Ghana will have their hands full against Germany, Portugal and the USA.
Ghana’s first advantage will be psychological – Brazil 2014 is not expected to be a European World Cup even with experienced campaigners like Germany, Spain, Italy and Holland in the mix.
The oracle sees dark clouds.
On paper, Germany look good to lead the group. They have the players and the experience of playing and winning at this level.
Portugal do not have such credentials, and even with the current best player in the world in their team, few are confident they can come through in this group. Cristiano Ronaldo has never done for Portugal what he does regularly for his clubs. This is because in Portugal he is a one-man army!
The USA are hard working, always giving 100% in effort. But they do not have the technical depth and experienced players to dominate the group. They always struggle even when they sometimes win important matches.
So, even though pundits are not giving them much of a chance, Ghana are still faintly in the oracle’s radar.
It warns other teams to beware the Black Stars and their short passing, their powerful running, physical play, confidence on the ball, organisational discipline and flair.
If there is one group where anything is possible, including the possibility of Algeria emerging group leader, this is it!
Algeria are a real ‘dark horse’ and that could be their advantage. Very little is known about them and, so, little is also expected of them!
Russia look like the European version of Algeria – little known, little public expectation. The one big asset in the team presently is the discipline and experience of coach Fabio Capello. Unfortunately a coach is only as good as the players he has, and Russia do not boast an array!
South Korea are not very different. They have a few players playing in secondary European leagues and teams, but no outstanding ones to anchor any serious surge at the championship. No much is known about them. Their performance in qualifying is littered with ups and downs that reflect an inconsistent team. They struggled to qualify. Their greatest credential is their consistent consecutive appearance at the last 8 World Cup championships.
Belgium are in a different class.
Every international analyst and pundit predicts that Belgium will be a major challenger at the 2014 World Cup. The team was unbeaten throughout its run to Brazil. They have a squad of young gifted players playing regularly in several top European clubs. Add to that their group opponents, and you can’t fault all those predicting they will lead group H.
The oracle does not see differently.
Having said all that, Algeria have a chance and all should watch out for the Desert Warriors as they attempt to re-enact their incredible achievements of the early 1980s.
Nigeria is teamed with Argentina, Iran and Bosnia.
Iran are not a pushover even though they do not have big players. They defeated South Korea away from home to qualify for the World Cup. That is significant. They may lack the players in number and quality but they make up in their determination, work ethic, and ability to absorb pressure.
Bosnia Herzegovina are very dangerous customers by all standards. They have deep technical experience in football, being a part of the rich old football tradition of former Yugoslavia. They always create and score goals, as their records in qualifying for the World Cup show.
Nigeria will have a hard time in every match, but they will defeat Iran because they are a better team, and the Bosnians because they (Bosnia) will find it hard going under the harsh humid conditions of Brazil in summer, plus the strength and pace of the Nigerians!
So, the oracle sees the Eagles soaring high in the skies of Brazil with Argentina from the group.
But how will Nigeria fare against Argentina? It is the last group match. The result may depend on the position of the teams by the time they are to meet.
Argentina have beaten Nigeria in all their three previous meetings at this level. This may spur either a serious challenge for Nigeria or become a psychological burden. Either way, Nigeria will stride into the second round against all the predictions of international analysts and pundits!
Keshi’s list – Who is on the Super Eagles plane to Brazil?
Like most other Nigerians I have been waiting eagerly for the release of Stephen Keshi’s provisional 30-man list of players.
The final list of 23 players going on the platform of Nigeria’s Super Eagles to Brazil will now only be released in early June. All serious commentary on the players and the team, therefore, will have to wait until after May 28. On that date the Nigerian national squad will assembly at Craven Cottage, Fulham FC’s stadium in London to play their first preparatory friendly match against Scotland.
Without doubt, unless something of a catastrophic dimension occurs, we can safely assume that we know most of the players whose tickets have already been bought and their seats confirmed on board Keshi’s plane to Brazil.
There are some players previously on the fringes of the Super Eagles whose places in the World Cup bound team cannot be guaranteed. Add to that a few new and untested who can only join the team now following a performance at Craven Cottage that will convince all Nigerians that they deserve to displace one of the heroes of Nigeria’s recent past.
That’s why all eyes will be focused on May 28th, and all roads will lead to London for the big match.
But before then let me play Devil’s Advocate. Permit me to peer into the crystal ball once again and attempt to see how the players are placed in the different Classes aboard the Super Eagles’ plane to Rio.
