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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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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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Nigeria’s Nnadozie, Malawi striker, Chawinga scoop top awards in France

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Malawi striker Tabitha Chawinga and Chiamaka Nnadozie of Nigeria have been named the best player and best goalkeeper respectively in the French women’s league.

Chawinga wasted no time in making an impact upon her arrival in France after joining Paris Saint-Germain from Inter Milan in less than one year.

 The Malawi captain joined PSG in the summer of 2023 and has quickly showcased her talent, resulting in the top award on Monday night.

She played 25 matches, scoring 18 goals and providing 10 assists while donning the iconic red and blue jersey.

As a semifinalist in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, PSG’s number 22 became the first Malawian to score a goal in a European competition.

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Meanwhile, Nnadozie has had an exceptional season with Paris FC which had led to dethrone Christiane Endlerthe – long standing best goalkeeper in the French women’s top-flight.

The Nigerian goalkeeper boasts 10 clean sheets in 28 appearances in the French league.

For the first time in her career, Nnadozie has been recognized in this category, ending the dominance of Endler, who was named the best goalkeeper in the French league from 2019 to 2023.

Chawinga and Nnadozie’s achievements highlight the growing influence of African players abroad as their performances will pave the way for future generations of footballers from the continent to shine on the global stage.

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What a twist of fate! Before now, Morocco and Algeria were  allies

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When FIFA Suspended Morocco for Supporting Algeria’s Independence

Despite Morocco’s historical solidarity with Algeria, the regime continues to politicize sporting events in search of opportunities to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity.

Algeria continues to push with its obsessive tendency to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity despite the country’s long-standing solidarity with its National Liberation Front (FLN) in international sporting events.

Last week, the Algerian regime confiscated the jerseys of a Moroccan club RS Berkane ahead of a CAF Confederation match in Algeria due to the fact that they featured a full map of Morocco.

The decision drew outrage from Moroccans and international observers who decried Algeria’s politicizing of sporting events and its constant search for opportunities to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity.

On Saturday, Algerian journalist and political analyst, Oualid Kebir, took to social media exposing the regime’s disregard for Morocco’s historical support for the Algerian FLN in international sporting events.

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Kebir highlighted Morocco’s “heroic” and “strong supportive stances” during Algerian’s challenging times during French occupation. “Morocco’s historical and heroic stance at that time is added to the honorable and strong supportive stances at that time towards Algeria,” the post read. 

Kebir’s statement referred to Morocco’s Royal Football Federation (FRMF) organizing a match in 1958 against the FLN team despite the fact that the team was not recognized by FIFA. The team consisted then of French Muslim (Algerian) players who had been suspended by the French Football Federation.

FIFA’s justification at the time for punishing Morocco was due to the licensing of the FRMF clubs to play against the FLN team. 

“Today, the military regime disguises ingratitude and compels Algerian clubs and sports teams to refuse to play and confront their Moroccan counterparts who display the map of Morocco on their jerseys!” Kebir wrote, decrying Algeria’s ungratefulness to Morocco’s historical support.

“This is the reward for standing with us during difficult times?!” he stressed.

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Attached to the post was the official document from FIFA outlining its decision to revoke the affiliation of the FRMF due to Morocco’s authorization of its clubs to play matches against the Algerian national team, despite FIFA’s objections. 

Algeria’s blatant attacks on Morocco’s sovereignty have especially peaked over the past days with the country staunchly attempting to politicize yet another sporting event.

One such event occurred during the Arab Championship this week, where the Algerian U-17 national handball team withdrew in protest of Morocco’s jersey featuring a full map of Morocco that includes its southern provinces. 

After the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced RS Berkane to be the winner of the Sunday match, Algeria relentlessly appealed the decision, losing the appeal in the process.

However, the regime announced that they would take their case to a higher court, alleging that the jerseys include a political symbol.

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In January 2023, Algeria orchestrated a similar attack on Morocco through the African Nations Championship (CHAN). During the tournament, the Algerian regime denied the Moroccan team the right to participate and defend their title, while using the tournament’s opening ceremony as a political platform to express support for the Polisario Front. 

-Morocco World News

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