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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Wednesday, June 04 2003






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LG Cup review

All hail the superb Eagles
By Clement Nwankpa Jnr.

"WHAT you have done for this country in the past 72 hours (Friday to Sunday) cannot be quantified in naira and kobo. You have to step to the next level and know that the battle has just begun. You have to realise everything is possible from now."

These were the words of Eagles' welfare co-ordinator, Sumonu Bello-Osagie at the Federal Palace Hotel on Sunday night.

He was hailing Joseph Yobo for the leadership qualities he (Yobo) had shown captaining the Super Eagles to defeat Indomitable Lions of Cameroun 3-0 in the final of the LG Four Nation Tournament.

Yobo, who played the match with a troubled knee, tugged at his knee and muttered: "It wasn't easy playing this match with this knee, but I don't have any other country except Nigeria."

That captured the spirit with which a young Nigerian team won Eagles' first trophy in five years.

Since the Bora Milutinovic-tutored squad beat Iran 1-0 and Hong Kong 2-0 to win the Carlsberg Cup in 1998, the Eagles had not won any laurel.

The victory is symbolic in many ways. It marks the beginning of a new era in Nigerian football.

It is recalled that the last generation of Eagles players tagged 'golden' started by winning the Afro-Asian Cup in 1995 after defeating Uzbekistan 4-2 on aggregate.

The likes of Celestine Babayaro, Wilson Oruma and Karibe Ojigwe made their debut against Uzbekistan. In the same vein, the LG Cup has afforded a couple of young players the opportunity to wear their first international caps.

In 1996, the Afro-Asian Cup winners went a step further to win Olympic gold at Atlanta. A good number of the LG Cup conquerors would be eligible for the Olympic Games in Athens next year, as well as the 8th All Africa Games in Abuja later this year.

Now, more than ever, even the diehard pessimists believe another golden era of Nigerian football is right at the doorstep given the avalanche of talents at coach Christian Chukwu's disposal.

Below is an account of the players' rating at the LG Four Nation Tournament.

Greg Etafia (5)

Greg has been in tremendous form for Maroka Swallows in the South African Premier Soccer League but when a mix-up between him and Joseph Yobo led to that early goal by Ghana in the first match, he had started on a wrong footing. He lost his place to Rotimi Sunday against Cameroun and may have to start his resurgence at the international level all over.

Rotimi Sunday (6)

Sunday manned goal in the final against Cameroun but with the Lions scarcely posing any threat in the face of a solid Eagles' rear he had no cause to worry. At least, the Sunshine Stars' safe hands did well to keep a clean slate.

George Abbey (8)

This 24-year-old Macclesfield full back is a major revelation of the tournament. Relatively unknown before the tournament, Abbey, whose mother is Welsh, acquainted himself well in the two matches. Eagles' second goal against Ghana was a result of a rebound off an Abbey free kick. It equally took his cross field pass for Yakubu Aiyegbeni to score the team's second against Cameroun. He seduced the fans with his overlapping runs and incisive deliveries from the right back. Abuja fans screamed ""Yellow! Yellow!!" when he did it against Ghana but in the final, Lagosians were hailing "Oyibo! Oyibo!!".

Ifeanyi Udoze (7)

Ify made up for a lacklustre performance against Ghana with a five-star act against Cameroun. He was awesome in the final and gave the Lions a lot of cause for worries zooming in from the left flank. Who else could have done that 30-yard solo run that took him all the way to the by-line in the final?

Bob Usim (6)

Usim's performance as Ikpe Ekong's substitute in the first match has popped up the question: is this not the ideal warhorse of a defensive midfielder the national team has missed since Sunday Oliseh's exit? The Iwuanyanwu Nationale's captain could play anywhere in the defence but against Ghana, he made the task of defending easier for the back four winning about 90 per cent of the tackles he went for.

Joseph Enakhire (8)

Joe's first two caps against Jamaica and Malawi were at the right back position but at the LG Cup, he paired Yobo in the central defence and sent soccer eggheads chanting "Oh, Isaac Okoronkwo is in trouble." The member of the Under-17 squad at Meridien Cup 99 displayed laudable confidence in winning the balls and occasionally joined the midfield to drive the team forward. Afterwards, the Standard Liege's ace pointed out his preference for the central defence position. "I'm actually a central defender. I only spare out at the right back". Little wonder nothing seemed new to him at the LG Cup.

