Odion Ighalo: Has He Won Back the Hearts of Nigerian Fans?

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Following Nigeria’s failed bid to advance from the group stage of the World Cup after losing to Argentina, Odion Ighalo was railed at for failing to convert begging chances against the Argies. Indeed, his life was threatened and fans called for his exclusion from the Super Eagles. However, national team Manager, Gernot Rohr insisted on the Changchun Yatai striker in Eagles subsequent matches. In Nigeria’s AFCON qualifier against Libya, Ighalo scored a hat trick in the first leg and a brace in the return leg, which not only placed Nigeria on top of Group E, but put the three times African champions in good stead to qualify for next year’s AFCON in Cameroon. Kunle Adewale asks if Ighalo’s current performance has restored the trust on him

When the team list was rolled out for the game against Seychelles and Ighalo’s name was included, eyebrows were raised but Rohr doubled down on his forward, telling media that he wanted to give the 29-year-old a chance to show the fans that he could still do the job.

“We had gained the confidence to bring Ighalo. Even two days ago during the press conference, one of you asked me why do you maintain Ighalo in this team. I think today he has given the answer. It is wonderful to see him score these goals,” the German said after the game against Libya.

In his reaction, Ighalo has said fans were overtaken by passion when he failed to score at the World Cup in Russia, while pledging to always give his best in a Super Eagles shirt.

“The fans love football, they are passionate about the Super Eagles and so sometimes you don’t blame them when they are angry. As a striker, they wanted me to score goals at the World Cup but unfortunately it was not so. Some of the fans took the criticisms to another level, which was bad, but I can understand them because I am a professional and so whatever comes with that, you have to go with it.

“I thank the fans who believed in me even after the World Cup and those who didn’t believe in me, I still thank them because they were supporting the Super Eagles.Hopefully, I will work to give my 100 per cent whenever I play for the national team.”

Rohr said Ighalo’s hat-trick against Libya was the perfect answer to his critics.

Speaking after the Super Eagles thrashed Libya 4-0, Rohr said: “It is wonderful to see him score these goals. The positives I take from this game is the team scoring four goals because it is not easy to do that. Secondly, it is the comeback of Ighalo. I am very happy about it because he has been criticised in the social media which went beyond any human endurance limit.

“So, I am very happy that he has given them the answer on the pitch. He proved that he is a great player and confirmed the confidence I have in him.”

The 29-year-old with his hat-trick against Libya became the first player to score three goals for the Super Eagles in 18 years.

If his performance in the first leg against Libya at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo last Saturday was not convincing enough, Ighalo scored a brace in the return leg on Tuesday.

The second of his two goals shot Nigeria past South Africa on the Group E table, thereby placing the Super Eagles in a vantage position of qualifying for the 2019 AFCON slated for Cameroon.

Though Ighalo has reposed the trust bestowed on him by the Super Eagles Technical Adviser, but the big questions are whether he had done enough to erase the memory of his lacklustre performance in Russia and warmed himself back to the hearts of soccer loving Nigerians?

After failing to convert any of the begging chances that came his way especially in the match against Argentina in which the Super Eagles needed only a draw to progress from the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, the Yatai Changchun striker indeed admitted to having let the country down.

“I apologise to Nigeria. I apologise to my team-mates. I take responsibility for this game, because had I taken those chances I had that would have made it a different ball game. It’s a sad day for me, the boys and the country because we went out in a bad manner and we deserved more.

“It’s a sad day for me, the boys and the country because we went out in a bad manner and we deserved more in the game. We had a penalty in the game and another one which the referee did not give. I missed a couple of chances that would have finished the game but that’s football because sometimes you win and sometimes to lose,” Ighalo had said.

In what started as mere accusing fingers being pointed at him quickly turned to a death threat.

The striker received death threats following  two the glorious opportunities he missed against Argentina in Saint Petersburg before Marcos Rojo’s late strike ended the Rohrs’ side Russia campaign.

The 29-year-old wrote: “For those who want to kill me, please – I am someone’s child. We did our best, but sometimes things don’t always go the way you want – but life has to go on. Great experience to be at the World Cup, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Ighalo was born on June 16, 1989. He started his career at Prime FC and later moved to Julius Berger and in 2007, he moved to Lyn in Norway. A year after, was signed by Udineze of Italy but was loaned out to Granada in Spain, before signing for Watford in 2014.

Last year, he moved to Changchun Yatai in China for a fee of £20m.

In March 2015, after a series of strong performances for Watford, the then newly appointed Super Eagles interim coach, Daniel Amokachi invited Ighalo to the senior national and he said then, “I feel good because it is my dream to play for my country.”

With death threat hanging on his neck, it remains to be seen if he still feels good playing for his country.

Can Mourinho Hand Chelsea First Defeat?

Jose Mourinho’s three previous visits to Stamford Bridge had ended in defeat for the ‘Special One,’ since leaving Blues for Reds and this is one hoodoo the Portuguese would be hoping to end as he hopes to inflict Chelsea their first in today’s early Premier League kickoff

Manchester United can alleviate some of the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a win at his old club Chelsea.

United’s 3-2 win over Newcastle before the international break may have saved Mourinho’s job in the short-term, but this is still their third-worst start to a Premier League season, and defeat at Stamford Bridge could see them slip into the bottom half.

Mourinho has a poor record against Chelsea since he was sacked in his second spell in west London in 2015, and is yet to win an away game against the Blues since he took over at Manchester United a year later.

And questions over his future at Old Trafford will intensify if he is unable to arrest that run today.

Things are looking a lot better for Chelsea who sit joint top of the Premier League after an impressive start under Maurizio Sarri.