The players are separated into 5 Classes – First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy Class, Economy Class and Stand-by for those awaiting availability of any leftover spaces on board!
These are the players whose position in the team is critical and indisputable. They have been the backbone of the resurgence and achievements of the new Super Eagles under Stephen Keshi. Their seats in the aircraft are guaranteed, and they are permanent fixtures in every match unless if incapacitated by injury, by dismissal through cards or put up a truly horrendous performance in a match.
These are the 10 I see clearly in this Class: Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Godfrey Oboabana, Kenneth Omeruo, Elderson Echiejile, Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, and Ogenyi Onazi.
This is a Class just a step below First Class. The players here are just as assured and confident as their colleagues in First Class. They are regulars in the team. They will enjoy this status unless there is a last-minute dramatic entry into the team by a new player that puts up a truly exceptional performance in the friendly matches just ahead, or by one of the returning ‘old’ masters.
Otherwise the players here will join those in First Class to make up the core of Nigeria’s starting line-up for most of matches during Brazil 2014!
Joseph Yobo would have been in this Class but I see him more on the bench than on the field during the championship. Even then he would still have to earn the right to even go on the trip to Brazil. May 28 is a very crucial date for him (and Peter Odemwingie to a lesser extent) when he must erase all doubts about his return to the team.
In this Class are: Efe Ambrose, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Ahmed Musa, Peter Odemwingie.
This is a Class immediately below Business Class. The players are in seats slightly more comfortable than those in Economy Class below them, even if their chances to play during the championship are just as dim as those in economy class. Some of them will get to play a few matches at one point or the other, either for strategic tactical purposes, or to fill a void created by any one of several factors affecting the team during the competition.
They have confirmed reservations for the flight to Brazil!
They are: Sunday Mba, Joel Obi, Obinna Nsofor, Reuben Gabriel.
These are the players whose strategic place is on the bench. They are available for any match without holding a first team or permanent place.
A few of them may even be as good as the players in the Classes above them but inconsistent performances gives them only temporary status, usually creating the spaces in the team for several players on Stand-by Class anxiously waiting. These players may not get to play in any match, and even when they do, they are hardly ever expected to change the course of a match. They are fillers!
Like those on Stand-by, these players are likely to constitute most of the 7 players to be dropped from the 30-man present list when the final list is to be drawn up in early June before the team departs for the training camp in the United States of America.
Through the hazy lenses of the crystal ball I see the following here: Shola Ameobi, Azubuike Egwekwe, Ejike Uzoenyi, Joseph Yobo, Babatunde Michael, Nosa Igiebor.
There is great anxiety on the faces of the players here. They have not even boarded the flight yet.
Only a last-minute truly extra-ordinary performance will save their drop from the team. To survive means a player already established within Stephen Keshi’s so-far successful squad would have to be dropped. That will be a tough call.
The friendly match(es) may be the last opportunity, so it is going to be a do-or-die affair at Craven Cottage in almost three weeks time.
One of the remaining 2 goalkeepers, Daniel Akpeyi and Chigozie Agbim, will have to drop out at this point. It is likely to be Agbim. His performance during CHAN 2013 has now become an Albatross! Keshi would find it hard defending his choice ahead of Akpeyi.
The players waiting anxiously, wishing and praying for some divine intervention are: Daniel Akpeyi, Chigozie Agbim, Juwon Oshaniwa, Kunle Odunlami, Ramon Azeez, Uche Nwofor, Michael Uchebo.
It is unfortunate that the process of selecting even the 30 players in the provisional list was turned into a circus, an unnecessarily protracted, controversial and suspicious drama.
In the end the list leaves several unanswered questions about a few of the selected players, particularly a few players from the obscurity of their small European clubs to emerge as possible candidates in the biggest theatre of football in the world without earning the right visibly on the football field.
The good thing is that the names are an insignificant few.
The other issues are the inclusion of Peter Odemwigie and Joseph Yobo, two players that many people felt had given their best in the past, were past their prime, may not have much to offer, and would be a distraction from what had been a calm and growing camp of new Super Eagles; the inclusion also of Agbim, the goalkeeper whose poor performances during the Confederations Cup cost Nigeria dearly and left many people wondering where he came from; the inclusion of an Shola Amoebi whose best form is in the distant past, like those of several others no longer in the Eagles team; and the exclusion of a younger and more potent Ike Uche whose current form, age and talent are worth considering for a invitation into Keshi’s provisional list.
These are all the ongoing and raging arguments.
The next few weeks will either justify Keshi or diminish him!