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THROW BACK TO NIGERIA’S LAST TRIP TO LESOTHO

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Christian Obodo in Maseru after supplying the cross for Yakubu Aiyegbeni's game winner against Lesotho

Nigeria arrived in Maseru on Saturday ahead of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Lesotho on Sunday.

It has been 13 years since the Super Eagles were last in the southern African country. Not a single Super Eagles player from that era remains in the squad today.

Recently-retired former captain John Mikel Obi, who missed that game (a story for another day), would have been the only player from that time still in the squad if he was still around.

I was one of just two Nigerian journalists in Maseru for that game, which unfortunately, was n to broadcast live. So it was my match report for KickOffNigeria that most people had to rely on for proceedings.

Here is my throwback travelogue and report from that trip and game from 2006. 
This report was originally written for the CyberEagles forum

ARRIVAL
I left Nigeria on Thursday night and arrived Johannesburg about 6am Friday morning. Before leaving Lagos, I was told that the boys would be going by road to Lesotho (pronounced Lesutu). 
On arrival, I rang Idah Peterside and he told me the plans had changed. A first batch of players had left at 6am that morning and a second batch was due to leave by 9:30am. 
As it was already close to 8am, I crossed over from Arrivals to Departures and was lucky enough to catch the second batch. Leading them was Tunde Adelakun, accompanied by Team Co-ordinator Jossy Dombraye (I will return to him later) and Chidi Ngoka, an NFA staff. 
Luckily, I discovered there was a seat available and I quickly bought a ticket. Players on the trip were Emmanuel Okoduwa, Bob Osim, Uche Udeorah and Oguche (no relation to Lobi team mate Andy). 

FLIGHT OF FEAR
Nothing prepared us for the shock we got at the tarmac. We were to fly in a Jetstream 41 aircraft 

It’s the smallest thing I have ever flown in and like I reported here, not an experience I want to repeat. Dombraye was providing entertainment of sorts for the players by clinging to the seat in front of him for dear life. By the time we touched down, there was a general agreement that we take photos in front of the plane, which we did. 

CAMP SPIRIT 
Most of the players were still in bed when we arrived and I only got to see them at lunch. But there was quite obviously a relaxed atmosphere in the camp. 
BTW, I had planned to join the team bus for training. After lunch, I decided to go upstairs to my room as we still had about an hour to go before training. The bus was due to leave by 2:45pm. 
While watching TV, I didn’t know when I dropped off, and by the time I opened my eyes to take a leak, it was 4pm! I had to find my way to the place. . .and it cost me. 

It would take someone who has been in the Eagles camp before, during- and post-Oliseh to understand what I mean here. 
Yobo walked up to the two new boys,, Udeorah and Ogbuke, shook their hands and welcomed them to the family. Kanu did the same, and even took Udeorah under his wing. 
Players were walking into each other’s rooms, staying up late, talking, gisting, laughing and sharing jokes. The camaraderie was unbelievable. For instance, after the game I was in Oruma and Yakubu’s room where Kanu, Oruma, Yakubu, Obodo, Enakarhire, Ogbuke and Udeorah spent hours watching Nigerian home videos and reliving past experiences until 3am in the morning. 
We were joined by others who came and went, like Nwaneri, Okonkwo, Enyeama, Yobo, etc. It was a mini-party of sorts with an i-Pod terminal hitting music like mad, and everyone singing and dancing. Even Samson Siasia joined the party, although he took some time to speak to Obinna about his game and how he should clean up his act. 


MIKEL SITUATION
The one sour angle to all this was the Mikel situation. All the players are very upset with Mikel for not turning up. Almost everyone compared him to Kanu, saying he hadn’t achieved as much as Papilo and yet he was doing big man. 
The general feeling is that Mikel is feeling like a ‘Big Boy’ because he plays for Chelsea, and I suspect he wont get hugs and kisses the next time he shows up in camp. 
I will post the story of the saga later. 




