Ralph Egbu

Siasia’s best hour

MY decision last week was to cede this space today to my ardent readers, who, week after week, respond to issues discussed on this page, but that would not be because of a matter of urgent national impor­tance which I feel must be dealt with today as it is time bound. It is about the Super Eagles’ Nations’ Cup qualifiers match with the Egyptian national football team slated for March 25, in Kaduna and the second leg that will come up five days later. For me, and I want to believe for the rest of the nation, it is a very important match for different reasons. We have to win it to rebuild our psyche; besides we all agree we cannot afford to be absent from the Nation’s Cup a second consecutive time. So anybody that has any useful contributions to make, ought to put it for­ward on time so that it can be applied before the en­counter, that is the motivat­ing force for this intervention.
I must admit that changing the subject matter was not easy because of other competing issues requiring a mention like the Ese Oruru saga, Mother’s Day/Wom­en’s Week, our nation’s agreement to join Islamic coalition against ISIS, rampaging herdsmen (or ter­rorists), Ezekwesili’s self-seeking and misplaced outburst against Buhari’s economic plans and the death of a Minister of State for La­bour and Employment, Barr James Ocholi in a ghastly auto crash on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway last Sunday. Let me start from the last, and send my condolences to the bereaved family, the govern­ment and people of Kogi State, President Buhari and his cabinet, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the entire citizens of this nation. I never met Mr. Ocholi physically but I didn’t need that to know that he was a fine gentle­man. It was written all over him and going by his attainment one can safely assume he was brilliant and industrious.
Truly the nation has lost a valuable asset. The manner of his death certainly has resurrected the debates over speed limits; it is a known fact that convoys in this part of the world drive as if they are possessed by an unseen devil­ish force. I hope we would seize the moment to talk to ourselves especially to our brothers and sister in public offices, whatever may be our differences with some of them over their bad behavior, we still love them and don’t wish them harm or untimely death. While we do this they have a responsibility to act well all the time after-all self-preservation is the golden rule.
On the Ese issue I’m just ashamed and traumatized that such an aberration could still hap­pen in the 21st Century Nigeria. I lack composure to even discuss such a bestial conduct, thank God my colleagues of the pen profession have done justice to that issue. Then somebody asked me if we have to take a day or week to celebrate our mothers, I understand his positive sentiments that love for our women should be all time but then in this society some lack knowledge and others who know forget because of pressures, so it is good to remind them because the issue of women and their welfare is central to the proper development of the society.
Now, back to the issue for the day. When Oliseh was tossing the nation left and right as a result of manifest lack of ability I had wanted to do a discourse I would have titled “Egypt match, Oliseh’s last card.” I had wanted to do that piece to make it clear to Oliseh that irrespective of his ranting, the Egypt match would tell about his real ability and how it ends would determine whether he stays or not as the Super Eagles Coach. Oliseh knew this much and he began to search for reasons to justify a pre-planned intention to abandon his duty.
Oliseh knew he would fail and football watchers knew he could not cross the Egyptian challenge because he had neither the experi­ence nor tactical savvy for such a big encounter. If what we saw of his team in the Chan Competition in Rwanda a few months back is anything to go by, then Oliseh is not a coach. He broke faith with Nigeria. The manner of his recruit­ment was wrong, it was shrouded in secrecy and I suspect the of­ficials had to bend backwards to accommodate favoritism. Unfor­tunately the evil they sowed in the night germinated in the morning to hurt them, in some places the mess arising from the hiring of Oliseh could cause heads to roll but I wouldn’t recommend that in this case because I think the NFF officials have done well especially with what I see happening to our national league. There is nothing wrong with our local coaches, the problem with NFF is inability to sit down to discover the first class ones among them and calling them up for national assignments; our coaches can only improve with experience.
The substitution of Oliseh with Siasia/Amunike is a wonderful decision. With just the mention of their names, some degree of con­fidence and stability has returned to the Super Eagle’s set up and that is because football lovers can vouch for the pedigree of Siasia. We all know he is experienced and well tested especially within the African football zone; he has proof. Amunike surprised many of us with the tactical play of his boys in the Under 17 category. The tag-team of Siasia and Amu­nike can upset the Egyptians and give us victory home and away. But they must have to know little things that matter.
Football tactics and mental­ity do not change totally, this is to say that teams don’t change their football attitude totally even when they learn new ways. The Egyptians game plan would as usual be to frustrate the Eagles and get a draw in Nigeria and go home to play blistering football to win; so I expect them to pack their defense full and only make cautious moves forward, banking on fast breaks in search of lucky goal. They would want to be clever with spot kicks and would always fall and feign injuries just to waste time. If we score them early, they would open up. The task before Siasia would be to find a way to break the defense and score goals, high balls will not do it, so there is need for very skillful dribblers with pace, part of the tactics should be to make the Egyptians commit as many fouls especially penalties as possible. Spot kicks must be maximized. The return leg would require massive defense and mas­sive attack and boys who can play more than 90 minutes without getting tired. This is Siasia’s best hour and I am sure he can take it.

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