By Solace Chukwu
A World Cup year is always memorable, especially when your nation is represented. It may not possess enough unpredictability to inspire the minnows (only eight teams have ever laid claim to the title ‘Champion of the World’), but the confluence of different cultures makes for an unmissable spectacle.
That said, there are yet some for whom 2014 has been a year to forget. With a helping of the sweet comes the bitter, and with the Goal Nigeria Player of the Year awards nominees to be revealed in a few days, let us have a look at some of those who should not be holding their breath.
No Nigerian player quite embodies the disenchantment of fans with the Super Eagles like Emmanuel Emenike. The Fenerbahce man was a smash hit in 2013, top-scoring at the African Cup of Nations in South Africa and conspicuous by his absence as the Super Eagles toiled early in qualifying for the World Cup.
His return for the final three games yielded three goals, underlining his importance to the team and promising further heroics in Brazil.
That was as good as it got for the 27-year-old. Emenike’s goal drought for the Super Eagles in 2014 now stands at 13 games; a sign of his shot confidence coming in Nigeria’s penultimate Afcon 2015 qualifier against Congo in Pointe-Noire: badly in need of a goal, he passed up the chance to take the penalty he won.
His one meaningful contribution assisted the Super Eagles’ only win at the World Cup. That said, if you had told the striker at the start of the year that would be his high point, he could hardly have been pleased.
It is perfectly understandable that, as a reserve goalkeeper, there is a very narrow window to shine. This is even truer in international football, with fewer games and lesser inclination toward rotation.
Whereas Nigeria was once assured of an able deputy for Vincent Enyeama, 2014 forced a rethink. Hapoel Be’er Sheva stopper Austin Ejide actually got his fair share of the spotlight, starting three of the Super Eagles’ 14 games and playing half of another in the calendar year.
The burly goalkeeper was jittery, uncertain and full of unforeseen gaffes. An incident in the May friendly draw against Scotland, where he appeared to fumble a cross into the net before an infringement was called, went viral on the internet amid allegations of match-fixing. His poor organisation and weak reflexes were also to the fore in the infamous “Calamity of Calabar” in September, as Congo took full advantage.
Perhaps we ought to account for the rustiness that a reserve is sure to accumulate, but ultimately, Ejide did his cause no favours in 2014.
How much blame can be ascribed to the Almeria man? Ramon Azeez enjoyed a fine campaign with the La Liga side, weighing in with important contributions especially at the tail end of the season. The former youth international was finally called up by Keshi for the friendly against Mexico in March, and played the entirety of the second half.
That game was a preview of what was to come. Azeez was underwhelming, squandering Nigeria’s most presentable chance in his time on the pitch. Tellingly, he was fielded in an advanced role behind the striker, and even then it was clear he was ill-equipped for the role.
What followed was frustrating in its inevitability: the Almeria man performed poorly in his next three starts, especially in the limp goalless affair against Iran in Curitiba, and has not been called up again since the Congo defeat in September.
He can hardly be faulted for the Big Boss’s mind-boggling decision to field him as a no. 10, but that was his opportunity just the same, and he was unable to seize it.
Perhaps one of the biggest successes of Keshi’s reign, Caykur Rizespor’s Godfrey Oboabona has looked a shadow of the rock that excelled at the 2013 Afcon.
Much like Azeez above, it has not been entirely his own making. His playing situation at the Turkish Super Lig side was rather unclear in the lead-up to the World Cup. In Brazil, the centre-back played only 20-odd minutes before going off injured in the opening game against Iran. It was to be his final contribution of the tournament.
He has found playing time at club-level much easier to come by this term, but is fielded mostly as a defensive midfielder. In a role with less focus on tight marking and mobility and more on spatial awareness, his performances at international level have suffered somewhat. Where he was once the yin to Kenneth Omeruo’s yang, the pair have looked an immiscible partnership in this calendar year. (goal.com)