Coach Stephen Keshi (R) celebrating his stunning victory over Mali
By Tunde Sulaiman
Last Sunday, many of us got our fingers burnt when Nigeria’s Super Eagles shocked us (maybe even themselves) by upstaging Africa’s top-ranked national football team, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, in the quarter-final of AFCON 2013. They then followed that up with another impressive performance in a 4-1 semi-final win over Mali, which saw them making their first final appearance in 13 years.
It’s still quite amazing the way the team transformed from the one we saw labouring to draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia and a even against Ethiopia in the 2-0 final group victory to the one that was so impressive against both the Elephants and their fellow Eagles.
Is it that Stephen Keshi and his wards played a classical “419” on people like me and millions of other fans (including experts and bookies) around the world, who based on what we saw of the team in Group C, would never believe in our wildest dreams that the same set of players would not only raise their game but also go all the way to the final!
But before those that “won” beat their chests and gloat over our “misfortunes” I want to remind everyone that I have repeatedly stressed that football is not exact science and as such making predictions can be a hazardous thing too.
Bookmakers and pundits pore over previous performances, the form of certain players, antecedents of teams and other stats to try to conjure up what they believe might happen in the present.
But like I pointed out recently when I “correctly” predicted that the Eagles (despite their poor form then) would beat Ethiopia, I did not go to “watch” it at a babalawo’s place – no I tried to marshal out my reasons and “luckily” I was proven right at the end.
But wait a minute, let me ask this: “What would have happened had the Eagles crashed?”
Of course “we” (that is those of us who did not give them much of a chance) would have also been the ones gloating that we “said so!”
And this is what we should all realise - there are always two sides to every coin or issue and depending on how it plays out one can either be proven right or wrong.
I can imagine had the Eagles lost, many of the same people praising them to high heavens would have been the ones condemning them.
In the run up to the game it was clear that officials had been preparing grounds to hang them (Eagles players and officials) out to dry with such talk like: “We had given them everything they needed to do well” and so on.
So had the Elephants trampled on them, they would have also descended on the coaching crew and players slamming them for “letting the nation down despite all the support they got”.
What I’m trying to point out here is that while we are quick to identify with success, we, especially our officials, should also be man enough to also identify with setbacks and rather than placing all the blame on others also accept that they were have part of the blame too.
But knowing my country I know this is wishful thinking and we will continue to see those in high places blaming others for setbacks while assuming key roles for success.
I will like to round up by wishing the Super Eagles all the best in Sunday’s game against the Stallions of Burkina Faso. And by the way please don’t expect any predictions – last Sunday is still a “painful” memory!
Real v Man United: The Dream Match
CAPTION: The poster says it all (photo attached)
The world’s top competition for club sides, the UEFA Champions League resumes from its winter hiatus next week, with a mouth-watering fixture Wednesday pitting Real Madrid against Manchester United at the imposing 85,000-seater Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
This is clearly the stand-out fixture of the eight games taking place in the first knock-out stage not only because the teams involved are arguably the most supported and recognised in the world, but also because of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Up until four years ago, the Portuguese international was the main man at the Theatre of Dreams playing a big part in United’s winning a third Champions League title before making a still world record â‚¤80 million move to Madrid.
Since joining the Los Merengues (The Meringues) the former United man has made a stunning impact at Madrid, crowning it up last season by finally ending Barcelona’s La Liga stranglehold.
However, the wheels have slightly come of this season with the Champions League the realistic trophy still available for them to challenge for.
But in order to keep this dream alive they first have to get past a United, which is also determined to add to its miserly three European trophies.
However, perhaps on current form this may be the best time for any team to face Madrid, which is going through a mini crisis both on and off the pitch with reports of strained relationship between the “Special One” Jose Mourinho and his players.
Practically out of the La Liga race, languishing in third place on the log, and are also walking a tight rope in the King’s Cup following a 1-1 first leg against Barca, Mourinho knows that Europe may be his only saving grace in a very turbulent season by his very own high standards.
The Portuguese tactician also has a very decent record in previous meetings with his Scot opposite number at Old Trafford and many United fans will remember how as an unheralded manager he engineered Porto’s stunning victory over the Red Devils on the way to his first Champions League trophy in 2004.
Also during his almost three-year stint at Chelsea, Mourinho was often able to get the better of the more experienced Ferguson.
United fans will also remember how a decade ago, the “original” Ronaldo ended the Red Devils’ dream of a third title with a stunning performance in Madrid’s 6-5 aggregate victory.
But all this is history and the game will be determined by who shows up on the day. One suspects that Ferguson will not be too adventurous on Wednesday hoping to leave Madrid with a draw or low score defeat (hopefully getting an all-important away goal in the process) banking on getting the job done at the Theatre of Dreams in the return leg.
All said and done, on paper United appear to hold the slight (very slight) advantage, but then so did Cote d’Ivoire last Sunday and Ghana on Wednesday and we all know what happened!
However, there are also a number of other tantalising fixtures for fans to savour over the two days of the Champions League next week.
UEFA LEAGUE FIXTURES
Celtic v Juventus
Valencia v Paris SG
Real Madrid v Man Utd
Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
FC Porto v Malaga
AC Milan v Barcelona
Galatasaray v Schalke 04