ON AFRICA’S ‘9.5’ SLOTS AT THE 2026 WORLD CUP

So what has been making the rounds since the start of the year following FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s proposal to extend the most glamorous football tourney became reality this week. The FIFA council during a meeting in Bahrain this week ratified the decision expanding the allocation for teams from 32 to 48, with this decision, here is what each continent has now being allocated,

Allocation:

Asia: 8 direct slots- increased from 4.5 (currently 46 members)

Africa: 9 direct slots – increased from 5 (currently 54 members)

North and central America: 6 direct slots – increased from 3.5 (currently 34 members)

South America: 6 direct slots – increased from 4.5 (currently 10 members)

Oceania: 1 direct slot – increased from 0.5 (currently 11 members)

Europe: 16 direct slots – increased from 13 (currently 55 members)

Final two places in 2026 to be taken by the host nation and decided by six-team play-offs, in which an African team will stand a chance of an extra slot, this is something that the Confederation of African Football has lobbied towards achieving for a while now though it was rumored that the former head Issa Hayatou was not predisposed to this, but changes at both FIFA and CAF has ensured that the changes have taken place.

When the issue of an expansion was first raised, a lot of top football voices aired their opinions with support for the cause coming largely from Asia and Africa, the President of the German Football Association Reinhard Grindel, was quoted as saying, “I am not happy with the decision and would have wished that all the important questions about the organisation and the format had been completely resolved,” But since the decision was taken unanimously by the FIFA council, it is important to respect it and look forward. My main worry is that the attractiveness of the matches will suffer.”

Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish league also was in disagreement saying “FIFA is doing politics. Gianni Infantino is doing politics”. FIFA however had the likes of Manchester United gaffer Jose Mourinho on its side, the Portuguese tactician welcomed the idea, “More nations taking part means more passion, more happiness, more enthusiasm. More countries mean more Africans, Asians, Americans together.

What the expansion translates to is that from 2026, 48 teams will take part in 16 groups of 3 teams (which doesn’t even make sense in itself) unlike the 8 groups of 4 that we have been accustomed to, with top two progressing to the knock-out stages, the total number of games will increase from 64 to 80, many have questioned if these changes is actually for the good of the game or more from political and financial grounds.

From an African perspective, I do not see this as something to get excited about, as the World Cup which many have even claimed to be less glamorous in comparison with the UEFA Champions League may actually now be likened to the Europa League in terms of competitiveness, attraction and quality of teams on display.

The most teams that Africa has previously had at the World Cup was six in 2010 when South Africa hosted, they were joined by Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast and the farthest any African team has gone in the competition is the Quarter final stages with Cameroon in 1990; Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. It is worthy to note that since the inception of the world cup in 1930, the tournament which will have its 21st edition hold next year in Russia has only had eight winners, five from Europe and three from South America, the African teams did not do too well in the last edition at Brazil and have not exactly set the world ablaze in performances over the course of the last four years, we no longer even have an African Player coming close to the top 10 list of best footballers, the best of talents are in Europe’s major leagues, the majority of funds for football development is concentrated in Europe and lately China, the standards of CAF organized competitions have dropped and the leading Nations in African football like Egypt and Nigeria even struggle to qualify for local tournaments, it is thus very unclear how an increase in the numbers of teams that will be representing Africa will change the fundamental influence on the game on these teams and even in the World Cup.

The African Nations cup which was last hosted by Gabon earlier in the year and saw Cameroon winning their fifth title only features 16 teams and of the 16, it is really hard to point beyond eight teams as quality teams in the competition, so with the likelihood of 9 or 10 out of this pool featuring on the major stage, many fear that whilst it may be a jamboree of new faces, it could also be match practice and one sided games when matched against top oppositions. Egypt were the first African side to play at the World Cup in 1934 and it wasn’t until 1982 when the slot was doubled. Following impressive showings by the likes of Cameroon, Africa earned an extra slot in 1994 and in 1998 was increased to its current five. The slots seemingly have grown organically over the editions following the performances displayed by the African teams, one now begin to wonder, which African team of late has impressed on the International scene leading to an increase from five to nine automatic slots. Football in Africa have not reached the potential that many believe is present within its shores, African clubs have not caused major upsets in the World Club competitions and African players are no longer lighting up leagues across the world.

