Daily Archives: February 7, 2013
When Nigeria’s gaffer, Stephen Keshi, released his 23-man squad list to represent Africa’s most populous nation in the 2013 African Cup of Nations, there were some mixed receptions from Nigerian supporters.
On one corner stood a faction of some Nigerian fans that were pleased with Keshi’s selection, lauding the fact that the players in the team came on merit and these fans were looking forward to seeing the new look side strut their stuff in the tournament.
On the other corner stood another faction of Nigerian fans that were shocked to see a lot of “household” names omitted from the list and were ready to point their fingers on the coach if his newbies messed up in the tournament.
After a shaky start to the tournament, Nigeria shocked the world with a win over tourney favorites, Ivory Coast, and a new wave of expectation was placed on their shoulders in the semifinal match against Mali. 90 minutes later, Keshi and his Super Super Eagles are through to the final and will play against Burkina Faso, a team that led the group with Nigeria taking the runners-up spot.
Irrespective of what happens in the final on Sunday, I am very proud of my national team and I hope that they’ll have enough in the tank to win their third AFCON trophy and to be honest, it’s long overdue.
After witnessing my dear Nigeria book a place in the finals of the African Cup of Nations, I braced myself to watch a host of international friendlies that were mouthwatering to say the least. It began with the World and European champions, Spain, taking on the South American champions, Uruguay.
As expected, Spain picked up where they left off from Euro 2012 fielding a vast array of midfielder with ex-Gunner, Cesc Fabregas, taking the pseudo-9 role. It wasn’t surprising when the European champions got ahead through a speculative Fabregas shot that went in after a howler from Uruguay’s goalie, Muslera.
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla started as well and stamped his authority in a game clouded by midfield maestros like Andres Iniesta and Juan Mata. The diminutive hobbit picked up a couple of knocks but he was replaced later on. Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal got a run-out when he replaced Jorbi Alba that was getting some stick from the Uruguay players.
Carles Puyol marked his 100th appearance for Spain and he scored a goal that would have put him on the back pages but the offside flag ruled him out. After Christian Rodriguez’ equalizer, a brace from another Rodriguez (Pedro) was enough to put Uruguay to the sword.
After enjoying the highly technical game between both champions likely to play themselves in the forthcoming Confederations Cup this summer, it was time to witness the spectacle in Wembley with England hosting the 2014 World Cup hosts, Brazil.
Wily OI’ Woy Hodgon fielded a very strong lineup and from an Arsenal perspective, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were in the starting XI as well. With a midfield triumvirate of Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and skipper, Steven Gerrard, Brazil dominated the hosts in the early stages of the game and won a penalty through a Wilshere handball.
After conceding the penalty, I had imagined the backlash from the media Vultures on Wilshere but Joe Hart did extremely well to save Ronaldinho Gaucho’s penalty as well as the follow up before Cleverley mopped up the imminent danger.
Wilshere atoned for the error by supplying an inch-perfect pass to his Arsenal teammate, Walcott, in behind the Brazil defense. Walcott’s effort was saved by Julio Cesar but Shrek showed good technique in the follow up to pounce on the rebound. Brazil’s Fred equalized after a Gary Cahill error but the Lampback of Notre Dame scored the all-important goal to give England the victory.
Singling out individual performances, Wilshere had an awesome game and deservedly won the Man of the Match award. After the game, his manager, Woy Hodgson, sang his praises, Lampard stated that he’s going to be an elite player (via Soccerway) and his captain, Steven G, was excited by his massive potential (via BBC Sport).
Theo Walcott on the other hand, had a stormer and he gave Adriano a torrid time at the back. I don’t know where he perfected that quick-footed skill from but it worked a treat three times on Adriano and when Luis Felipe Scolari couldn’t take it anymore, he summoned Luis Filipe to replace the Barcelona fullback.
Walcott was also replaced by another speedster, Aaron Lennon.
After the game, England great, John Barnes, questioned Walcott’s eagerness to play through the middle, despite the fact that he has excelled admirably on the right flank (via ESPN). Arsene Wenger heeded to Walcott’s demands, giving him a run-out in the middle in December, much to Olivier Giroud’s displeasure, as the Frenchman has finally opened up on staying on the bench while Walcott played through the middle (via Sports Campus).
Another exciting friendly worth an honorable mention was the crunch encounter between France and Germany in the Stade de France. From an Arsenal perspective, Laurent Koscielny started the game alongside the ever-present Mamadou Sakho and Olivier Giroud came in as a late substitute.
There was a major concern when Koscielny limped off the pitch and was replaced at halftime by Adil Rami. According to Arsenal Ghana, Koscielny’s calf injury would sideline him for three weeks, leaving Arsenal desperately short at the back. Many Gooners had hoped to see Thomas Vermaelen on the left flank against Bayern Munich with Koscielny and Per Mertesacker playing at the heart of Arsenal’s defense.
At the point in time, Arsenal will be odds on to play Andre Santos against the German juggernauts and I’m pretty sure that Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery will be licking their lips with the prospect of playing against the shambolic Brazilian.
To add to Arsenal’s injury woes, Aaron Ramsey will be a major doubt for the games against Sunderland and Bayern Munich as he pulled out from the Welsh team with a calf injury (via Sky Sports). However, he wasn’t really missed by Chris Coleman’s team as that Chimpanzee on form, Gareth Bale, scored in the 2-1 win over Austria.
With Koscielny and Ramsey out of action, Arsenal will have to make do with the players they have with games coming thick and fast. Injuries are a part and parcel of football, so Arsene Wenger has to rally his troops as they go on a run of fixtures in three different competitions starting with a trip to the Stadium of Light before hosting Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Blackburn in the FA Cup fifth round.
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