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WILL SUPER EAGLES BE IN GROUP OF DEATH AGAIN?

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…another clash with Argentina looms

BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

It is four days to the final draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the entire world is paying attention as to which team faces the other for the world’s most prized single sport event.

How time flies? Just a little over two years ago, the draw for the preliminary competition was held. Then there were 209 teams that played 871 matches, scoring 2,454 goals to create the final 32 teams now jostling for the biggest prize of a single sport event in the world.

To have come out of a field of 209 to be among the 32 finalists is not a mean achievement for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. That is not all. They are among the single digit number of teams of the 209 that did not lose a match in the entire qualifying series. The other undefeated sides include England, Brazil, Iran, Germany, Belgium and Spain.

For Nigeria, Germany and Spain, it was a repeat performance as the teams were also undefeated in the qualifying duels for South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.

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Whatever those records may be, they are better confined to the archives as greater battles now lie ahead.

The concern now is for favourable draw to enhance progress in what is potentially a stiff contest.

Nigeria’s manager, Gernot Rohr last month told a French sports newspaper, L’Equipe, that he was targeting the semi-finals. He will need the prayers to get a favourable draw that that will not only enhance the aspiration, but to make it smoother.

As the Super Eagles get set to make a sixth appearance at the FIFA World Cup attention shifts to the draws ceremony of Friday where the first round opponents of the will be named.

Possibly, Rohr’s mind is targeting the semi final slot to surpass the previous marks of quarter finals already reached by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

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Many Nigerians will therefore be looking forward to a favourable draw to sustain the Super Eagles’ unbeaten run that has endured in the qualifying series but hardly hold in the final tournament.

When Osaze Odemwingie scored a first half goal that determined the tie between Nigeria and Bosnia Herzegovina three years ago in Brazil, it was the first time Nigeria won a World Cup match in 15 years, involving nine matches. Sadly, that was the last time Nigeria won a World Cup match.

 

Osaze Odemwingie connects a cross from a rampaging Emmanuel Emenike from the right flank to score against Bosnia Herzegovina at the Brazil World Cup. It was Nigeria’s first win of a World Cup match in 16 years.

Before then, the last time Nigeria won a World Cup match was the solitary strike by Victor Ikpeba in the 1-0 defeat of Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes in a France ’98 Group D match.

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Victor Ikpeba scores against Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes  in Paris in a Group D World Cup encounter in 1998. Up till Nigeria’s second group match at Brazil 2014, it was the last time Nigeria won a match in the World Cup.

But in the two of the five previous World Cup finals the Super Eagles had featured in, the team ended up in difficult group that  is now commonly called ‘the group of death’.

In a statistics released by FIFA ahead of the 2014 draw, the Group D of 1998, and Group F of 2002 were classified as the groups of death in those World Cup competitions.

That will be the situation if for instance; Nigeria draws any of the quartet of Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and France in Pot 1 and any of the trio of Spain, England and Uruguay – all former World Cup champions – from Pot 2.

From Pot 3, owing to geographical consideration, Nigeria has limited choice of five out of the eight teams. From the preceding scenario, if Nigeria draws any of Sweden or Denmark in Pot 3, the Super Eagles are potentially in the Group of Death.

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The positive point to note is that the team had survived one before in 1998 and even top the group and had did the same with relative ease in the CAF qualifying series for Russia 2018.

These are some salient points in a list of the most difficult groups of the last 59 years. In 1998, Nigeria had Spain, Paraguay and Bulgaria to contend with.

In that group of death, seeded Spain paid heavily for their defeat by Nigeria in their opening game.

In 2002, it was even a more difficult group, comprising former winners and runners-up, Argentina, England and Sweden. Nigeria did not survive, just as a seeded team; Argentina also fell at the first hurdle.

Russia 2018 will prove a very tough competition as seven of the eight past World Cup winners – Uruguay, Brazil, England, Argentina, Germany, France and Spain – qualified. Only Italy failed. For certain, there will be a South American team in Nigeria’s group as had been the pattern since USA 94.

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Is it possible that the Super Eagles will draw Argentina again?

 

Pot 1: Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France

Pot 2: Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Columbia, Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia

Pot 3: Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran

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Pot 4: Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia

 

 

GROUPS OF DEATH IN WORLD CUP HISTORY

TALES OF THE MOST DIFFICULT GROUPS OF THE LAST 59 YEARS

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In the chronicle of the World Cup draws, there have also been certain groups designated as “groups of death” owing to involvement of two or more strong teams.

According to FIFA’s statistics, Nigeria’s Super Eagles have twice fallen into such groups in 1998 and 2002.