The argument has been made that worse teams don’t exactly lead to worse games and if these teams don’t get a chance to showcase what they have on the big stage, then one can never know the extent of their abilities. Big name teams matching up also don’t translate to competitive and better games (Germany VS Brazil comes to mind), but would you rather watch Germany route Brazil or stay up to see Italy play Djibouti? The World Cup is an elite tournament commanding the highest number of viewers and sponsorship and it is important that the competitive nature of the tournament must not be allowed to drop, blow-out results are not exactly low quality games but the type of football on display, the technicality, tactics, coaching and pattern on display at every single World Cup game is what  has made it the global event it is today, and if the World Cup in 2026 features nations who can’t display these attributes, then it has begun to reward mediocrity.

2026 is still a long time and many things will change; increased revenue over quality, inclusiveness over elitism, but an expansion for expansion sake may just be an idea too grand for what is football’s most historic competition.

 

Halftimeng’s World Cup 2014 “Not so Best 11”

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Many football websites and pundits have come up with their best eleven this and that from the just concluded FIFA World Cup, we at Halftimeng have decided to select our “not so best 11”. We are quite sure you won’t disagree with many or most of our choices as we have decided to go with a 3-4-3 formation.

Talk about having a poor start to a tournament; Igor Akinfeev did himself no good with his error in the opening game of Russia’s campaign in Brazil. Portuguese defender, Pepe continues to defy all human reasoning with his psycho type tantrums put paid to what ever chance Portugal had of making an impression at this World Cup with his Red card in Portugal’s opening game. The sight of the Germans would sicken David Luiz right now and his performance would worry PSG who had just dropped  #50Million for his services. To complete our not so best 11 rear guard is Phil Jagielka,  who epitomised the calamity that was the Three Lions squad to the World Cup, little wonder some are calling for the return of erstwhile captain, John Terry.

Rueben Gabriel

In Midfield is Rueben Gabriel; for a player who is previous club coach expressed utmost surprise at his selection in the Super Eagles of Nigeria squad. Despite a 20 goal season from Midfield for EPL champions, Yaya Toure posted a rather disappointing showing at the Mundial, leading to a first round exit for the Cote D’Ivoire. He is joined by his club colleague; Fernandinho, who was quite disappointing and seemed to be more concerned with maiming his opponents

Eden Hazard completes the midfield quartet with a rather pitiful performance for a player of his ability; he was supposed to carry Belgium on his shoulder through the competition but failed woefully.

saurez bite

The Attack line is the funny part; from the Biting chronicles of Luis Saurez to the injury stricken, lack of confidence in a support cast that’s Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to a striking identity crisis that’s Brazil with a player named Fred leading the line; what more can we say than that only a clueless manager like Roy Hodgson is capable of managing this crack squad.

 

Not-So-Best-11

Its a Four Course Meal of South America v Europe

Some excited fans in the stands.
Some excited fans in the stands.

 

Rio, Brazil. In Rome it’s often said, No Totti no party, well same applies in Brazil, no Neymar no Samba party. The World Cup party however would go on without Neymar and its Semi-final day, Brazil v Germany and Argentina v Netherlands.

 

Neymar scores from the spot.
Neymar scores from the spot.

Brazil came through what was meant to be their most difficult test yet against Columbia in the Quarter-final albeit after a late scare from James Rodriguez. The match was as physical as it could possibly get with both teams adopting a strong approach against both Rodriguez and Neymar with the later suffering a broken vertebra in his back ruling him out for the rest of the competition. With Neymar out fear is Brazil would fail to tick, while that might be a little closer to the truth it is far from reality. The Germans are as good a team as there is in the competition, no single outstanding player carrying the whole team, everyone working together as a unit. That’s what Brazil need in the Semi-final, a team effort. With Neymar chances are we would get an individual effort with a supporting cast from the rest of the team. The match in the Round of 16 against Chile was a perfect example, a physical approach from Chile should have prompted the Brazilians to play as a team….well that didn’t happen, Neymar still held on to the ball and got his knee and thighs bruised. Now against Germany they would be forced to play as a team and divert attention elsewhere, makes for a fascinating contest. Key for the Brazilians would be defender and Captain for the day David Luiz, with Thiago Silva suspended the onus is on Luiz to lead the defence and team. And also Oscar, with Neymar absent he is the only one with the skills to drive the Brazilians forward and cause Manuel Neuer problems.

