Nigerian midfielder Joseph JoJo Ogunnupe missed Vittoriosa Stars 2-0 win over Pieta on Sunday as a result of a hamstring injury but the 24-year old is already looking forward to a return to action despite doctors giving him a three-week layoff.
The former FC Tranzits of Latvia player is optimistic of shaking of the injury that has kept him out of action.
“I got the knock in the last game against Senglea Athletic which we won 2-0. The doctors reckon I will be out for two to three weeks. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the gym and should soon begin ball work. I’m feeling good about myself and itching to get back into action. Luckily we don’t have a match this weekend and I hope to be back by next week when we play Lija Athletic,” he said.
Vittoriosa Stars defeated Pieta 2-0 in the Maltese First Division league, their sixth win in the last seven games as they relentlessly pursue a promotion ticket to the Premier League.
A goal in each half was enough to hold back Pieta’s challenge and shoot to second place in the standings, one point behind leaders Naxxar Lions who were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Melita FC.
The Stars opened scoring on 13 minutes through Ryan Previ who ran clear before beating the keeper and consolidated with another goal ten minutes from time when Osi Lucky Agboebina hit home from close range to double the home side’s lead.
Ogunnupe is hopeful that the Stars will gain promotion to the elite division at the end of the season with eight games left to play. They sit just one point behind leaders Naxxar Lions who lead the log with 35 points from 18 games.
He said: “We have put ourselves in a very strong position to gain promotion but we are looking forward to end the season as champions. If we continue to do as well as we have been doing in recent games I see no reason why we cannot upstage Naxxar and gain promotion as champions of the First Division.”
The two top teams in the First Division get automatic qualification to the Premier League while the third-placed team engages in a play-off with the 11th-placed team from the Premier League.
Former Arsenal and Ajax great Marc Overmars cast a nostalgic gaze over his career and reckons former teammates Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George had special talents in their Ajax days despite a lack of structured football upbringing in their native Nigeria.
The trio was members of the famous Ajax team between 1993 and 1996 during which they won the UEFA Champions League before the Nigerians left, Kanu for Italy’s Inter Milan and Finidi to Spain’s Real Betis.
Overmars spent another year at the Dutch giants before moving to Arsenal where he was reunited with Kanu and where they both became integral members of the ‘Invincible’ Arsenal side which went a whole season unbeaten.
The former Netherlands international flew back to north London to star in the Arsenal Legends’ 4-2 victory over Milan Glorie and gushed over his ex-teammates as Kanu stole the headlines.
Back at his clinical best, Kanu’s well-taken hat-trick was the main talking point after the final whistle, but his performance came as no surprise to Marc, who remembers the first time he saw the former Nigeria striker play.
“I don’t think Kanu had ever played on a normal pitch before he joined us at Ajax,” the Dutchman laughs. “He didn’t know where to run. I remember once he had to take a throw-in and we called for the ball, so he pushed the ball out from his chest!
“These guys didn’t have the education as young players but we saw in the first training session that they were special. Kanu had so much quality and it was the same with Finidi George. They had something that we didn’t have. We had all learned how to play football on the streets, but their football upbringing was much more raw, and you can see how they benefitted from that.”
Marc certainly has lots to get excited about this year. Not only have Ajax qualified for the knockout stage of the Europa League, the club’s under-19s are also looking good in the Youth League.
With a first-team, academy, women’s team and the Ajax’s finances to oversee, you’d think Marc wouldn’t have the time to keep an eye on his former clubs’ results – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I still love Arsenal and that is the same for my wife and two children,” he says. “We follow them, we support Arsenal and we also try to visit the training ground once a year to have coffee with the boss or Steve Bould. It’s very important that there are still people working for Arsenal who were there 20 or 25 years ago. I like traditions and I have respect for the past. That’s why if we go back to visit Arsenal, it gives us a good feeling.”