Ahead of the Russia 2018 Final Draw, here is a presentation of the most difficult groups of the last 59 years. Teams that qualified for the next stage in bold

 

 

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2014: Group G

Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

The eventual champions, Germany, came from this group.

 

2010: Group G

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Brazil, Portugal, Cote d’Ivoire, Korea DPR

Here, two of world’s top five ranked teams have to go into confrontation. Joining them was the Cote d’Ivoire, second best African country. Those pairings easily made the Group G deadly confrontations.

Five-time World Cup champions Brazil had faced off against Portugal (ranked fifth in the world).

 

2006:  Group C

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Argentina, Cote d’Ivoire, Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro

Newcomers Cote d’Ivoire put up a tremendous showing in a group that includes two pre-tournament favourites. The Elephants finish ahead of Serbia & Montenegro, who finish pointless after the shock of losing heavily to Argentina in their opening match.

 

2002:  Group F

Argentina, England, Nigeria, Sweden

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A seeded team also fell at the first hurdle in Korea/Japan, as Argentina fail to overcome last-placed Nigeria. England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson faced his native Sweden and both teams ultimately qualify for the next stage.

The World Cup Group of Death matches: England versus Argentina, Nigeria versus Sweden. The winners – England and Sweden – advanced from the group stage.

1998:  Group D

Bulgaria, Nigeria, Paraguay, Spain

Seeds Spain paid a heavy price for their defeat to Nigeria in their opening match. After managing no more than a draw against Paraguay, the Iberians were forced to pack their bags.

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Sunday Oliseh’s back-breaking goal spells doom for top seed, Spain in France ’98 Group D encounter with Nigeria.

 

1994:  Group E

Italy, Mexico, Norway, Republic of Ireland

This is the last World Cup with 24 participants and also the last time that three European teams meet in the same group. The group finished with all four teams on four points and equal goal difference. Mexico progressed as group winners with three goals, while Norway returned home after notching only one goal.

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1990:  Group B

Argentina, Cameroon, Romania, Soviet Union

The biggest shock in an opening match in the 60-year history of the World Cup: world champions Argentina were humbled by Cameroon, but recovered in the matches that followed. Cameroon also beat Romania, and the Soviet Union were knocked out in their last World Cup before their nation was disbanded.

 

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1990:  Group F

Egypt, England, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland

Only one win in six matches (England’s 1-0 victory over Egypt) separated the four sides in this tightly balanced group. FIFA decided the final placing of the Netherlands and Ireland by drawing lots – the one and only time that this last resort has been necessary.

 

1978:  Group 1

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Argentina, France, Hungary, Italy

In the strongest group of the 1978 World Cup, France, starring young Michel Platini, only managed to beat Hungary and lost to Argentina, the hosts and Italy. Roberto Bettega’s goal gave the Azzurri victory over eventual winners Argentina.

 

1970:  Group 3

Brazil, Czechoslovakia, England, Romania

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In a group in which Brazil win all of their matches and Czechoslovakia none, world champions England’s 1-0 victory over Romania in their opening match proved decisive. The match between Brazil and England was regarded as the final that never was and will live long in the memory thanks to a miraculous save by Gordon Banks from a header by Pele.

 

1966:  Group 2

Argentina, Germany FR, Spain, Switzerland

European champions Spain found themselves in a group with Argentina and eventual finalists Germany FR and lost 2-1 to both. The Swiss, who had an excellent World Cup pedigree, lost all of their matches and it took them almost 30 years to qualify for another final competition.

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1958:  Group 4

Austria, Brazil, England, Soviet Union

Pele’s first appearance at a FIFA World Cup was not blessed with an easy draw. The Soviet Union, starring Lev Yashin, lost to Brazil, for whom Vava scored twice. England achieved a draw against the Seleção, but let a point go a-begging against Austria. The Soviet Union came out on top in the deciding match.

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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International Football

New twist in Cameroon football coach crisis

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

The coaching crisis in Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions has taken a new dimension as the football federation, FECAFOOT, led by former international, Samuel Eto’o goes in direct confrontation with the coaching crew appointed by the sports ministry which also picks the bills.

  According to a Cameroon official who will not like to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, the claims and counter claims of both the sports ministry and the FECAFOOT led by Eto’o had been heard and decided by the conciliation and arbitration chamber of the Cameroonian national Olympic committee, which is a court in charge of sports cases in Cameroon.

  “What is in contention is not the position of the Belgian coach, Marcc Brys, but that of the Cameroonian assistants attached to him.”