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The Germans are as consistent as they get, making it to their record 4th straight semi-final of the World Cup. The only problem is they have not made it to the final since 1990, that’s 24years ago. There has always been a missing link and it doesn’t appear to be fixed. In the competition so far, they have only convinced against Portugal, struggling somewhat with Ghana, the USA, Algeria and France. The match with Brazil poses a different kind of obstacle, the host nation with a whole country behind them. Key for the Germans would be top scorer Thomas Muller and Goalkeeper sweeper and False 5 Manuel Neuer. Neuer is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world with fantastic performances all tournament, he would need another against the Brazilians.

german machine

The Brazilians should be too much for the Germans especially on home soil with their speed and skill causing them problems. The Germans however do have a stronger midfield but would find it difficult to control if Fernandinho plays like he did against Columbia. Brazil might scrape through but Neuer would have other ideas.

Second Semi-final pitches Argentina against Netherland. Lionel Messi has finally begun to live up to his talent on the international stage with 4 goals so far in the tournament and a bunch of assists. He has led his team with inspiring performances and would again be key against the Dutch. With Angel Di Maria out as well, focus would shift unto Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi to support Messi and take their chances when it comes.

messi

The Netherlands have a new king in Louis Van Gaal, much credited for his decision to bring in Tim Krul for the penalty shoot out against Costa Rica. Krul made two saves and all hail Van Gaal. The Dutch would be looking for a repeat performance in the 2010 World Cup, were they made it to the final and lost to Spain. Here however they would be looking to go one better and actually win the competition.

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They have been inspiring so far in the competition beating Spain, Chile and Australia, however they came unstuck against Mexico and Costa Rica needing two goals in the last two minutes against the former and penalties against the latter. Key for them has been talisman Arjen Robben who is the Netherlands answer to Lionel Messi. All his skill would be required against an Argentine defence that struggled somewhat against Nigeria.

Van Gaal

Expect a cagey affair with both teams feeling each other out and then the match exploding into life late on, Robben being to hot to handle for the Argentine defence and the Dutch midfield winning the day. Messi on the other hand, looking for that one moment to change the whole landscape.

In conclusion the semi- final is going to be an interesting affair for different reasons, Neymar out, Messi so close to fulfilling the only dream left on his resume, the Dutch looking to banish past painful memories at the World Cup and Germany looking to avoid the tags of the nearly men. Whatever happens hold on tight to your seat belts and enjoy the ride.

Dining at a table for Eight (Tola Ogunlewe)

Neymar scores from the spot.
Neymar scores from the spot.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup continues to deliver block buster performances that defy comprehension with records broken almost on a daily basis. Winning your second round match guaranteed you a sit at a table only for eight of the best teams  in the world.

 

It’s Neymar against Rodriguez, its Benzema against Muller, its Hazard against Messi and its Campell against Robben. It is the World Cup Quarter-Final.

For the first time in history all winners of the eight groups made it to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup, many of the teams not surprising but for Costa Rica who have continued to impress. Least of their triumph was defeating Greece in the Round of 16, after all they had eliminated England and Italy to top their group. Next up it’s the formidable Dutch team, rejuvenated under new Manchester United Boss Louis Van Gaal who themselves had to come through a tough outing against a very determined Mexican team and in particular Guielmo Ochoa, one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament. Jose Luis Pinto has had 13 jobs in the last 10 years but you wouldn’t know that with the way the team has been performing, carrying out his instructions to perfection and making themselves very difficult to defeat. They have only conceded two goals all tournament. Star man Joel Campbell should be fit for the Costa Ricans as their answer to Arjen Robben, his performance would be key as they would look to catch Van Gaal’s side on the break. For Robben its much of the same terrorise and tantalize the opposition defence until a breakthrough arrives or in the alternative look to talismanic striker Robin Van Persie for the goals. If the World Cup has thought us anything so far, it’s that this game would be tight in the blazing heat and the Costa Ricans wouldn’t mind going all the way to a penalty shoot out.

