Tag Archives: Nigerian Football

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

Peter Odemwingie – Super Eagle in the docks

10 Nov

Odemwingie – Super Eagle in the docks

It’s fair to say that the recalcitrant post-match interview is a rarity in football these days. Rare are the wide eyed referees stuttering as they own up to making a poor decision, even rarer are honest managers, lips trembling, nervously admitting that, yes, perhaps it was a silly choice to sell Song, Van Persie, Fabregas, and Nasri in the space of two summers. Instead, the current bunch are a humourless lot, reactions to innocent questions delivered with a pseudo-aggression and solemn, sober frowns. Rhetorical questions are a favourite, and even after the departure of Kenny Dalglish – perhaps the chief culprit – the challenging postulations of the post-match are there for all to see.
And so Peter Odemwingie’s contrite interview after his red card against Fulham was a breath of fresh air, a change of pace for the Premier League. The red card had, by all accounts, resulted from an act of madness. After losing the ball to Fulham right back Sascha Riether, Odemwingie saw red, figuratively speaking, lashing out with a well placed boot to the German. Seconds later he saw red very literally, as referee Roger East didn’t hesitate in sending the Nigerian frontman to the changing rooms.
It was refreshing to see the striker ‘face the music’ after the bout, emerging before the amassed press to apologise unreservedly for his actions. The striker admitted he had lost his temper, and realised his error in lashing out. Odemwingie’s remorse was widely and heartily applauded by the Match of the Day team – the act was stupid, and unprofessional, but these things happen. The Nigerian’s mature post-match response will ensure negative reaction is kept to a minimum, despite West Bromwich eventually losing 3-0.
Forgive and forget seemed to be the mantra from the club’s hierarchy, although realistically that might be easier said than done for The Albion. Not traditionally to be found in the upper echelons of the Premier League, the club have, for over a decade, fought the perception that they are a ‘yo-yo side’, flopping aimlessly between England’s top two divisions. A long history, the club were founded back in 1878, isn’t counterbalanced by a long stream of honours – a league win back in 1920, before the invention of television or the discovery of penicillin, as well as a respectable 5 FA Cups (although the most recent did come over forty years ago) is the sum of honours that one might want to write home about.
Odemwingie’s red, and his subsequent three match suspension, beginning this weekend as the Albion host Reading, may well demonstrate directly how much this historic club rely on their Nigerian frontman. Also, indirectly, his absence may well remind Nigerian observers of just what this talented attacker is capable of.
I will take this opportunity to say, on record, that I am a believer in the new Baggies boss Steve Clarke. His appointment led many pundits to speculate over the summer, that the Midlands side would struggle under his leadership. Clarke has made his name as a number two, assisting the likes of Mourinho, as well as the aforementioned Dalglish, at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. Too often the fallacy is rolled out; once an assistant, always an assistant, and ignoring the legacies of men such as Bob Paisley, Roy Hodgson, and Walter Smith, all of whom served as assistant managers before successfully being promoted to the top job, many in the media predict hard times ahead for Clarke and his Baggies. But the new man has an exciting squad in his hands, gently cultivated by Hodgson and Roberto Di Matteo before him, and I am optimistic about their chances this season.
Now apparently injury free, Odemwingie can be the man to lead the side, and even in his absence, Albion fans might be quietly confident about their attacking options. The Belgian giant Romelu Lukaku has impressed in his brief stints in an Albion shirt. Big, and strong, yet mobile and assertive, Lukaku is capable of menacing even the most imposing of centre backs. New signing Marcus Rosenberg may also look to step in and make an impact. A new arrival from Bremen, the Swedish international has great experience, but has only momentary tasted the Premier League. The favourite to lead the line is likely to be Shane Long. If he can overcome last season’s injury worries, the young Irishman could well step up a gear this campaign – at home against Reading may be the perfect occasion to stake his claim. 
Still, none of these men have made as much of an impact in the Premier League as the Nigerian. With 10 goals last season, alongside 15 the year before, the Uzbekistan-born frontman became the first Albion player to hit double figures in consecutive Premier League seasons. In April 2011, a stunning series of matches saw him become the first Albion star in history to score in four back-to-back Premier League games. This is a man who knows how to make firm friends with those in the West Midlands. His three games out may demonstrate painfully just how important his goals are to the Black Country outfit.
And what of the national team? Recently, I have chronicled the fluid fortunes of various Nigerian strikers, and imagining the likes of a potentially rejuvenated Obafemi Martins, alongside a young prospect like a Jude Aneke or a Victor Moses is a mouth-watering prospect. Throw in the likes of Peter Utaka, Ideye Brown, and the two Uche boys, and Naija have a frontline that could dominate any that stand before them in the Afcon 2013.
So where does Odemwingie fit in? The striker will turn 33 during the next World Cup, and so this approaching Cup of Nations could feasibly be his last opportunity to strike gold with the Super Eagles. With a recent domestic scoring record as impressive as any in the squad, Odemwingie will hope that selectors may ignore his average international record. A huge fan favourite in the West Midlands, the frontman will be hoping to garner similar popularity back in Nigeria come South Africa 2013.
West Bromwich fans certainly know what he can do.
Ed Dove