Confirmed reports coming out of England indicates that Watford have beaten off a host of clubs to sign M’Baye Niang from Milan on an initial six-month deal. West Ham United, Everton, Burnley and Genoa were among the clubs interested in acquiring the mercurial 22-year-old but Walter Mazzarri was able to convince him to move to Vicarage Road until the end of the season.
Reportedly, the agreement with Milan also includes an option to buy the player for £13.5m in the summer, which is optional unless he plays a certain amount of matches. If he reaches that number, then Watford will have to sign the French-born forward for the agreed fee. The player first wanted a permanent deal straight away but agreed to a temporary switch after talks on Thursday.
Walter Mazzarri’s side have also completed the signing of the Argentinian forward Mauro Zárate from Fiorentina. The 29-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal from the Serie A team, where he has scored four goals in nine starts this season.
In all of these, one is constrained to ask: what is the fate of our own Odion Ighalo if Watford are not sparing the cash in bringing in other strikers?
Admittedly, Ighalo has been below his normally impressive goal-scoring standards this term – he’s scored a miserly 2 goals in 20 appearances compared to last season when he notched 14 goals in 28 games at this stage of the season – so you will understand Watford’s decision from a business point of view.
Having been a subject of transfer speculation from Chinese clubs and a firm bid from Premier League club West Ham, Ighalo runs the risk of seeing his value drop should he continue to sit on the bench at Vicarage Road.
Football is played in the here and now so it will be remiss of Ighalo to think staying put at Watford and trying to force his way into the team will work.
If I were him or his adviser, he should put pressure on Watford to accept a bid – even if it’s a loan – from West Ham so he could go and face a fresh challenge and rediscover his form.
Ighalo is not a bad player. Not now. Not before. But like all strikers going through a goal-drought, he’s just short on confidence.
All he needs is a change of scene and you can bet he will soon be back scoring goals. I trust him. You should too.
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka is a talented player but a conflicted person, apparently on and off the pitch.
24 hours after he was sent off during his team’s 2-1 victory in the Premier League, the Swiss was involved in another incident, this time potentially more serious than just the small matter of missing a couple of games.
The Arsenal midfielder was reportedly interviewed under caution by police following an allegation he racially abused an airline staff member at Heathrow on Monday night.
The Switzerland international is believed to have been with a friend who had visited him in London and was returning home.
The friend was understood to have arrived late for his flight back to Germany and was not allowed to board and Xhaka was at this point infuriated and allegedly racially abused a member of the airline staff.
Arsenal have declined to comment other than to say it is a private matter that is now in the hands of the police.
However, beyond the decision of the club not to comment on this latest infraction by the player, there are underlying currents capable of bursting to the surface at anytime if Xhaka’s issue is not decisively addressed.
Already there are reports of an impending showdown talks between Arsene Wenger and the player whom he had accused of punishing the team each time he gets himself into avoidable trouble on the pitch.
Xhaka is undoubtedly gifted. One of the better performers in his position in the Premier League so far this season. But like all gifted but troubled prodigies, the 24-year old risks throwing his talents down the drain if he doesn’t keep his temper in check.
One day, one trouble will not a great career make. Xhaka must take a very hard look in the mirror and decide if he likes the man staring back at him.
Will he be willing to become a truly great midfielder – which his talent suggests he can be – or will he be contented to be just another player in the midst of millions with nothing to stand him out?
The call is his alone to make but Arsenal must help him make the decision if he wants to stay and achieve great things at the club or if his stay could continue to hurt the team.
By the way, for stats freaks, Sunday’s sending off was the ninth red card shown to Xhaka in the last three years.
BRIGHT OMOKARO, better known as 10-10, was a striker’s nightmare in his day. Tough as nail, he took no prisoners as soon as he stepped on the pitch and, together with Sunday Eboigbe, he put the fear of God in any overly ambitious striker who harboured any plans of passing through his left-full back position…
In the 84th minute of the semi-final game between Nigeria and Algeria at the 1988 African Cup of Nations in Morocco on March 23 inside the Stade Moulay Abdellah in Rabat , Nigeria’s Ademola Adeshina was sent off by the Senegalese referee to leave the Eagles with 10 men against a rampaging Algerian team which had smelt blood and was going for the kill.