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France and Germany rekindle old rivalries on the biggest stage of them all, for Germany it’s a chance to reach yet another semi-final of a major tournament, for France it’s a chance to tread waters they have not tested since they won the tournament on home soil in 1998. The Germans you may say scrapped past the Algerians in the Round of 16 no less to their ability to throw away guilt edge chances, that’s where Thomas Muller comes in. 4 goals in the competitions so far and one away from James Rodriguez, he would fancy his chances against a French team who would come to play, a tactic that would favour the Germans attacking and possession football with Toni Kroos running the midfield. France got past Nigeria but only just with a late goal from Paul Pogba settling their nerves. They would need a better performance against the Germans to progress.

nigeria_vs_messi_june

Finally Lionel Messi has dazzled at a major tournament not called the Under 20 World Cup. Having previously failed to light up the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, he has taken this tournament by the horn and neck and ankle. 4 goals in the tournament so far and distinguishing performances in all matches, surely this has to be his year. Cristiano Ronaldo has fallen by the way wide but a new star has also emerged in James Rodriguez, Messi would want to prove he is still here to stay. He was the difference against a bullish Swiss side who pushed them to within two minutes of penalties, setting up Angel Di Maria for the winning goal. Against the Belgians who have not really gotten into their stride with a string of unimpressive performances so far, the Argentines would look to exploit their inexperience at this level while Mark Wilmots would be looking to prove that this golden generation is here to stay. They got past the United States of America but only just, Secretary of Defence, as he has been called, Tim Howard with an heroic performance to keep the Belgians at bay for so long. It should be a tight affair with both teams parading star players but a little bit of magic here or there should be the difference.

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Perhaps the most anticipated match of the Quarter Final round Brazil v Columbia, poster boy Neymar v James Rodriguez. Brazil have not lifted this World Cup with their performances so far but if the last time they won the competition in 2002 is anything to go by then the end would justify the means. Against Chile they struggled albeit after Neymar was kicked off the park, the defence which I believe is still the best at the tournament looked tired and shaky, there were no penetrating passes up front with Fred and later Jo looking dismal in front of goal. For the most part Columbia have impressed, doing so without talisman and Real Madrid target Radamel Falcao. Well they have a new talisman, James Rodriguez, 5 goals 4 assist, superstar looks and a country on his shoulders, he has not disappointed. His supporting cast deserve an Oscar as well, Cuardado, Quintero and Armero have all shone. The match promises to be anything but a cagey affair with both teams coming to play. Brazil with everything to lose and nothing really to gain, after all they are meant to win the tournament on home soil and Columbia with nothing to lose and everything to gain, get ready for end to end action with no team looking to back down. Managers Jose Pekerman and Felipe Scolari are as experienced as they get with years managing at the top level and their tactics would be key. The Columbians are less likely to kick Neymar but then again the Brazil defence has not faced a more skilled player in Rodriguez at the tournament so far. Expect fireworks with probably Brazil being too strong for them.

The business end of the World Cup is upon us and only three wins stand in the way of all 8 teams in the quarters……do not bet against anyone, even Costa Rica.

Written by

Tola Ogunlewe

Halftimeng.com Super Eagles World Cup 2014 Score Card

Our score card will only focus on those that saw some form of action during the four games the Super Eagles played in Brazil 2014.