10 Nov

Obafemi Martins arrived at Newcastle United a bright young forward, an occasional star from Italian giants Internazionale, he arrived at Rubin Kazan jaded, and with a point to prove, and now, at Levante, threatening to become the forgotten man of Nigerian football. Can this be a tangible opportunity for this super eagle to re-find his wings?
The first time I saw Obafemi Martins in the flesh was May 2009, an optimistic early summer evening in the North East of England, a local derby between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, at the cathedral of St. James’ Park. At the time, both clubs were swamped in the mire of a relegation battle, and with the scores tied at 1-1, and the pair equally needing the three points, Magpies boss Alan Shearer beckoned over to the substitutes behind him. A change was needed.
Off was hauled Michael Owen, stumbling limply towards the SJP exit door, and on strode Obafemi Martins, a substitution which changed the complexion of the evening both on the pitch and in the tribunes. Some said it took Martins only 55 seconds to make his contribution, others even less; the travelling Middlesbrough fans covered their eyes as what looked like a lucky slip and a scruffy shot managed to beat Brad Jones. The home fans weren’t interested, Martins was electric, the pace with there, the power was unquestionable, and that evening, the fox in the box, the hotshot forward, the instant impact. The Magpies on their way to a crucial home win, consigning their local rivals to a near-inevitable descent.
Sadly, the striker’s efforts couldn’t save the Sleeping Giants of the Tyne, and victory over Boro merely afforded a brief stay of execution. Some weeks later, Newcastle joined them in the second tier, the ugly nadir of the club’s recent history. Something struck me that evening, amidst the euphoria of relief, amidst the delirious hoards of Newcastle fans dreaming of sanctuary and celebrating like the crew of the Andrea Gail before the shadow of that final wave engulfed them in horrific reality; I wasn’t the only one who spotted it, noted the subdued reaction of the man in the middle, the man so famed for his exuberant somersaulting celebration merely walking towards the fans and offering a slightly embarrassed clenched fist to sate them.
It was perhaps perceptible back in 2009 that the striker’s spark wasn’t what it had been, and that something about this electric young forward had dulled. Maybe it was the plight of relegation with Newcastle, maybe it was the politicking and animosity that surrounded the club at that time, maybe it was just a young man with a taste for new horizons. Either way, it’s hard to suggest that things have ever been as promising for Oba since that May evening, and the poacher’s finish, that for a day or two at least, gave those on Tyneside hope.
A month or so later, he had left Newcastle. After initially suggesting that he would be keen to stick around and help the club in the Championship, then German champions Wolfsburg made an offer of £9 million to bring the coveted frontman to Lower Saxony. Despite the promise of a new frontier, and of the chance to test himself in the Champions League, Martins departed only a year later.
After never quite managing to unseat the club’s legendary strike partnership of Edin Dzeko and Grafite, and with the newly appointed Steve McClaren looking to reshuffle the deck, Martins moved to Rubin Kazan, once again by a manager looking to add an extra dimension to domestic champions. On arriving in Russia, the talk was of rejuvenation, of a striker ready to put recent disappointments behind him, and once more demonstrate the capabilities that had made his a household name.
Despite a Russian cup win, Martins’s stint in Russia was disappointing. Following the birth of his child, the striker expressed his desire to return to England and enjoy a closer proximity to his family. His wish was granted, and Birmingham came calling, fending off other suitors to seal a 6 month loan deal on deadline day in January 2011. Unfortunately, the Yoruba frontman failed to leave any significant impact in the second city. A League Cup final winning goal against Arsenal at Wembley masked an ineffective and disappointing spell. A shin injury curtailed his latest stint in England, and the offer of purchase was not taken up by Alex McLeish; a sad indictment of Martins’s decline.
Returning to Russia in the summer of 2011, the last year of Obafemi’s career has produced little of note. His brother’s tragic passing from a heart attack in that same summer can’t have helped but have left an impact, and without an international call up in recent memory, Martins, and his enviable scoring record for Nigeria, are threatening to be lost in the distant mists of time. Martins had hoped that his Birmingham sojourn would reinsert him into the minds and consciousness of Super Eagles selectors, but it hasn’t been the case. The likes of Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, and Ideye Brown have emerged as viable, competent options for the national side, while Martins’s exile continues.
The Albion attempted to obtain the forward’s signature this summer, their loan offer being rejected before Levante finally stepped in after Kazan chiefs terminated Martins’s contract. It was a telling end to a dismal few years for the forward, and he will be hoping that his recent poor form and his catalogue of injury woes are over – here is a man who will surely be identifying a starring role for Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup as a realistic option, and Levante may well be the place to demonstrate his capabilities. Reports suggest that he has taken a large cut on his reported £40,000 a week salary at Kazan, and the older, more mature Martins shouldn’t be blighted by the financial woes that have followed him in the past.
I last saw Martins in October of last year, when he appeared for Kazan against Tottenham as a second half substitute. A few fans will have cowered when he appeared – many still remember the 20 yard belter he scored against Spurs in January 2007 – but few marvelled at his performance that night, a muted half hour where he was all but silenced by Younes Kaboul.
Will Martins ever be capable of changing a game’s complexion again? Only time will tell, but Levante and Nigeria fans will certainly have their fingers crossed.
Ed Dove