On the sidelines, the Nigerian coach Manfred Hoener called one of his players and told him: “Look, we are 10 men now but I know you’re a hard player so you know what to do to help your team.”
Play resumed and, within minutes the Algerian team was decimated when one of its brightest players was stretchered off after being viciously kicked by the Nigerian player who’d carried out his coach’s instruction to the letter. That player was Bright Omokaro.
Because the Algerians had exhausted their maximum three substitutes, they were forced to play with 10 men – just like their Nigerian counterparts. Thus was born the legend of 10-10.
Born Bright Edobor Omokaro in the Akpakpava area of Benin City, present day Edo State of Nigeria in 1961, the youngster started his footballing career at the Salvation Army Primary School where he was a star pupil before moving on to New Era College for his Secondary education.
At Salvation Army, he got an invitation to join the then Bendel State team which was preparing for the National Sports Festival in Lagos. Aged 12, he was a member of the team that beat all comers to win the gold medal at the festival. This success led to his admission to New Era College, a pioneer school for gifted pupils who show an aptitude for sports and learning.
The Sports Festival win, apart from earning him a place in the newly-established New Era College also earned him a reprieve from his parents who preferred that he faced his academics rather than football. On his victorious return from Lagos, his parents gave their approval for him to continue playing football.
New Era College opened up a new vista for the young Omokaro as he, alongside other equally talented youngsters such as future international player Humphrey Edobor, led the school to many a famous victory in statewide competitions and his fame quickly spread like wildfire. Simply put, he became a household name in school boy competitions of that period.
Expectedly, the hawks were not long in gathering. A certain Mr Osifo who was the games master at Edo College enticed Omokaro and other equally talented players from several secondary institutions to his school to form a super squad that would be the envy of all.
In particular, Osifo had his sights set on the international schools football competition in Spain which Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha had won in 1977 and wanted to present a squad capable of equaling the feat of the Onitsha-based boys.
Edo College duly qualified for the competition the following year in Spain but, unlike CKC before them, they couldn’t win the trophy. They placed a disappointing fifth, not because they were not good enough for the title but, according to Omokaro, deft manipulation by the organisers schemed the Nigerian boys out. It was possible, he rationalized, that the organisers did not want another Nigerian victory so soon after CKC’s win the year before.
Back in Nigeria, Omokaro joined hometown club Insurance of Benin and a flurry of brilliant performances earned him an invitation to the first-ever Flying Eagles team that was assembled to play the qualifying series for the 1979 World Youth Championship. His teammates in the team included Henry Nwosu, Humphrey Edobor, and Franklin Howard among others.
Ultimately, the team failed to make it to Japan ’79 but Omokaro and a couple of his teammates had done enough to merit call-ups to the senior national team, the Green Eagles, which was preparing to host the African Cup of Nations on home soil in 1980.
The array of established internationals in the Green Eagles at the time meant very experienced stalwarts such as Christian Chukwu, David Adiele, Okey Isima, Tunde Bamidele and Kadiri Ikhana got the nod ahead of rookies like Omokaro in the final squad which went on to win the AFCON for the first time in Nigeria’s history.
By 1982, Omokaro sought fresh challenges and moved to cross-town rival club New Nigerian Bank FC of Benin where he, alongside a generation of young players from his Flying Eagles days helped to put the club on international pedestal by winning the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup back to back in 1983 and ’84 before winning the national league in 1985.
It was at NNB that Omokaro became a fully established international. With Sunday Eboigbe, he formed a two-man terror squad for club and country which terrorized opposing strikers across the length and breadth of Africa. They built up such a fearsome reputation that the fear of Omokaro/Eboigbe was the beginning of survival for any discerning striker.
He enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at NNB, the most productive in the club’s history, as the Benin side became one of the country’s best clubsides while upstaging traditional power-houses like Rangers, IICC and Insurance among others.
What made NNB such a force to be reckoned with, you ask?
He explains: “Firstly, NNB was fun because most of the players were friends who had played together at one time or the other in their career. We also had lots of gifted players coming from all over to sign. I joined NNB from Insurance, Keshi and Nwosu joined from ACB of Lagos and so on. Henry Nwosu, Keshi and the rest were my teammates in the Flying Eagles so it was like a reunion for us. The club was well-run and the players were taken care of so we had no choice but to give our best. The team spirit and commitment was awesome and it reflected in the results we got on the pitch.”
Omokaro played over 40 games for Nigeria but his most memorable will be at the AFCON in Morocco in 1988 when the Super Eagles played Algeria at the semi-final stage. Abderrazak Belgherbi’s own-goal had given Nigeria a first-half lead and the Eagles seemed to be coasting home to victory until the 84th minute when Senegalese referee Sene Badara sent off Ademola Adeshina and the Algerians capitalized on their numerical advantage to equalize two minutes later.
They also threatened to score as they launched waves after waves of attack so the Eagles coach, Manfred Hoener called Omokaro to the sidelines and asked him to use his hardman tactics to help the team. The direct outcome was that Algeria were also reduced to ten players when their player was hacked down and taken away on a stretcher. He couldn’t be replaced because his team had made the mandatory three changes so the game became ‘balanced’ at 10 men apiece.
The game ended 1-1 and Nigeria went on to win a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out 9-8 but the game was to become world famous for Omokaro’s tackle which, in today’s game, would be deemed malicious and actionable.
“I escaped a booking in that game but I agree if it had happened today it could have earned my a long suspension or, possibly, a life-time ban from football. Rules are different today and even if you escaped the referee on the pitch, you will still be punished on video evidence,” Omokaro explained the career-defining moment in Morocco 29 years ago.
I get curious and asked if he would give the same instruction he got from his manager to his own player today in order to win a game.
“No, no, no. I told you times have changed and so have the rules. I always want to win but I won’t give that kind of instructions. There are other technical instructions on man-marking which could render the opposition players ineffective rather than kick them out of the game. No, I won’t do that,” he said firmly.
Back from Morocco, the nickname stuck particularly after then president Ibrahim Babangida also called him 10-10 at a state reception in the team’s honour, today, 17 years after retiring from the game, many still remember him by the sobriquet rather than his real name.
“When we returned to the country during the state honorary dinner at Dodan Barracks, the president then, General Ibrahim Babangida asked me: ‘Bright, how did you make 10-10?’ That was how the name stuck and I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve Nigeria in that capacity. I’m not sure any other occupation could have brought such fame. People still call me 10-10 even today wherever I go.”
A born champion, Omokaro teamed up with 3SC of Ibadan in time to be part of the team that won the first-ever CAF Cup in 1993. He also won a league and Cup double in 1995 before going all the way to the finals of the Champions Cup with the team before losing in the finals to Zamalek of Egypt in 1996.
At the end of that season, he called time on his illustrious career after making a huge mark on the left-full back position for club and country for close to two decades.
Manchester United huffed and puffed at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday before a last-gasp effort by Wayne Rooney – his record-breaking 250th to become club’s all-time leading scorer – helped saved the blushes of manager Jose Mourinho and the hordes of travelling fans who still harbour a glimmer of hope that the Red Devils could still hunt runaway leaders Chelsea down to claim the Premier League title.
This was a full-squad with all the regulars including leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the performance, if not the result, laid bare a stark reality: United are gradually becoming Zlatan-dependent.
An off-day for the big Swede demonstrated that Manchester United may have become too reliant on the striker which means when he’s unavailable or marked out, the team will struggle.
Ibrahimovic has scored 14 league goals; Pogba and Mata are the next-highest scorers with four each.
With the former Barcelona frontman marked superbly by Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi, Mourinho needed one of his other forwards to seize responsibility as the game threatened to drift away from United.