Enyeama 1

Vincent Enyeama: Colossal, Commanding and reliable; the difference between presence in the second round and elimination from the Group stage.  Halftimeng Score : 8/10

Efe Ambrose: Not a specialist full back, but has made the position his own. Delivery in attacking positions could have been better. Halftimeng score : 6/10

Juwon Oshaniwa: Surprisingly put up a competent display at left back despite the fears of many Nigerians.  Halftimeng score : 5/10

yobo

Joseph Yobo: Experience cannot be bought in the market may have been suspect in certain situations, but his calmness and composure was key at certain moments. Halftimeng score : 6/10

Kenneth Omeruo

Kenneth Omeruo: Solid, determined and fearless, a bright future in prospect, Nigeria’s best defender. Halftimeng score : 7/10

Godfrey Oboabona : Injured in the first game, quite unlucky, should still have a World cup in him. Halftimeng score : 4/10

Copy of mikel

Mikel Obi: Talk about shying away from responsibility and the biggest culprit in loss of possession and concentration. Halftimeng score : 4/10

onazi halftimeng

Ogenyi Onazi: Nigeria’s best Midfielder by a country mile, unlucky to get injured at a crucial period in the second round loss to France, his tactical discipline and positioning is commendable and unmatched in the Super Eagles. Halftimeng score : 7/10

Emenike

Emmanuel Emenike: He seemed to operate from the flanks, why we would never know, a display of power and tough running. Halftimeng score : 5/10

Osaze Odemwingie: Direct, penetrative and incisive; shook off the early criticism from the coach with a string of decent performances.  Halftimeng score : 6/10

Ahmed Musa:  Held many Nigerians by the throat with his indifferent displays but found his foot against Argentina with a dazzling display. Halftimeng score : 6/10

             AHMED-MUSA-ETHIOPIA

             Ramon Azeez: seemed confused with his role in the team, may find it tough getting back into the fold. Halftimeng score : 4/10

 

            Micheal Uchebo: disappointing cameo performance, but we weren’t expecting much from him anyway. Halftimeng score : 3/10

micheal Babatunde

                        Micheal Babatunde: an unsung hero; never thought I would praise him, he did make his presence felt. Halftimeng score : 5/10

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                  Victor Moses: a totally disappointing World cup, was it an injury or complacency on his part? Halftimeng score : 3/10
                 Sola Ameobi: The Mackem Legend got his time in the spotlight and that’s all I can say about his contribution to the team. Halftimeng score : 3/10
                 Uche Nwofor: Little or no impact in his cameos. Halftimeng score : 3/10
                 Reuben Gabriel: Obviously has no business being a National Team Player. Halftimeng score : 2/10
                 Ejike Uzoenyi:  Late inclusion, not much of an impact. Halftimeng score : 3/10

 

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                Stephen Keshi:  All the best in your future endeavours, achieved the minimum; but should be more focused on merit in his future positions. Halftimeng score : 6/10

 

Lets have your score card for the Super Eagles, join the debate on twitter @halftimeng and on facebook (www.facebook.com/halftimeng)

The second round kryptonite strikes again

Permit me to jump on the Super Eagles bandwagon, even if it’s for a little bit. The Eagles have “represented us well’’; I had absolutely no faith in this team especially the composition of the final 23, which I felt reeked of various self-interest and amid unconfirmed rumours of bribes of various sums being paid to members of the coaching crew.

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I believe that we have gradually become accustomed to the fact that Stephen Keshi’s team starts slowly in competitions; this has been the hall mark of his tenure as the Super Eagles Gaffer. In terms of performance, this has to be considered our best at a world cup since 1998, but then I have my fears for the future, because we as a nation have failed to plan for the eventual exit of Stephen Keshi and the eventual departure of some players from the team, we should expect more players plying their trade in the back waters of Europe as the conveyor belt of age grade competitions continues to be maligned by cheating and age falsification.

As the departure of Stephen Keshi is imminent and the retirement of Nigeria’s first centurion; Joseph Yobo guaranteed; we chronicle the team’s performance as a collective.

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The collective called the Super Eagles had what I would call a decent World Cup, from the moment the invitees were called up, I had very little confidence in the ability of the team and its handlers like I always do going into a major competition especially due to the non-invitation of some leading lights such as Ike Uche, Taiye Taiwo,Sone Aluko, Bright Esieme etc. The team as a whole lacked depth, creativity, substance and overall quality that is ascribed to participating at a World Cup.

