar remit a year ago, Di Matteo has encouraged, if not inspired Chelsea supporters with a crop of exciting, young signings. Marko Marin’s move from Bremen was confirmed at the end of April, Eden Hazard joined on the 4th of June, and Brazil’s Olympic star Oscar signed on the 26th of July – a triad of young attackers that are primed to set the league alight, and threaten to trouble the game’s upper echelons for years to come.
The club are assembling an ineffable stable of young talent, but the question begs to be asked: Where and how do all of these young prospects fit into the ‘master plan’?
Don’t forget, Chelsea already have the sumptuous talents of Juan Mata, already established after a fairly impressive debut season, Daniel Sturridge, who shone for the early half of the year, but fell out of favour with Di Matteo, and will be looking to make up for lost ground, as well as the likes of Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda, still knocking around, and still hoping to contribute towards the goals this campaign.
This is without even beginning to consider the man who will likely spearhead the aforementioned. Fernando Torres has endured a well-documented torrid spell since moving to West London, but fans are hoping that maybe, just maybe, the dual successes of the Champions League and the European Championship will spur the Spaniard ‘back to his best’ this year.
Time will tell, and Chelsea fans also hope that it will allow Romelu Lukaku, so devastating in Belgium, so anonymous in England, to prove that he can be more than just a statuesque figure, that he can be the goal machine he was previously, and that one day, fingers crossed, the parallels with Drogba will be more than just optimism and aspiration.
Quite where Victor Moses fits into this myriad of identities is, for the time being, a mystery. While Chelsea are often bated for not having a glorious history, they do have quite a marvellous track record of pillaging and spurning young talent from those around them.
Haven’t we seen this kind of thing before?
Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker stagnated at the club, while the shadowy embers and faded promise of Shaun Wright-Phillips’s career lend credence to Whelan’s beseeching. Perhaps he is right, perhaps a few more years under the studied tutelage of Roberto Martinez, and a little while longer plying his trade in the provinces may stand Moses in a better stead to one day capitalise on his undoubted talent.
Still, it is encouraging to see Nigerians playing at the top levels of club competition. It will be, momentarily at least, exciting to see a Super Eagle in the blue of one of the country’s best, playing for the European Champions no less, and training daily alongside the international stars that populate the Chelsea dressing room.
Here is a player with untapped potential, one whose pace, strength, and technical ability are outstanding among those of his age group. Maybe it is for the best that he is able to cultivate and perfect that talent in the challenging atmosphere of Chelsea, being instructed by the world’s finest, and learning first hand how to improve the poor on-field decision making which is perhaps his only glaring weakness.
Chelsea’s number 31 at the moment is a young Frenchman, the young Gaël Kakuta. The club had hoped that by now, by his twenty first birthday, he would be known worldwide as one of the planet’s most exciting talents. They had hoped that he would be famous for more than just his arrival at Chelsea, when club and player apparently broke rules aplenty to broker the deal. Chelsea hoped that the boy once described as ‘a phenomenon’, and hand picked by Drogba as his ‘protégé’, would one day emerge from those murky origins and stake his claim at the West London club.
Kakuta debuted back in September 2009, back when Ancelotti was at the helm, as his ‘all-conquering’ pre-slump-self. He wowed fans with his trickery, his skill, and his determination…but little has been heard of him since. Loan spells at Fulham and Bolton didn’t quite deliver, and Kakuta finds himself back at Chelsea, back in the reserves, back on the bench.
Maybe Whelan has a point, and perhaps Moses ought to think twice before any deal is done.
Ed Dove

Remembering Olubayo

5 Apr

Remembering Olubayo, and the ’05 generation

African football has a wonderful propensity for moving on. Being rescheduled for the beginning of next year, the African Cup of Nations will provide the giants of African football with an immediate prospect of redemption for the failures of 2011. In Nigeria, a generation of players arriving at their prime have the chance to spearhead this redemption.

This generation has some pedigree, most notably at the U20 World Cup in 2005. The team qualified from a group containing Brazil, before beating Ukraine and hosts Holland en route to an All-African semi-final with Morocco. The quarter final with the Dutch was a particularly gruelling encounter; the Nigerians eventually winning 10 – 9 on penalties. The North Africans were overcome emphatically in the semis, before the Super Eagles were eventually outdone in the final by a little fella called Lionel Messi.