PITCH AND MATCH BALLS
The players got a chance to train on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. 
Let me just talk a bit about the weather. When I got there on Friday, I discovered the game was for 3pm Lesotho time. 
Come 3pm, the whole place was hot as hell and I asked the FA official is they would not have to change the time to maybe 4pm? He said it would be fine by Sunday. 
On Saturday, by 3pm, the place was biting cold. I couldn’t believe it. 
When the boys trained on the pitch, they were aghast. It was rough, bumpy and undulating even though it looked good from a distance. 
After dinner, the discussion was the best way to approach the pitch and the directive from Eguavoen was that they should not stretch themselves too much. Just do enough to make sure the Likuena did not have time on the ball and pressure them high on their side of the field. 
As for the ball, it was horrible. Just a touch (even for a non footballer like me) was enough to know that those match balls would not cut it. Unfortunately, the boys had to live with it. 
By 1pm on Sunday, it was raining cats and dogs. Up until we got to the stadium, it was still pouring. In a way, this helped our boys as it softened the pitch, but it also meant the balls were flying and as they had been instructed to take it easy, it meant chasing lost causes was out of the question. 
Martins tried on one occasion and learnt his lesson. 


MINUTE BY MINUTE REPORT

FIRST HALF 
1’ Kickoff by the hosts. Nigeria in green, playing from right to left. 
4’ Martins chases down what looks like a lost ball, out paces his marker to win the ball. But there is nobody to meet his cutback inside the box. Lesotho clear. 
5’ Oruma hits a shot that is deflected for a corner kick. 
7’ Taye Taiwo misses a right foot clearance in front of the 18-yard box. Sello Muso latches on to it, but Taiwo recovers to block the shot. 
8’ Yakubu is put through by Martins, but he is crowded out by two defenders inside the box. 
10’ A poor defensive header almost lets Martins in, but he wins a corner kick from which Ogbuke’s shot is headed agonisingly over the top by Martins 
14’ Yobo concedes freekick just past the halfway line. Bokang Mothoana hits a ferocious drive which is scrambled to safety by Enyeama as it headed for the bottom right hand corner. Lesotho win their first corner kick after Nigeria’s three. 
19’ BOOKING: Yakubu gets the ball inside the net, but the whistle had already gone for offside and the Middlesbrough striker is booked. 
20’ Mothoana hits another long range drive that Enyeama fists away, as it heads for the top right hand corner. 
23’ Yakubu’s threaded ball splits the defence and Martins is through on goal, but goalkeeper Phasumane Kholuoe is quick off his line and makes a fine save 
25’ Seyi Olofinjana, who has been having a great game, dispossesses one man and finds Martins who forces another good save from the keeper. 
28’ Olofinjana wins the ball—again—inside his half and makes a great run past defenders with ease. But he fails to make the pass and loses the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box. The subsequent counter attack almost proves fatal. Eguavoen is livid! 
34’ Obodo heads at keeper from Abbey cross 
35’ Ogbuke misses from close range from Taiwo’s freekick. 
40’ Obagoal again just heads over as the half peters away. 

SECOND HALF 
46’ Oruma wins freekick on the right hand channel. Taiwo curls it inside the box and is headed in by Yakubu, but the goal is ruled out for a foul on the keeper. 
50’ GOAL! Obodo picks up the ball in the left hand channel, gets in a bit of a mess as Taiwo tries to shoot. But Obodo gets the ball, floats it into the area and Yakubu is on hand to make an easy tap in. 
53’ Yobo almost makes it two from another Taiwo freekick, but heads narrowly wide. 
57’ BOOKING: Bushy Moletsane booked for a challenge on Oruma. 
58’ BOOKING: Abbey promptly joins him after a crunchy challenge from behind on Bokang, who has been Lesotho’s most dangerous player along with Muso. The Nigerian is lucky to escape with only a yellow. 
62’ SUBSTITUTION: Bokang off for Katleho Moleko and Bushy off for Ralekoti Mokhahlane. 
73’ Nwaneri easily disposseses Refiloe Potse—for the umpteenth time, and frustrated fans call for the striker to be substituted. 
74’ Martins breaks through again, but the goalkeeper makes yet another great save. 
75’ SUBSTITUTION: Okoduwa on for Ogbuke 
78’ Oruma’s freekick causes all manner of panic in the Lesotho box. Yakubu’s ball looks to be dribbling in but is cleared off the line! 
80’ Potse makes way for Tefo Maipato to derisive applause from the crowd. 
82’ Fans bay for penalty as ball hits Yobo on the arm. Ref rules it was shoulder 
83’ SUBSTITUTION: Yakubu off for Kanu. 
86’ BOOKING: Langana Nkhethoa booked for poor challenge on Oruma 
88’ SUBSTITUTION: Oruma off for Okonkwo. 
89’ A clearly unfit Kanu gives the ball away for the third time. Muso gets a good shot in but Enyeama has it covered. Five minutes of added time to be played. 
95’ FULL TIME: Crowd unhappy at referee ending the game ‘early’. 