The Injuries

During training camp, Elderson Echiejile got injured; there went Nigeria’s ‘’best left back’’ with the only option Juwon Oshaniwa; the beginning of elevated blood pressure for Nigerians once the left side of the Eagles defence is under siege. Fast Forward to the first Match, Godfrey Oboabona gets injured, a look at the bench has the much maligned Captain and prospective Centurion; Joseph Yobo, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Kayode Odunlami ; only sensible option unlike during the Confederations Cup was to play Yobo. Micheal Babatunde, due to no fault of his breaks his wrist, Victor Moses struggled with a thigh strain through out and was a complete shadow of himself and of course the injury to Onazi just demonstrated the vulnerability of the entire squad selection.

With better options, specialist players for specific positions, selection on merit and devoid of sentiments and self-interest; the nation may have fared better.

Keshi’s Tactical Approach

It still remains unclear what Stephen Keshi’s football philosophy or tactical approach is; most times it goes from the bizarre to the utterly bedazzling. The team is set up more often than not to be difficult to defeat; this part he has succeeded in achieving. The part the reels me is the poor, slow and snail like pace of the team’s transition from defence to attack; this is despite the abundance of pace in the side, instead there is a reliance on playing the ball long. One reason why I believe this is so is the limited capabilities of our midfielders with the ball to feet; they cannot carry the ball, they cannot drive forward with the ball at their feet.

The Super Eagles Formation is also another confusing one, as a nation; Nigeria is known as a 4-4-2 playing country; but under Keshi, the Eagles have gone from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and most recently 4-2-1-3 with a certain Micheal Babatunde, the man to play in the hole; which came as a huge surprise. A man who plays somewhere worst that the back waters of Europe was saddled with the creative responsibility of the Super Eagles, hmmmmm!!!!!

micheal Babatunde

Making tough and bold Decisions

You have to say in the period of Stephen Keshi’s stewardship as head coach of the Super Eagles, he did take some tough decisions, taking 16 debutants to the victorious nations cup, keeping fate with the home based lads, dropping Yobo after the first game of the Nations cup.

Mikel Obi2

These are decisions we gave him credit for, but if you ask me tactically Keshi was quite restrictive and predictable; his approach was in no way imaginative nor innovative. Take for example the performances of Mikel Obi at the World Cup, it left a foul taste in the mouth for most Super Eagles Supporters, but then you would say who would replace him. I would answer by saying the coach left himself with no choice especially with the fact that he took only 5 midfielders to the competition. What about the Onazi injury? It left us bare as the only supposed replacement was a man with no club affiliation. There was no alteration of tactics as our best midfielder was stretched off, Didier Deschamps instead reacted immediately with a substitution to utilize the spaces available due to the exit of Onazi.

onazi halftimeng

I also once opined that why can’t Keshi’s Eagles play three at the back bearing in mind that he took six central defenders to the world cup, leaving specialist full backs like Bright Esieme, Taiye Taiwo, Mutiu Adegoke etc off his list. Take a look at Holland, playing around their limitations and getting the best out of the team; some would say I am comparing apples with Oranges here, but the same people predicted doom for Holland as Van Gaal filed out with a back 3 against erstwhile World Champions, Spain. It’s called having Balls, big Balls to take the big bold decisions.

NFF LOGO

What does the Future hold

Well, knowing NFF and our ways we will dance around naked for some months thinking of who to appoint as the new manager because the talent pool from the Class of 1994 is quite thin; which foreign coach worth his onions would want to work under conditions where he would be owed salaries for seven months or more. As far as I am concerned this is a clear case of failing to plan; it has been audible to the deaf that Keshi was on his way to South Africa; why not put in place a successor or are we saying Daniel Amokachi is the heir apparent? Take the Dutch for example, it has been well documented the coaching changes that would be made up till the 2018 World Cup and these individuals are either already part of the coaching crew or already waiting in the wings.

Keshi at CC

Which way Nigeria?

