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Nigerian Football

Hunter of Nigerian local talents, Clemens Westerhof is 83 today

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

If there is any foreign coach Nigeria ever employed since the days of late Yugoslavian, Tihomir “Tiko” Jelisavčić  who gave considerable attention to domestic players, he is Clemens Westerhof, a Dutch.

He is undoubtedly, Super Eagles’ most successful coach and he  is 83 years old today 3 May 2023. 

He raised to stardom, from the domestic league, the bulk of the talents that Nigeria paraded in the USA ‘94 – the Nigerian golden generation.

Name them – Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi and a host of others were literally picked from the Nigerian league and fine-tuned to the 18-carat gold that they became.

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Unlike now when coaches, even the domestic ones,  are afraid to line out home-based players in the national team, Westerhof called the bluff of foreign based players in 1990 and went to the Africa Cup of Nations with home based players and ended up in runners-up position.

Until Sunday 15 August 2021, he was the coach with the longest tenure with the Nigerian national team.

On that date which was 32 years since he was first employed in Nigeria in 1989, Westerhof was overtaken by Gernot Rohr.

Before that date two years ago, Westerhof had spent 1,787 days on the saddle till he walked away on 6 July 1994.

He was therefore Nigeria’s coach for four years, 10 months and 22 days, the longest ever until 16 August 2021 when the pendulum on longevity in the service to the Super Eagles shifted in favour of  Gernot.

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Westerhof is easily the most successful of all the 39 coaches that have handled the Nigerian national football team in 74 years.

The Dutch football manager who ventured into Africa through his engagement by Nigeria in 1989 qualified the Super Eagles for the World Cup for the first time and also won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, making him the first manager engaged by Nigeria to win the premier continental football competition outside the country.

By also taking the Super Eagles to the runners-up position in the 1990 edition, he became the first manger to win the top three positions of the Africa Cup of Nations having led the Super Eagles to the third position at the 1992 edition in Senegal.

He took the Super Eagles to the Round of 16 at their debut appearance at the World Cup in 1994 and was just 90 seconds short of taking the team to the quarter finals before Italy fought back and eventually won the dramatic encounter by two goals to one.

He left his position immediately after that and later took up appointment with Zimbabwe and Mamelodi Sundowns FC in South Africa.

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Westerhof began his career as an assistant coach with Feyenoord Rotterdam in the Dutch Eredivisie. He also coached another Dutch side, Vitesse Arnhem.

His first official match with Nigeria was the August 27, 1989 World Cup qualifying match with Cameroon in Yaoundé.

Nigeria lost the match 1-0, failing to get at least a draw, which would have seen the Super Eagles getting to the last qualifying stage for the 1990 World Cup.

Before then, Westerhof was on the stands when Nigeria played two World Cup qualifiers against Gabon in Libreville and Angola in Lagos, the day Samuel Okwaraji died.

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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.

Nigerian Football

Relief for continental ticket-seeking Enyimba

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Enyimba FC who are desperately seeking a return to the continental fixtures next season have been relieved of a little financial burden by the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation.

 The initial N10 million fine imposed on the team has been reduced almost by half.

 In the ill-tempered match with Enugu Rangers three weeks ago, the Nigeria Premier League fine Enyimba N5 million as part of the disciplinary measures taken, claiming that Enyimba disrupted the live telecast of the match.

The NFF committee disagrees with the decision and therefore set aside the fine imposed.

Enyimba will this Sunday host Plateau United in a potentially volatile match as both teams have varying chances of picking continental ticket to feature in either the CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup.

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Nigerian Football

All eyes on Aba, Ibadan and Ikenne as battle for continental tickets goes down to the wire!

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A stroll in the park to be followed by victory parade are the anticipated spectacles in Jos when Enugu Rangers face ‘home’ sides, Gombe United this Sunday.

But elsewhere, it could be ‘thunder and blood’ battle as four eligibles fight for two obtainable continental tickets in three venues of Ikenne, Ibadan and Aba.

Remo Stars, Shooting Stars, Enyimba and Plateau United are aspirants jostling for continental tickets.

On the other side of the struggle is also the battle to evade relegation. Coincidentally, Ibadan  provides the venue for both dreams where the hosts, Shooting Stars, will be hoping to pick a ticket to any of the two CAF inter-clubs competitions while the debuting Premier League sides, Sporting Lagos are expected to play the game of their life.

Coincidentally, Shooting Stars were expected to give the Lagos sides the succour last weekend when they faced Bayelsa United.

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 Had Shooting Stars won the match, Sporting Lagos which upstaged Enyimba 2-1, would have been in comfort zone, making Sunday’s duel at the Lekan Salami a ‘merry-making’ venture for both sides.

But a twist of fortunes which saw Bayelsa fighting back to a 2-1 win means Shooting Stars will have to spare no weapon on Sunday to beat Sporting Lagos.

The visitors on the other hand have a mountain to climb to avoid the looming drop.

 Ikenne provides another battle ground, though with lesser gravity than what is expected in Ibadan and Aba. A win of any margin secures CAF Champions League ticket for Remo Stars as they host Katsina United who stay without threat in the middle of the league log.

But the battle will be fiercer in Aba where both hosts, Enyimba and visiting Plateau United have arithmetical and conjectural chances of making the top three and obtaining a continental ticket.

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While the battle at the top of the log is for two teams to join Enugu Rangers in getting continental ticket, so also it is at the bottom as both Gombe United and Heartland await the two others that will escort them to the lower league.

 Battling to avoid the drop are Sporting Lagos, Doma United, Akwa United and Bayelsa.

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Nigerian Football

Coronation day for champion-elect, Enugu Rangers

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Enugu Rangers can afford to lose 56-0 this Sunday to Gombe United and erase the record negative goal difference of the already relegated side. Such a scoreline will not change the destiny of both sides as Rangers will merely enter the pitch to fulfill the fixtures for formality sake. They will be more interested in the post match event – their coronation as the new king of Nigerian league.

 A win will only add icing to the celebration cake, taking their points to 70, just three short of 73 obtained by the defunct Dolphins in the 2010/2011 season.

 But it is taking nothing away from Enugu Rangers who will be presented with the league trophy this Sunday by the NFF president, Ibrahim Musa Gusau.

The NFF chieftain headlines a choice list of eminent guests expected at the occasion, which will see the champions, who will be crowned for the eighth time since a national football league was introduced in 1972.

Their success this season was confirmed last weekend when they beat Bendel Insurance 2-0 at home while their three rivals – Remo Stars, Shooting Stars and Enyimba lost their respective away games with identical scorelines of 2-1.

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