Players from that tournament such as Falcao, Llorente, Silva, as well as Messi himself, are approaching their prime and yet are already writing their own histories, and carving out their own spots in footballing folklore. It’s hard to say the same for many of the Nigerian squad, despite their impressive showing in the Netherlands, and a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics three years later.

Of that crop, Taye Taiwo is currently sampling life in West London with Q.P.R., John Obi Mikel – the star of the team – has been in England a while longer, struggling to be truly effectual at Chelsea. Sani Kaita, despite being a mainstay of the national side, has failed to settle at various clubs, and is currently playing in the Ukraine. The exciting Promise Isaac has yet to debut for the seniors, and of the ’05 generation, it is perhaps only Chinedu Obasi who is in the business of carving out a legacy for himself, having recently signed a permanent contract at Schalke.

Arriving in Holland for the Youth Championships, Olubayo Adefemi was one of the less heralded members of the squad. Coach Samson Siasia’s original plans didn’t have him in the starting eleven. He made his first appearance for the team in the final group game against Switzerland, starting in a match that Nigeria needed to win. After impressing here, he kept his place, contributing a penalty in the shootout against the Dutch, and a crucial goal against Morocco.

Adefemi became a central component of the U20s team, and then the Olympic team in 2008, opening the scoring in the emphatic semi-final victory over a strong Belgian side. His club career progressed and he began to forge a career at teams across Europe, leaving Nigeria in 2004 to play in Israel, Romania, Austria, and in France, for Boulogne, in their maiden season in Ligue 1. The versatile defender made his debut for the Super Eagles senior side in 2009, before moving to Skoda Xanthi, of Greece, in 2010. In April last year, he lost control of his car, and was killed in the collision. He on the way to the airport, scheduled to fly home to make preparations for his upcoming marriage to his girlfriend Folashade.

I shared correspondence with Olubayo in late 2009, as he adjusted to life in France. He visited London, and enjoyed the White Hart Lane stadium tour, having photographs taken in Ledley King’s hallowed spot in the changing room. He confided however, that were England to ever be his port of call, it would be Arsenal, and not Tottenham, that would be the preferred destination.

Team mates, following his death, spoke of a warm character, and a fantastic sense of humour. It was a personality evident in his exuberant celebrations and committed performances. Christopher Katongo, who captained Zambia to their 2012 Afcon victory, was a team mate of Adefemi’s at Xanthi. He described his friend as a good man, who was well liked, and was like a brother to the Chipolopolo skipper.

Olubayo was a young man when he died, just 25, just approaching his peak years as a player, and beginning to arrive at his most effective for club and country. The youth team of 2005 were taken into the hearts of Nigerians, they succeeded in forging and sustaining a relationship with the fan base, one that existed above and beyond their accolades on the pitch. It is a reality sadly lacking from the current convocation of Super Eagles.

Nigeria are currently in the process of qualifying for the 2013 Afcon competition, to be held in South Africa. An away draw in tiny Rwanda doesn’t auger well, but the Super Eagles will certainly be confident of getting the result they need in the return leg on June 15th, and progressing to the Second Qualification Round.

Young, impressive players have been brought in to augment the generation of 2005: talented midfielders Ahmed Musa and Joel Obi are already establishing themselves as international performers, despite being only 19 and 20 respectively. Victor Moses’s decision to opt for the land of his birth, as opposed to England, has boosted Nigerian fans – even if his exciting build up play at Wigan isn’t yet to be matched by a polished end product.

The Naija community was awash with complaints and solutions following the draw in Kigali; Yakubu not hungry enough for victory, Odemwingie too greedy for money; the coach clueless, the players lacking commitment. Some Nigerians propose a total rebuilding of the national team, an overhaul of players, staff and ideas. Others are quietly confident that Nigeria are merely at a crossroads, a step further towards their emergence as an African superpower once again.

If redemption is to come at the African Cup of Nations, then the generation of 2005 need to step up. Even the mightiest eagle may need to return to the treetops to rest, but come 2013 and South Africa, Nigeria will call for their team to soar once again.

Ed Dove, London



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