Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Nigeria survives to live another day, although it may be a short-lived experience.
With their 2-0 drubbing of Benin and Mali's inexcusable 3-0 loss to Ivory Coast (more on that later), Nigeria's Super Eagles scraped into the quarterfinals, where they'll meet hosts Ghana.
Nigerian midfielder Jon Obi Mikel, who plays for Chelsea said the team should savor today's victory some before thinking of their mega-encounter with Ghana's Black Stars.
"We are now all very happy and we want to enjoy the moment. Then we will have a good night and we'll think about this quarter-final clash against Ghana first thing in the morning."
Miracle? Some might say.
"We asked for something of a miracle and it happened," said forward Osaze Odemwingie, who is suspended for Sunday's match.
"We showed great mental strength. Rule us out at your own risk."
The victory for Nigeria sparked scenes of celebrations in the Super Eagles camp as the west African nation avoided elimination at the group stage for the first time since 1982.
Their goals today, scored by Mikel and striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, were their first in the tournament.
I don't know about you, but their offense looks mighty anemic. They're going to have a very tough time with the host nation.
Bu what's up with Mali? They seem to have succumbed to the pressure and caved at the worst possible moment.
What was with their strange substitution at half-time of striker Frederic Kanoute for holding midfielder Momo Sissoko? They obviously weren't thinking Nigeria would score. Or were they settling for a draw (which would have sent them through), thinking if they didn't concede any goals, that would be good enough? Poor management, in my opinion. Mali's FA will have to re-think the job of coach Jean-Francois Jodar, who coached tentatively against a weak Ivory Coast side. The Elephants had already qualified for the quarters and were resting many players.
"We are extremely disappointed," said Jodar. "My team did not play at all in the first half and with a lot of attackers in the second half we still failed to find the goal."
Ivory Coast face Guinea in their quarter-final while Nigeria travel to Accra to face the hosts, who have a 100 percent record in the tournament.
Ghana coach Claude Le Roy told a news conference that he expected to be sacked if his side did not win the trophy.
"If we are not champions, I'm sure a new coach will come in my place," he said. "I understand my deal and that is to win the cup."
Tuesday's goals took the tournament's tally to 63 in 20 games but South Africa goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs was not impressed, saying the ball was at fault.
"It makes goalkeepers look like idiots," he said. "It isn't that the guys have been scoring good goals, it's the ball which has been making the guys look good."
Oh, come now ... enough with the excuses.
It's been an exciting tournament so far. What do the rest of the matches this week have to offer? Stay tuned ...