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These Lions Aren’t That Indomitable After All

Image result for victor moses cameroon

As a Nigerian, I support the National Football Team at every level, which sometimes has made me do things I’m not going to mention on this post. With club football out of the way for a while, it was only normal for a Nigerian Gooner to brace himself up for what proved to be a very crucial World Cup qualifier against the current African champions, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

For those that don’t know, there are some similarities between Nigeria and Arsenal. For starters, they are very good bottlers. C’mon, how many defending AFCON champions fail to qualify for the next two editions of the tournament? Following our poor showing against South Africa, we stand a chance of missing the tournament three times in a row bar some sort of miracle in Johannesburg for the second leg.

However, our road to Russia has been a smooth ride with wins against Zambia and Algeria in our first two games. Yesterday, Cameroon, fresh of their AFCON triumph and Confederations Cup campaign, arrived in Uyo knowing that they needed a victory on the ground of one of their fierce rivals, as they had struggled to draw their first two games against Algeria and Zambia.

The home side featured a very strong lineup, as the manager learned from the lessons of the South Africa debacle and they opened the scoring with some quick thinking from John Mikel Obi and some improvised attacking play from ex-Watford striker, Odion Ighalo. There was a sour feel to the goal as the striker was booked for revealing the message on his inner shirt. Shitty rules if you ask me. He didn’t even remove his jersey. The Super Eagles doubled their money when Ighalo dummied two defenders to allow Victor Moses’ corner get to Mikel’s path. The Nigeria captain still had to reacted quicker than his marker to smash the ball into the roof of Ondoa’s net.

Going into the break with 2-0 lead was welcome, but Nigeria still had to keep their foot on the pedal. Cameroon were on the ascendancy after the break but it took a well-deserved Moses goal to put the game beyond doubt. The buildup was from lovely counter attacking football and when he got on the end of that Simon Moses cutback, the writing was on the wall. I loved the soaring Eagles celebration more though. An injury concern for Odion Ighalo saw Kelechi Iheanacho join the fray to put the icing on the cake for Nigeria with his seventh goal in 11 games for his nation.

Three games, nine points in the bag and qualification to next year’s World Cup within sights. The Super Eagles will be heading to Yaounde to finish the job and they should be spurred with the fact that Cameroon’s manager, Broos, has resigned from position following their poor qualification campaign that has seen them amass just two points from a possible nine.

I guess the Lions of Cameroon aren’t indomitable after all.

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All Good Things Come to an End… Like Lukas Podolski and Germany

Lukas Podolski is congratulated by Leroy Sané and Andre Schürrle after scoring Germany’s winner against England.

There has been so much negativity around the club in recent weeks amidst the bad run of results, so I decided to take a little break from writing about the club I love more than anything in this world – Arsenal. However, the international break is upon us and we ‘neutral’ football prefer to watch the games that have connections to Arsenal, like the Germany vs England game last night. These are two countries that have had their fair share of Arsenal contingent and they also have a lot of quality players on display but the night was about a former Gunner, Lukas Podolski, that was bowing out, after 129 games for his nation in 13 great years.

It’s funny how Podolski was ignored by Poland in 2004, then 19-years-old, playing in second division FC Cologne. Poland’s manager at that time, Pawel Janas, had really harsh quotes when he deflected the Polish media campaign for Podolski to get a call up to the national team,

“As for today we have much better strikers in Poland and I don’t see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga. He’s not even a regular starter at his club.”

Poland’s loss was Germany’s gain as Rudi Voeller gave the 19-year-old his debut against Hungary, making him the first second division player since 1975 to break into the first team. From that moment, the fairy tale for young Podolski began. He featured in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 European Championships as well as the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, scoring 48 goals in 129 games before last night’s friendly with England.

Podolski had already announced after Euro 2016 that he was going to retire from international football in March 2017, so everybody prepared for yesterday because they knew it was going to be the last time they were going to see their star don the German jersey and it turned out to be a great occasion.

There was a presentation to the 2016 German Player of the Year, Mesut Ozil, ahead of the game, and the maestro had already stated that he was going to inherit Podolski’s #10 jersey after he retires. The game itself was a great spectacle with both sides giving their best to make a friendly game look competitive and I liked England’s kit, but it was only written in the stars when the game was settled by a Lukas Podolski trademark piledriver.

We have seen Podolski do that times without number in the past but the English defenders chose to afford him some free space and paid dearly for it. In the end, that proved to be the match clincher and there were a lot of emotional scenes at the end of the game as the fans, manager and players bid farewell to their favored son.