  The source explained to Sports Village Square that although the employment of Brys by the sports ministry was initially contested by Eto’o, the former player has come to accept the situation.

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  “In Cameroon, there is always a techenical crew of nine to 11. The foreign coach is allowed to bring in two foreign assistants, while the others are always Cameroonians.

  In this case, the sports ministry approved the list of two foreign assistants by Brys while also announcing another set of local assistants that included former international, François Omam-Biyik, one of the stars of Italia ‘90  and the scorer of the goal that gave Cameroon a 1-0 win over a Diego Maradona-inspired  Argentina.

  “That is where the problem is. FECAFOOT also submitted a list of technical crew that included Brys and his two foreign assistants but dropped the names of the local assistants with new ones.”

  In essence, there are two lists with both having three names as same, but differ on the rest.

 According to the source, the list submitted by the sports ministry was upheld by the tribunal which threw aside that of FECAFOOT.

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  In another twist, FIFA has already removed the name of Marc Brys from the profile of Cameroon on its website. Only the name of national women’s coach, Jean-Baptiste Bisseck is listed.

The removal of Brys’ name is happening a second time as it was first removed at the end of last month before being reinstated.

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Cameroon’s appointment of Brys as manager suspended by sports tribunal

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Marc Brys

Cameroon’s appointment of Belgian Marc Brys as head coach was suspended by the country’s top sports tribunal on Tuesday following the petition of an amateur football club.

The country’s sports ministry stirred controversy last month when it named 61-year-old Brys as manager of the Indomitable Lions without consulting the football federation (FECAFOOT).

The move sparked a dispute between the sports ministry and FECAFOOT, which said the government had made a unilateral decision.

In response, it asked its president Samuel Eto’o to propose a national coach and other management staff for the national side within 72 hours, deepening its standoff with the sports ministry.

Eto’o kept Brys as head coach but named different assistants, technical, medical and administrative staff.

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An amateur club, meanwhile, took the matter to the Arbitration and Conciliation Chamber of the Cameroon National Olympic and Sports Committee.

In a provisional ruling on Tuesday, the court suspended the FECAFOOT appointments while it fully examined the matter. Concerned parties have 24 hours to appeal.

FECAFOOT in response said it “reserves the right to refer these decisions to FIFA, as they hinder the preparation process for the forthcoming sport events.

“The Emergency Committee of FECAFOOT will meet immediately to take appropriate measures,” it said in a statement.

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has strict rules against government interference in national federations and has frequently banned countries when governments get involved in federation affairs.

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The president of the Cameroon Association of Amateur Football Clubs, Balla Ongolo Henri, had previously said Eto’o’s appointments would damage Cameroon’s image and disrupt preparations for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers next June.

Brys, 61, penned a contract on May 8 as head coach of the Indomitable Lions following the dismissal of Rigobert Song in February. FECAFOOT did not attend the signing ceremony.

The sports ministry says it has acted in accordance with national and international regulations.

Reuters

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Amokachi, Adebayor and Amanda Dlamini confirmed for CAF African Schools Championship Finals

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African football legends, Emmanuel Adebayor, Daniel Amokachi and Amanda Dlamini are some of the top names that have been confirmed for the Continental Finals of the CAF African Schools Football Championship 2024 scheduled in Zanzibar between 21 – 24 May 2024.

The CAF African Schools Football Championship is the school’s competition that includes over 44 African countries with over 800 000 participants of Boys and Girls under the age of 15.

This is the second edition of the competition that is not only focused on Football but also on a number of programmes including Young Referee’s Programme, Young Reporter Programme and Safeguarding. 

Adebayor, CAF Player of the Year in 2008, represented Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany for their only appearance at the tournament. Ex-striker for Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, and others, the Togolese star has had a successful career, earning over 85 caps with Les Eperviers.

Nigerian football star Amokachi played 42 international matches for the Super Eagles. He participated in the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and was part of the team that won the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the Olympic Games in 1996.

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Former Banyana Banyana (South Africa) captain Dlamini played in two TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations competitions where they finished third and second in 2010 and 2012, respectively. She is one of the few footballers, both in the men’s and women’s national teams to reach 100 caps.

Dlamini recently made history when she became the first female to be part of the world commentary feed at the TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023.

Also on the list are local stars Abdi Kassim Sadalla, former Tanzanian National Team Captain, and Hilda Masanche, Head coach of the Tanzania U17 Women’s National Team.

The Legends will feature in various activities to promote and support football development among African youth.

The finals will bring together talented young players from across the continent, providing them a platform to showcase their skills and passion for the game.

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-CAF

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