PLAYER RATINGS 
Enyeama 6 
Apart from two long range efforts, one from a freekick, he could have taken a holiday in the Carribeans. 

Abbey 5 
Took out one half of Lesotho’s dangerous duo with what should have been a sending off tackle from behind. Did his primary job of keeping his corner tight. 

Taiwo 6 
Bounded up and down the left flank and gave the Likuena plenty to think about whenever they conceded freekicks. 

Yobo 7 
Commanding in the air, solid in the tackle and quick to close down opponents. Gave nothing away except for that near-miss with hand ball. 

Nwaneri 6 
Started shakily, but grew in confidence and mauled Potse so much that fans called for the striker to be taken off and the player himself must have been relieved to see his name on the board. 

Olofinjana 7 
By far his best game for the Super Eagles so far in recent times. This, despite being outnumbered in the centre of the park. All he needed was a goal, and he almost got one. 

Oruma 7 
Ran the show in the middle, and kept possession well despite getting crowded out by a packed midfield. Involved in most of our attacking moves. 

Obodo 7 
As usual, kept cutting into the middle to help out. Fabulous, quick thinking assist for the goal. 

Ogbuke 5 
Always willing to take on defenders and track back to win the ball back. Unfortunately, he lost the ball too often in trying to take on players. When his moves begin to come off, defenders will be in trouble. 

Martins 7 
Worked hard, worked the channels and had about three half chances that he should have put away. 

Yakubu 8 
Undoubtedly the man of the match. Roughed up the Lesotho defenders, always available to give or receive a through ball and was willing to do his share of defensive duty. 

Okoduwa 5 
Showed committent on his debut and almost forced the keeper into a bad error with his never say die spirit almost immediately after coming in. 

Okonkwo 5 
His first international and he came out selling of roses. Kept it simple with the one-touch passing. All he needs now is a European club. 

Kanu 3 
A poor game by his standards through no fault of his and even Papilo himself knows it. Gave the ball away each time he got it. 

THE NIGERIA SQUAD TO LESOTHO
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Bnei Yehuda, Israel), Greg Etafia (Moroka Swallows, South Africa), Dele Aiyenugba (Enyimba, Nigeria) 

Defenders: Joseph Yobo, (Everton, England), Taiye Taiwo, (Olympique Marseille, France), George Abbey (Macclesfield Town, England), Joseph Enakhaire (Bordeaux, France), Obinna Nwaneri (Esperance, Tunisia), Bob Usim (Heartland, Nigeria), Ude Uche (Nasarawa United, Nigeria) 

Midfielders: Wilson Oruma, (Olympique Marseille), Christian Obodo (Udinese, Italy), Mikel Obi (Chelsea, England), Seyi Olofinjana (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Kazeem Ayila (Dynamo Kiev, Ukraine), Okardi Blessing (Ocean Boys, Nigeria), Oguchi Uche (Lobi Stars, Nigeria) 

Forwards: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Middlesborough, England), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth, England), Osaze Odemwingie (Lille, France), Obafemi Martins (Newcastle, England), John Utaka (Stade Rennes, France), Ayodele Makinwa (Lazio, Italy), Emmanuel Okoduwa (Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine), Chinedu Ogbuke (Lyn Oslo, Norway).