Liberia v. Nigeria – Changing Colours, or Returning Authority?

10 Nov
Liberia v. Nigeria – Changing Colours, or Returning Authority?

People say there are strange things happening in Africa; that strange times are here, and that strange days are coming. Rumours swirl that the natural order is changing, and stadiums from Cairo to the Cape twitch with a nervous fervour, in anticipation of a realignment of the status quo. Weekends like this, with competition raging across the continent, are offered up for inspection to these theorists. A series stacked with established competitors and plucky underdogs gives all a chance to see exactly where superiority skulks.

Traditionally, the landscape of African football is dominated by the biggest of beasts and the fiercest of warriors. The eagles have soared, the lions have roared, and the pharaohs ruled over the continent with an effortless majesty that appeared to be inexorable. But the whiff of revolution is in the air, and the old guard can no longer rest on their laurels, counting gold stars or recounting glories past. The colours of the world are changing, day by day.
Eyebrows were raised at the last Cup of Nations. ‘A temporary blip’ they called it, ‘a freak occurrence’. The absence of so many bona fide feasters from Africa’s top table in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea was credited by many to a perfect storm of misfortune. Inspiration and organisation had carried the lesser lights of Libya, Niger, and Botswana to the Afcon, while conspicuous absentees Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Algeria had missed out through a myriad of excuses and circumstance, the like of which would never be seen again. ‘Enjoy it while it lasts’, they said, ‘enjoy your spot in the sun, the heavyweights will be back next year.’
But will they?
Ignoring the horrendously rushed, and suspiciously arbitrary qualifying format, yesterday’s results, and perhaps more importantly, yesterday’s performances, suggest that we may well be witnessing an altered trend in African sport. The Pharoahs have already tasted elimination, humbled by the Central African Republic. Certainly, the snappier qualifying system gives more scope for shock outcomes and giant killings, but maybe, just maybe, some of the little guys are here to stay, while some of the big names face problems deeper than many had imagined.
Take Cameroon. Where do I begin? The ‘Indomitable Lions’? Don’t make me laugh! Even without Samuel Eto’o, arguably the finest player the continent has produced, a squad containing Nicolas Nkoulou, Stephane Mbia, and Achille Emana, not to mention new Barcelona signing Alex Song, should not be coming unstuck against Cape Verde. The four-time African champions had already achieved a third place finish at the Afcon before Cape Verde was even an independent nation. Today, Cape Verde has roughly a fortieth of the population of Cameroon. A fortieth. This should not be happening.
Maybe we can cross Cameroon off our list of African giants.
Ivory Coast’s shabbied Golden Generation at least managed to win their box office bout with Senegal at the FHB stadium in Abidjan. However, Ivorian defensive nous was almost non-existent, and it was only really the greater incompetence of their opponents, as well as some impressive individual performances that saved Elephant blushes. What has become of these two proud nations? Perhaps even the continent’s minnows would be confident that a little organisation and prudence could spread panic in those two ‘backlines’.
