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Coach Steven Keshi's task: Beat Liberia or lose your job

By Ralph Geeplay 

 

Nigerian Super Eagles coach, Steven Keshi, is about to lose his job if he fails to beat the Lone Star of Liberia for his team to qualify for the African Cups of Nations’ finals finals next year in South Africa, Nigerian football officials are saying.

Echoing the sentiments quite recently was Mike Umeh, vice president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF).
Probably there are reasons to be concerned. Nigeria struggled to beat Namibia at home during last month’s world cup qualification, managing to score a late goal to beat the Namibians on their home front. It was also Liberia that put the Brave Warriors out of the Afcon qualification.

According to Umeh, the Nigerian Football Federation just wanted to let Keshi know that he would lose his job if he fail to beat Liberia, saying” what we are saying here is that there is no question about qualification, because Keshi himself knows that the thrust of his contract with us is to, among other things, pick the qualification ticket for the South Africa 2013 Nations Cup” adding, ”to whom much is given, much is also expected.”

His predecessor, Siasia was paid 5million naira per month. However, before the Afcon draw in South Africa that paired Lone Stars with the Super Eagles, Nigerian football officials openly voiced their wish to play, and it seems Nigeria got their wish. Liberian football officials have been talking tough as well with its president Musa Bility going on the record, and  has given the Nigerians jitters.

It can be recalled that the Guineans robbed the fabulous Eagles the last time at a time when many predicted the would have gone through. The players and the media have joined in, and  they are talking too.
Liberian sensation Sekou Oliseh Jabateh, speaking from his base in Moscow where he features for CSK Moscow, warned the Nigerians that the game in Liberia would be a lot of fireworks; and that the Lone Star were ready for the show down  on game day.

“It is going to be an explosive game.” Oliseh said. He then paid homage to his second country, Nigeria. In 2007, the Nigerians called him to their U 17, and he turned down their offer. The Liberian difference maker continued:
“I love Nigeria because I have a father in Nigeria, Churchill Oliseh, who made me what I am today, but I have to do my best for Liberia in that game. Nigeria has a good team but Liberia will fight…the better side should win the match.”

Sekou Oliseh is a gifted player. He was voted ‘man of the match’ recently when the Stars and the Warriors met in Windhoek by the Namibian New Era. It said “The CSK Moscow No. 10 was a constant threat and single-handedly troubled the rearguard of the hosts with some deft touches on the ball, while his strong runs and intelligent positional play placed him in a different category from the other 21 players on the pitch. Jabateh was New Era Sports’ Man of the Match.”

The pending tie between the two West African nations has boosted excitement in both countries. And as if to taunt Keshi, the Nigerian P.M. News banner recently read, “Liberian Star dares Super Eagles.” Only that the paper was quoting a little known Liberian player in the Nigerian league.

“Leonardo Hiah, who plays for newly promoted Nigeria Premier League; NPL side, EL Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri…” Hiah is not on the Lone Star team. This Nigerian Nation headline was more colorful, “LIBERIAN BOSS BOAST: We’ll roast Eagles for super.”  Nigeria, say analysts are favorites to qualify.

But Umeh sounded very worry when he said ”What do we tell Nigerians if we miss next year’s Nations Cup in South Africa after losing out from the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea early this year,’ a clear warning to Keshi, a.k.a ‘the boss,’ as he is sometimes referred to in the Nigerian media.

Stephen Keshi got the job because Sampson Siasia, his predecessor failed to qualify the talented Super Eagles for the same nation’s cup. Being a manager of the Super Eagles is a privileged and dreamed job for any coach, given Nigeria’s talent.
But Liberia, like other countries know that football is a team sport; hence the traditional minnows in African football is fading. The Egyptians can attest.

The reasoning, according to analysts is that within the circle of Nigerian football officialdom there is a sense, if Keshi cannot beat Liberia he is not worthy of the post. But football on the continent is growing, Uganda is playing well so is Zambia and Ethiopia.

Hence, it was the not so fanciful Central African Republic (CAR) that sent coach Bob Bradley and the powerful Egyptian Pharaohs packing, denying them a chance at the table in South Africa next year. For example, South Africa struggled to a draw against Ethiopia at home recently, despite its high profile league players and facilities prompting the sacking of Coach Pitso Mosimane.

The Bafana Bafana has now appointed Gordon Igesund, a white home grown manager who also happens to be the domestic league’s best coach. The Eagles also failed to secure a high profile friendly before their tie with the Stars further disrupting Keshi plans at preparation. Arsenal, the top English premiership outfit pulled out of its planned preseason match with Nigeria at the last minute.

The Super Eagles and Steve Keshi, however, have secured a West African friendly match with neighbors Niger on August 15, while Liberia, according to information will travel to Bissau, Equatorial Guinea to face the  Nzalang Nacional.

Ralph Geeplay can be reached at akklamm@gmail.com

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