SAI’D MAKES A STATEMENT, AND GOLDEN EAGLES SHOW SPIRIT, AGAIN

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THREE FOR THE WIN! Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai'd shows how many goals he scored


Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai’d willl claim the lion share of the plaudits, but it was another gutsy, unyielding team performance that carried Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets over the line as they came from behind to stun Ecuador 3-2 and advance to the 2019 FIFA Under 17 World Cup quarterfinals.

Sai’d pounced on a goalkeeping error from Lopez to open the scoring after just five minutes. That was also how much time it took Ecuador to draw level, Mejia’s shot helped in off goalkeeper Daniel Jinadu’s back.

Mina despatched a dodgy penalty to put Ecuador in front nine minutes into the second half before the Golden Eaglets blitzed the last 10 minutes to claim a stupendous win and book their place in the knockout phase.

We have a few takeaways from the win


GUTS AND GLORY
It has been a wee while since Nigerians have seen a team so determined not to lay down and die.
For the second game in a row, the Eaglets came back from 2-1 down to win. As good as the scoreline was, what was even more remarkable was the spirit they showed.
Whether ahead or behind, the team played with guts and with fire in their bellies. They were simply determined not to lose. Not against Hungary on opening day, not against Ecuador on the night. And both teams looked both tactically and technically superior.
But the Nigerians showed more heart, more spirit and certainly more lungs. Even at the end, they were still swarming all over Ecuador and were it not for poor finishing, they would surely have run up the score.


ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK
Nigerians have been weaned on attacking football. The great Green Eagles team which won the Africa Cup of Nations were loaded with attacking talent and played with expansive verve.
The 1994 team wrote themselves into folklore in much the same way. And the best of Nigeria’s cadet teams - including all previous five Under 17 championship winning teams - all played in much the same way.
This side are not nearly as talented as their predecessors, and there are quite a few holes to be picked in their game, but they do a good job of covering these holes with their unrelenting forward blitz.
The good news is they create a boatload of chances. The bad news is they need barn doors in front of them.
Akinwunmi Amos is a wrecking ball, captain Samson Tijani is a offensive controller and Said just showed how lethal he can be from range. Not to mention Wisdom Ubani and his set piece expertise.
There will be goals with this team, the trouble is. . .


DEFENSIVE WEAKNESSES
There are weaknesses all over the team, and it starts well before the ball gets to defense. Against Ecuador, as in against Hungary, the biggest problem was before the ball got to defense. 
Players, especially in midfield, were in some sort of mad hurry to play balls. And for all of Garba’s emphasis on passing football, sometimes, players’ decision to go alone turned out ill-advised. All of this led to more than their fair share of turnovers. 
But the worst part was the after. Manu Garba needs to drill some basic idea of timing into his players until it becomes muscle memory. The amount of seemingly aimless running and mistimed tackles were simply insane.
It led to goals against Hungary and again against Ecuador.
A more tactically disciplined side would leather these lads if allowed such freedom of the shop.
Hopefully, they plug the holes sooner rather than later.





QUICK TAKEOUTS FROM GOLDEN EAGLETS WIN OVER HUNGARY

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Golden Eaglets lineup ahead of their opening game against Hungary


Heart and guts overcame an error-ridden performance by Nigeria, as the Golden Eaglets opened their FIFA Under 17 World Cup campaign with a come from behind win over Hungary on Saturday night.

Hungary poked the tiger within three minutes of the opening, their early pressure forcing Nigeria on the backfoot and Gyorgy Komaromi found himself in good position to draw first blood after just three minutes.

Captain Samson Tijani drew the Golden Eaglets level from the sport after Wisdom Ubani’s nifty footwork got him into the box only to be clipped. Samuel Major took advantage of further sloppy defending by Nigeria to restore Hungary’s advantage as they went into the break on top. 

But three late goals, two of those in the span of a minute, took Nigeria to victory.

Here are a few thoughts from the game


EAGLES AND EARLY PRESSURE DON’T MIX
It was obvious that Hungary had watched tapes of the Nigeria team ahead of the game, and looked to exploit the weaknesses early. They peppered the fullback positions and scored both their goals from high, early pressure that the Nigerians found difficult to deal with.