And so to Nigeria, a later kick off, and a potentially humbling fixture; they say that the bigger they come, the harder they fall, and in an African context, few come bigger than the Super Eagles.
So how would things come to pass? Would Nigeria reassert their dominance, clarify their place as a mega power on the continental stage, or would they shrink like their indomitable neighbours, lending weight to suggestions of an African uprising?
Public reaction following the match is decidedly mixed, and few results can fail to answer the above question more than a grotty 2-2 draw in Monrovia. The optimists will suggest that a point away from home, and two away goals is a good result, and a positive return from a potential banana skin – certainly enough to identify the Super Eagles as favourites going into the second leg; beat Liberia at home, and our place in the Afcon is secure. Pessimists take a different stance; they suggest that a Nigerian team that can’t beat minnows like Liberia, that concede two against a side of this calibre, simply aren’t good enough, or at least aren’t performing to their capacities. These aren’t the Lone Stars of George Weah anymore. Sekou Oliseh, who equalised late on, is an able frontman, but his supporting cast – plucked mainly from the domestic league, and outposts such as Indonesia and Malaysia, shouldn’t really be troubling heavyweights like Nigeria. Should they?
A realist would probably fall somewhere in the middle. Keshi picked an exciting team, a young team, and generally, they coped well inside the electric atmosphere of the Samuel Doe stadium – Doe a man who knew better than most what it means to fall from grace. Some of Keshi’s more inexperienced picks, Juwon Oshaniwa of Sharks, for example, as well as Nosa Igiebor and Nwankwo Obiorah, are still learning at this level, and days such as this are part of the necessary formation for a long career with the national side. Keshi will have been particularly pleased with Igiebor’s equaliser.
New Chelsea signing Victor Moses also continued his string of impressive performances with the Super Eagles – pacey and sharp, he will look to be more involved with play in the future, but demonstrated, once again, how his speed and trickery can unsettle defences – being brought down early in the first half to win the penalty which Ikechukwu Uche dispatched so coolly. Some criticism has been levelled at Vincent Enyeama for his role in Liberia’s equaliser, but this is a gardien we can trust, and the skipper will be looking to make amends in Calabar on October 12th.  
Still, complacency must be shunned, it’s not too late for Nigeria to find itself amongst the disgraced absentees and fallen giants of the continent. Liberia will be buoyed by their late goal, and fans of the national side will recall a dismal day in Abuja, a year ago, when a ninetieth minute equaliser by Ibrahima Traoré sent Guinea to the Afcon at Nigeria’s expense.
It is an episode that must not be repeated.
Ed Dove

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