Paul Pogba had his moments, almost equalising with a fierce volley in the first half and prising Stoke open with several driving runs and astute passes, while Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were pretty, but ineffective in the areas that mattered.
That lack of ruthlessness continues to harm United’s chances of Champions League qualification while Mourinho deserves criticism for an overly functional starting XI.
Stoke are vulnerable to pace but Marcus Rashford was on the bench – and Anthony Martial was left out altogether.
United are still mathematically in contention in four competitions and Mourinho will need to get his other players scoring if he desires to win any of the four.
Tactically, he could tweak the team around in such a way that it becomes less-reliant on one single player but optimizes its efficiency as a collective fighting unit.
Or, on the contrary, he could keep hoping that the 35-year old will keep being in pristine condition and keep scoring more and more goals to see United through to the glory days.
Rivers United trip to face FC Ifeanyiubah for a matchday 4 encounter in Nnewi on Wednesday and team’s Technical manager Stanley Eguma has stern words for his team’s tendency to struggle in the latter stages of games which leaves them unable to convert the avalanche of goalscoring opportunities that come their way.
United’s home games this season have followed a particular pattern: almost total domination of their opponents, especially in the aspect of chances created but putting the goalscoring opportunities away have seemingly been extremely difficult, a situation that has left Eguma exasperated.
“We could not convert the avalanche of chances (that came our way against Niger Tornadoes on Sunday) despite creating so many and that is a big worry to me. It’s a big worry for me and one of the biggest headaches I am facing at present.
“We will represent Nigeria on the continent and should be scoring goals freely but that is not happening. We have to go back and work on this,” he told the club’s official website, http://www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Ivorien striker, Guy Kuemian Venance, who netted United’s solitary goal against Tornadoes on Sunday shares Eguma’s sentiments and insists he and his teammates must improve in their efficiency in the final third.
“We cannot continue like this because failing to score when you have chances puts you under enormous pressure.
“In our first home match (of the season against El-Kanemi Warriors), we should have scored six or seven and it was the same situation (against Tornadoes on Sunday).
“The coach (Eguma) has every right to be unhappy because we all know the amount of hard work he puts in in the training ground every day.
“Now, we must work extremely hard ahead of our next game against a very difficult opponent like FC Ifeanyiubah,” he said.
The Pride of Rivers have won two and drawn one of their opening three games of the season, amassing seven out of a possible nine points and sit in joint second-place with ABS but behind early front-runners Plateau United who have the only 100% record in the league.
Orebro SK of Sweden’s prized asset, Michael Omoh feels Nigerians need not develop grey hair about Super Eagles’ chances against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The former Dalkurd FC enforcer congratulated Cameroon over their recent feat at the 2017 AFCON where they defeated Egypt 2-1 to lift the trophy for the fifth time, but warned that Nigeria will be battle ready to take on their West African rivals in August.
He said: “Of course right now, they’ve got a lot of confidence because they are African champions, and facing them will be a really good game, but Super Eagles will win at the end of the day. Yes we can match them surely; we’ve got a great team as well.”
The 25-year old all-action midfield supremo also restated his confidence in the ability of current national team boss Gernot Rohr to lead Nigeria to a sixth World Cup appearance.
“I think we’re going do well and go far with Rohr’s tactics and the team we have at the moment. The coach has really done a lot to make the team as good as it right now,” he added.
Nigeria lead the group with six points from two matches and two more wins could be enough to cement her place in Russia next year.
A win for Nigeria over Cameroon would put the Indomitable Lions World Cup chances in jeopardy as the Lions sit second with two points while Zambia and Algeria who have both lost to Nigeria, have one point each.
Hugo Broos’ men are now in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup in spite of winning AFCON and having some of the continent’s most in-form players.
The first leg of the double header comes up in Uyo, Akwa Ibom in South-south Nigeria on August 28 while the return leg will be played five days later in Yaounde, Cameroun.