Although they failed to keep up the momentum, bombarded as they were any Nigeria’s physical superiority and skill, their technical ability meant they did not have to overly exert themselves in a first half where they allowed the Eaglets to do all the running while they simply sat back and picked them off almost at will.

This is by no means the most talented squad Manu Garba has put together in his time as a youth coach, so there will be lot more work needed to help them along the way, That means studying film of the opposition ahead of and fixing his own team’s weaknesses.

One of those is dealing with the press. They did not handle it well against Hungary and need to work on it going forward.

PLENTY OF HEART TO GO AROUND THESE EAGLETS 
To watch the first few minutes of the game, it looked like this iteration of Golden Eaglets were among the most disjointed ever.
Their passes continually went astray, touches looked heavy and the players appeared to be in a constant hurry to get nowhere fast. The calmness of the position made their haste even more glaring.
But the one thing the young men had more than enough of and then some, was heart. Even when they went down twice, their heads did not drop. They played with fire and the boisterousness of their youth. And even at the end, still had plenty of running in them as they overwhelmed Hungary by sheer force of character.
Heart and lungs are great traits to have, especially in the group phase. But they will need more than that if they are to go all the way.


TIJANI IS A GEM, AMOO TOO
There was a lot that went wrong with the Golden Eagles on the night, and that includes players who did not pull their weight.
And the less said about the walkabout defense th ebetter.
But none of that could be said about man of the match and captain Samson Tijani. In the midst of the blundering chaos, he was the one calming influence. Everything the Nigerians played went through him, and it was when he had the ball that the team looked even slightly composed.
His two goals were just reward for the effort he put in.
And then there was Akinwunmi Amoo. It is uncertain why Garba decided to start him from the bench. It could have been for tactical reasons. But when he came on, he showed that he belongs on the starting eleven.
It is hard to see him starting on the bench now after coming on and totally changing the complexion of the Nigeria team.


ROHR: FIRST HALF AGAINST UKRAINE BEST OF MY TENURE

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Gernot Rohr says Nigeria’s first half performance against Ukraine was the best the team has played since he took over as Nigeria coach.
The Super Eagles completely dominated the hosts, racing to a two-goal lead and should have been at least four goals up in the first half but for some great goalkeeping and wayward finishing.
But their performance in those first 45 minutes had Rohr buzzing
“It was a great performance against a very good team,” he said. “The best initial 45 minutes I saw since I am with the team.” 
Despite their dominance, the Super EAgles, playing without a posse of key starters, were to conceded twice late on and tie the game. Rohr pointed to the youthfulness off his side and explained that that may have been responsible for their giving up their two-goal advantage late in the second half
“Age average less than 23. That fact can also explain two minutes of nerves in the second half. And their second goal was clear handball.”
Rohr however was left pleased with the overall direction of the team 


“We saw some new faces and a come back of the goal keeper. The kind of modern football we played is promising for the future.”

IGHALO NOT REVERSING RETIREMENT

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Nigeria forward Odion Ighalo says he is standing by his decision to retire from international football despite an attempt by NFF President Amaju Pinnick to persuade him to change his mind.

Ighalo finished as both 2019 Afcon qualifying top scorer with 7 goals and tournament top scorer with five, helping Nigeria beat Tunisia 1-0 to claim bronze on Wednesday night, and then announced his retirement soon after.

On Saturday, leading African journalist Osasu Obayuwana reported that NFF President Amaju Pinnick had informed him that the striker had reversed his decision. But Ighalo said that was not the case

“It is not true that I have reversed my decision,” Ighalo told ColinUdoh.com exclusively on Sunday morning. “The (NFF) president spoke to me and asked me to reconsider. Out of respect for him, I said I would think about it. I consulted with my family and we decided that the best thing for me now is to stand by the decision.
“I love my country and it was not an easy decision to make. But I believe the time is right. I am now out for eight weeks and my club are not happy about it, but I thank God for everything.”

Ighalo, something of a late bloomer, made his senior debut for Nigeria in 2015 as the Super Eagles lost 0-1 to Uganda in a friendly.

He finished with 35 appearances for Nigeria, scoring 16 goals, an average of just under a goal a game. 

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