West Brom striker Osaze Odemwingie is not the only star that will be missing when the 2013 Africa Nations Cup begins in South Africa, writes OLUFEMI ATOYEBI
Super Eagles coach Steven Keshi did not surprise many Nigerians when he omitted West Brom striker Osaze Odemwingie from the provisional 32-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa.
Long before the list was released, Keshi had shut the Eagles door against the striker, although the player had also given reasons why he could not honour other invitations from Keshi . The last time he played for Nigeria was during the match against Rwanda in February. Defending his position after Odemwingie’s outburst on Twitter, Keshi said, “There’s nothing personal about this stuff. Odemwingie is a very good player but right now I don’t need him. He’s a professional and he should be able to accept that.
“Nigeria is blessed with a lot of good players and we cannot invite every player. We’re not in a war with anybody, we’re just trying to do our job.”
Everton striker Victor Anichebe looked good for a permanent place in the Eagles, but a series of injuries reduced his appearance for Nigeria. Under former coach Samson Siasia, he had a few decent outings until he was injured during the match against Madagascar. He hasn’t had the chance to play under Keshi but it is not a surprise that he was not in his list because the player just returned from injury.
The Uche brothers have had their fair share of fame as Nigeria internationals. But striker Ike Uche is left to carry on the name after his brother, Kalu, was not considered good enough by Keshi.
Kalu, who plays for Turkish club, Kasımpasa, scored two World Cup goals in South Africa for Nigeria in 2010.
After being frozen out at Rubin Kazan, Obafemi Martins had an opportunity to play more and score goals after his move to Spanish club Levante in September. He has scored six goals in 14 appearances for his new club, prompting a consideration by Keshi for an Eagles return.
He was invited for the friendly against Venezuela in November, but despite helping the team win 3-1, Keshi believes Martins is not good enough for his Nations Cup team. He is not in the squad that will train in Faro, Portugal, and will not join the team for a fourth Nations Cup appearance.
In one of his last outings for Nigeria, his 83rd minute goal against Kenya in Nairobi ensured Nigeria’s qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. At the finals, he played just twice as substitute without scoring. The 2013 Nations Cup would have given him another taste of the big stage on a familiar turf, but Keshi says there are better players in his position.
After playing badly against Rwanda in Kigali last February, Keshi seemed to have made up his mind on the player. Taiwo is on loan at Dynamo Kiev where he hopes to launch his career back to the top after failing to impress at AC Milan.
His inclusion would have raised criticism as many had questioned his flexibility, general contribution to team progress and recovery rate when going forward. Apart from set pieces which he delivers with thunderous shots, Taiwo’s other qualities might have seen their best years.
He would have had his dream of being a full international come to reality but for the contract he signed with Newcastle two years ago.
He’s been praised by Newcastle manager Alan Pardew as the big man for the big occasion and the Big Boss, Keshi, would have savoured being the coach that finally brought the player home after several attempts to persuade him to play for Nigeria had failed.
He was an England junior international, but the with no further opportunity to star for the Three Lions, Ameobi, 31, accepted to feature for his fatherland, but while signing a new contract with the club two years ago, perhaps oblivious of a pending opportunity to play at the Nations Cup, he penned the clause that says he will not play at the tournament while still at Newcastle. Another reason for his unavailability is the imminent departure of fellow striker, Demba Ba, leaving Newcastle with only Ameobi as a senior striker.
Many have queried Keshi for his selection of the player whose value is no longer in the up market, while some said his experience would benefit the younger boys in South Africa. Unless Pardew shifts, he is in a position of advantage to stop the big Nigeria striker who has played more matches for Newcastle than any member of the club’s current squad.
Life as a reserve goalkeeper is one of the most frustrating lots in football. A fantastic goalkeeper can continue waiting for his turn until his form begins to fail him, especially when the first choice shows no sign of weakness.
The former Enyimba goalkeeper, who now stars for Israeli club Bnei Yehuda, was a deputy to Vincent Enyeama for so long but he will not be in South Africa, with Keshi preferring Enyeama (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheba, Israel), Chigozie Agbim (Enugu Rangers, Nigeria) and Daniel Akpeyi of Heartland FC.
Ex-international Aloy Agu believes Aiyenugba deserves a place ahead of some of the players picked by Keshi.
“Dele is doing well with his team and has every right to be looked at and so if every other goalkeeper is getting an opportunity to showcase his quality then Dele should also get one,” he said.
The list of major absentees is not limited to Nigeria. With Senegal out of the competition after failing to qualify ahead of Ivory Coast in the qualifiers, star player Demba Ba loses an opportunity to feature in the biggest African show. He was at the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea but his country, Senegal, were a flop of the tourney with no point. Ba did not score a goal despite his high rating at Newcastle.
Like Ba, Cisse will not be in South Africa as he also failed to lift Senegal during the qualifier. The Newcastle striker was at the last edition but left with no goals.
Michael Essien’s career at Chelsea was plagued by injuries before Jose Mourhino took him to Real Madrid, where he is gradually returning to the tracks. He ruled himself unavailable for international matches soon after Ghana qualified for the Nations Cup, but it remains unclear if coach Kwesi Appiah would have considered him for a role in South Africa.
He was not part of the qualifiers and Ghana are desperate to build a new national team with many of the young boys who won the 2009 U-20 World Cup in Egypt.
It is unimaginable that record four-time Africa Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o will not be in South Africa. After his country (Cameroon) failed to reach the finals, Eto’o joined a few star players that will watch from home.
But the fault was not his entirely. The former Barcelona star was banned by his country for inciting the players against the FA in a row over payment of allowance for appearance. In anger, he also exiled himself from international football and by the time he returned, Cameroon were on the verge of missing out of the competition. Their unlikely conquerors were Cape Verde. In the final match which featured Eto’o, Cape Verde scored an important goal in Yaounde to leave the score at 2-1 against them but 3-2 on aggregate in their favour as Eto’o watched in disbelief.
The Anzhi Makhachkala striker’s name stands out in a selection of biggest names in African football, having taken part in six finals, winning two of them. He is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the competition with 18 goals. He was the top scorer in 2006 and 2008 editions, and the fans will no doubt miss him in the 2013 finals.
Morocco approach the Nations Cup without star player Adel Taarabt of QPR.
A lot has been said about the player’s quality in England, especially by coach Harry Redknapp, who was unsure of the player’s availability during QPR’s fight against relegation.
But his prized jewel is a reject for Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi, who said that Taarabt refused to meet him when he travelled to London to see the player. Taarabt has been out of favour with the national team in recent times but hoped to have done enough to impress Taoussi, who took charge in the summer.
Unless coach Taoussi of Morocco sees something exceptional in Marouane Chamakh that Arsene Wenger of Arsenal is missing, there is no place for the tall striker who has disappointed many as he still struggles to break into Arsenal first team since 2010.