Podolski hangs international boots with one gold medal for Germany in 2014 and two bronze medals from the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. He also picked up a silver medal for his nation in the 2008 Euros and a bronze medal in the 2005 Confederations Cup. On an individual note, he won the Young MVP award in the 2006 World Cup and he will be very proud of all he achieved with Germany.

In a club career that has seen him play for FC Cologne, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Internazionale and Galatasaray, Podolski has announced that he will start a new adventure with Vissel Kobe in Japan at the completion of the European campaign in the summer.

I wish Podolski the very best in his future endeavors.

Sayonara.

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Germany vs Italy: Well, That was Nerve Racking

This was tagged as one of the biggest matches in the competition as the team with the best defense faced off against the dark horses of the tournament. Germany under Joachim Low had superbly gone through four games in the competition without conceding a goal but their general play has shown a team effort, with the goals coming from all corners. Italy on the other hand, had a club feel about them, as Antonio Conte had done really well to assemble a set of fighters that fit his 3-5-2 perfectly.

In order to match his opponent, Low switched from his usual 4-2-3-1 setup to 3-5-2, as Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector (that recovered from a cold) flanked Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Benedickt Howedes. With both teams fielding the same formation, the game was on lock down as both sides played a similar type of football. As expected, the Italians were the rougher of the lot with Stefano Sturaro, Mattia de Sciglio and Marco Parolo picking up bookings in quick succession.

After over an hour of deadlock, the game opened up when Mario Gomez found Hector in behind the defense and the defender drilled a cut back that was tapped in by Ozil. A resilient Italian defenders torn to shreds by a beautiful piece of attacking football.

The goal put Germany in the driving seat but it was followed shortly by an injury picked up by Gomez. Julian Draxler came on in his stead. With Italy pressing for an equalizer, they got their rewards late when an experienced defender like Boateng made such a rookie mistake by raising his arms to defend a ball in the box, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Leandro Bonucci to smash the penalty home.

With the game producing no winner in 90 minutes, it was time for 30 more minutes but it wasn’t enough, so the game was to be decided by the lottery of penalty shootouts.

Lorenzo Insigne started the shootout with a spot kick that sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way to give the Italians the lead. Up stepped Toni Kroos, that had a stinker in 120 minutes of football but his penalty to left corner was too much for Gianluigi Buffon to handle.

Italy’s next spot kick taker, Simone Zaza, was the freshest player on the pitch and he had just one job to do from 12 yards but he came up with this…

Thomas Mueller had the opportunity to put the Germans ahead but his tame effort was saved by Buffon. The oldest outfield player in the tournament, Andrea Barzagli, 35, was tasked with playing the third penalty for his nation and he smashed the ball to the middle, taking no chances. After Barzagli gave the Italians the advantage, our very own Ozil stepped up and clipped the post with his penalty. That was the second spot kick he was missing in the tournament.

Graziano Pelle had the chance to make it 3-1 to Italy and put the Germans under intense pressure but the nerves got to him and he side-footed his effort wide off the mark, even though Neuer kept a close eye on the ball. Draxler fired his shot in the left post and leveled the shootout at 2-2.

With only one spot kick left for both sides, Bonucci, who had scored a penalty in regulation time, faced Neuer once again but the Bayern Munich goalie made a superb save to give the advantage to Germany. It was down to the captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger, to score the goal that would send Germany to the semis but he came up with this…

With both teams exhausting their spot kicks, it was time for sudden death. Emamuele Giaccherini started the proceedings with a top drawer finish and was pegged back by Hummels that fired his effort to the right of the net. Parolo blasted his effort through the middle and the youngest player on the pitch, Kimmich, showed good composure with a superb penalty that went low to Buffon’s left corner. De Sciglio’s penalty hit the underside of the bar and crept into the net and this was followed with a good penalty from Boateng.

With both teams locked at 5-5, up stepped Matteo Darmaian that fired a goal bound shot that was saved by the legendary Neuer. This meant that Hector could make himself a national hero and end Italy’s hoodoo on Germany if he converted his spot kick and he fired a shot that went under Buffon to send Germany to the semis.

heartache for the Italians

The Germans celebrated while the Italians had to leave the tournament on the back of some brilliant team performances in the course of the competition. Conte would leave for Stamford Bridge to start a new adventure but he can look back on his experience with Juventus and Italy with some measure of pride.

As for Germany, they deserve to be where they are and the world champions would be waiting for the winner of the Iceland vs France match tonight.

It was nerve racking to say the least.

Sayonara.

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