The Italian, highly rated for his work at Napoli, has implemented his style in rapid time at Stamford Bridge to lead them to an unbeaten start with eight games gone.

Much of that success has revolved around Eden Hazard, who is the Premier League’s top scorer with seven goals.

The Belgian has also made no secret of his admiration for his new manager, who is on course to help him deliver the most productive season of his career.

“I like this type of game. It’s completely different than Antonio Conte or Mourinho before,” he said. “We have more balls so for me it’s not bad.”

Meanwhile, Mourinho has been quick to remind Chelsea fans on his previous returns to Stamford Bridge he delivered three Premier League titles in two spells in charge. However, he has lost without even scoring a goal in three visits as United manager.

Another defeat wouldn’t just realistically end United’s chances of winning the title in mid-October, but leave a mountain to climb just to make it back into the top four.

With Juventus to come twice in quick succession in the Champions League and a visit to City also to come before the next international break in three weeks’ time, Mourinho needs a good start to a difficult spell to avoid more speculation over his future.

While the Portuguese has a history for touchline theatrics, Mourinho insists he will be on his best behaviour for today’s match in West London.

“For me it’s another game,” said Mourinho. “Would I celebrate like crazy my team’s goal or victory at Stamford Bridge? I don’t think so.

“I think I will try always to control myself and to respect the stadium and supporters that were my supporters and my stadium for many years. To do that I would have to lose my emotional control, which is not easy.

“I think I would always think where I am, which stadium I’m in and which public is in the stands. Apart from that, it’s just another match for me. A match I want to do well in for my players, my team and my supporters, that’s what I want.

“I’m 100 per cent Manchester United tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City can set another Premier League record against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium today. The English champions will hold the record for the longest unbeaten run of Premier League games if they avoid defeat against Sean Dyche’s side, taking their tally to 34 in a row.

City are joint top of the Premier League after playing out a goalless draw at Anfield in their last game before the international break, and would have been two points clear had Riyad Mahrez not missed a late penalty.

Kevin De Bruyne could make his first appearance since the opening day of the season since recovering quicker than expected from a knee injury, and returning to training during the international break.

Guardiola said: “I don’t know if he is able to play 90 minutes but he has trained well in the last two weeks without pain. He is ready to be part of the group.”

Burnley have finally got their season up and running with a run of seven points from their last three games, but travelling to the Etihad presents another test entirely.

However, Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele will be available for Tottenham as they take on West Ham in a Premier League London derby on Saturday.

Eriksen has missed the last four games with an abdomen injury while Dembele has been struggling with a thigh problem, but both are set to return for Mauricio Pochettino.

The Spurs manager is pleased to have the two players back for the trip to the London Stadium, with a busy schedule coming up for the north London side.

“It was a good time for us because we are going to recover a few players like Christian and Mousa Dembele,” he said.

“There are a lot of games ahead and it’s so important to have nearly all the squad fit to compete and play and to give options to rotate and share the games because it will be tough, the months we have ahead.

“We have seven games in one month, in four weeks, and it’s so important to have all fit to compete and to give the level that we want.”

However, Manuel Pellegrini does not expect to be facing a tired Tottenham side today after another bout of international duty, but the West Ham manager insists fatigue will not be a factor.

“I don’t think that a Spurs player will be tired, they played on Monday and then now on Saturday,” he said.

“Maybe for the League Cup game on October 31, when they will have played on Monday and then again on Wednesday. But they are all young players, they will be 100 per cent for this game.”

Premiership Table

Team P GD Pts

Man City 8 18 20

Chelsea 8 13 20

Liverpool 8 12 20

Arsenal 8 9 18

Tottenham 8 8 18

Bournemouth 8 4 16

Wolves 8 3 15

Man Utd 8 -1 13

Watford 8 -1 13

Leicester 8 2 12

Everton 8 1 12

Burnley 8 -2 8

Brighton 8 -4 8

Crystal Palace 8 -4 7

West Ham 8 -5 7

Southampton 8 -8 5

Fulham 8 -12 5

Huddersfield 8 -13 3

Newcastle 8 -7 2

Cardiff 8 -13 2

Haye’s Involvement Quickened Whyte, Chisora Rematch

Eddie Hearn says a December 22 fight between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora is “closer to being made”, now David Haye is involved.

Negotiations for a much-anticipated rematch between the British rivals are ongoing and took an unexpected turn when it was announced yesterday that former heavyweight Haye is now the manager of Chisora.

Promoter Hearn says that the appointment has only gone to aid communication and both teams remain in agreement that Whyte-Chisora 2 is “the fight to make”.

“I could probably have a more sensible conversation with Haye than I could with Dereck,” Hearn said, speaking from Boston.

“I spoke to David this morning, both guys have got their ideas of how this fight should happen in terms of the split of the fight.

“We’re getting closer. David understands, as we do, that this is the fight to make.

“The first one was one of the best we’ve ever seen in the division, the second fight could be even better, it’d be a mistake if it doesn’t get over the line. We’re working hard to try and get this done over the weekend.

“We will get an announcement out next week, fingers crossed. Everyone just has to be sensible.”

Haye believes his new charge, once a bitter rival, can avenge his 2016 defeat to Whyte and set up a bid for world glory.

“Dereck can shock the world once again, and will be knocking on the door for a world title shot,” said Haye.

“Can you imagine Dereck knocking Dillian out? The shockwaves that would send around the world. No longer would he be ‘Del Boy’ Chisora. He would be ‘War’ Chisora.

“I truly believe that Dereck on his day – with relentless pressure, tremendous fitness, a solid game-plan from [his trainer] Don Charles – can stop Whyte, and stop him conclusively.”