Joseph Yobo (8)

When Yobo entered the Federal Palace dinning hall on Sunday morning, a Camerounian player screamed 'Captain Fantastico". That was what the Everton multi-purpose defender put up in the competition. A breakdown in communication between him and the keeper led to the only goal the team conceded in the tournament, against Ghana. Subsequently, he was a tower of strength at the rear and wearing the captain's band, he brought memories of Stephen Keshi in his active days. It is equally symbolic that when the new generation of Eagles won their first trophy, Yobo, who has been hailed as a potential substantive captain in future, led the pack. Most importantly, the 22 year old indigene of Khaba in Rivers State scored his first full international goal against Cameroun. This guy has the potential to grow into the best defender the country ever produced.

Benedict Idahor (5)

Benedict was the tallest member of the squad but only got to test action as Udeze's replacement during extra time against Cameroun. The Insurance's left back really didn't have enough time to showcase his stuff.

Ikpe Ekong (5)

Ikpe entered the tournament with high hopes but a knee strain in the early minutes of the game against Ghana ruled him out for the remaining part of the tournament. It was not the type of ending he would have bargained for, moreso with the likes of Christian Obodo breathing down his neck. He would pray the injury gives way so that he could fight for a place in the Nations Cup qualifier against Malawi this weekend. The officials of German Bundesliga side FC Cologne are expected in the country tomorrow to watch Ikpe run at the Flames.

Seyi Olofinjana (5)

Seyi definitely should have done better than what he put out in his only game against Cameroun. He did not arrive early enough for the first match but the big Brann of Norway defensive midfielder failed to lift his game above average level in the final. Those tackles of his can be more properly timed.

Ahmed "Yaro Yaro" Garba (6)

On a good day, Yaro Yaro prefers playing a free role in the midfield. In the first match, he was made to play from the right flank and didn't quite disappoint even if he was not a class act. But in the final, he joined the fray as a substitute and grabbed his second international goal. The last time the Eagles won a trophy at Carlsberg 98, he was also on target in the 1-0 defeat of Iran.

Bina Ajuwa (6)

The search for Emmanuel Amuneke's replacement at the left flank has been on for several years now and Christian Chukwu is consciously trying to nurture Bina into filling that position. The lad first spotted by Johannes Bonfere in 2001 has failed to grab the opportunities with both hands. He had enough playing time in the two matches but was all runs and little sting. The way he flogged that educated left foot of his on the ball though, buttressed his potential.

Christian Obodo (8)

This guy had been so much hyped back home before he made his international debut against Ghana last Friday and on the day, he didn't disappoint. He made the absence of Austin Okocha less felt with his deft touches, sublime twist and turns,incisive dribbles and inch-perfect passes. He instantly became a crowd favourite and when in the final the Lagos fans yelled "Obodo! Obodo!!" he went showboating and paid the price" a deep cut on his thigh. Now the question is: Will Obodo be more useful in a defensive or free midfield role? His tackles are not the toughest but he is a treasure going forward.

Manabo Meneiche (6)

Malta-based Meneiche came on as a substitute in both matches but was more zest and less precision. He would have helped himself to a goal against Ghana but failed to pick his target. He may have to bid his time at the senior level but could be useful with the Under-23s.

John Utaka (6)

Utaka was not available for selection against Ghana but was involved against Cameroun. He had a quiet match but with some occasional bursts, he silently oozed class.

Uche Ugochukwu (6)

Uche is gradually proving capable of rubbing shoulders with the big boys. If talent is all it takes, he has got it but experience also counts. He already has two goals in four caps, a good pedigree for a striker. At the LG Cup, he started blowing hot against Ghana but injury forced him to go cold.

Benedict Akwuegbu (6)

Benny only got to play in the final and showed the stuff an inform striker is made of. He did not hit target but regularly got clear of his markers to set his strike pair Aiyegbeni in goal scoring positions. The lad whose goal secured AK Graz's first Champions League ticket in the club's 101 years of existence is really hot at the moment.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni (7)

Yakubu could have helped himself to as many goals as he wished but with three, he emerged the tournament's top scorer. If Yakubu was wasteful in front of goal, his sins should be forgiven. At least, he hit the back of the net in both matches.


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