Conclusively; Stephen Keshi deserves commendation for putting Nigerian football back on the Map, let’s take away the less than complementary issues that surrounded his reign; he put a smile back on the faces of Nigerians and made people believe in the team again; for this we say a big thank you to the Big Boss.

Nigeria’s run in Brazil 2014, so far so good? – Lanre Adenmosun

headrubDisappointment is an understatement to what over 50% of the population of the biggest black nation, Nigeria felt after her first outing in 2014 world cup currently going on in Brazil.

Nigeria played her first game against Iran which ended in a boring goalless draw. A pundit went on to tag the game as the most boring game of the tournament so far and a bad advertisement for African football, and in a group that has Edin Dzeko’s Bosnia Herzegovina and four time balon d’or winner Lionel Messi’s Argentina, getting maximum points against a Carlos Quieroz led Iran seemed like the only opportunity the African champions of will have to make it out of the group.

Mikel-ObiHowever, it has been a tournament of upsets so far as World and European champions, Spain crashed out in the group stages after their first two games. A whitewash against the Netherlands and a two nil defeat in the hands of Alexis Sanchez’s Chile. Spain is even yet to score a goal from open play interestingly. Also, the three lions of England are without a single point after their first two games and have been eliminated from the competition. Nigeria will be hoping for that sort of upset when they file out against Bosnia in the next game and also Argentina in the last game of the group.

Looking at the game against Iran and you just must be confused at Nigeria’s style of play, that is if there was any at all. The Super Eagles looked clueless on how to go about the business of attacking Iran, John Obi Mikel who ended up winning the man of the match award by fifa much to the surprise of many, looked tired and demoralized, playing and passing the ball at a walking pace.

imagesEmmanuel Emenike looked a child missing his parents upfront as he seemed to have completely been forgotten by the midfielders. Ramon Azeez whom we gather made the team because of his brilliance in training ahead of Sunday Mba and a couple of other experienced guys went on to show on the night that indeed ‘Form is temporal, Class is permanent’, but looking at it critically, a large portion of the blame should go to Stephen Keshi and his technical crew because Ramon Azeez is more of a defensive midfielder than attacking. He plays a deeper role in midfield for his Spanish club Almeria.

And that brings me to Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha’s comments on Keshi. Okocha went on to question Keshi’s tactics, substitutions and technical approach approach, he questioned some of Keshi’s decisions before and during the game, I couldn’t agree less with him. Keshi also hasn’t been mute, he went on to blame Osazie Odemwingie who so many think was even more effective in the last 10 minutes of the game when he came on, saying he didn’t play to instruction, what ever the instruction was, we do not know. Keshi also went on to say he is not God and that he can only try everything humanly possible against Bosnia but can’t assure Nigerians of all three points in that game.

EaglesIranWith a key player in the heart of defense Godfrey Oboabona out to injury, Nigerians have everything to worry about coming up against the goal hungry attacking pair of Dzeko and Ibisevic. I expect to see a more determined side against Bosnia. Sometimes, the better your opposition, the better your performance. I expect Osaze Odemwingie to start ahead of Ahmed Musa, I expect Ramon Azeez and Ogenyi Onazi to play behind John Obi Mikel since he is the most creative of all our midfielders at the world cup, how sad. I don’t want to drag us into the Ik Uche saga but I think we miss him so much in the team.

The defense got an above average rating in the last game in my head, but hey, it was Iran who didn’t even really attack, but when they did, the defense was up to it. I think Joseph Yobo’s experience will be key in the game against Bosnia and so I expect him to start in that game. And above all, I pray for all three points.

super-eagles1I have learn over time that impossibility is nothing, and remember this is football, anything can happen . Go Eagles!!!

Thanks for reading.

FIFA WORLD CUP 2014: Group H Preview – Tola Ogunlewe

BELGIUM.

images (1)Perhaps the team with the most potential in the World Cup, Belgium qualified unbeaten with a national record of seven consecutive wins. Having qualified for six World Cup tournaments in succession between 1982 and 2002 and reaching the knockout phase five times, this is perhaps Belgium’s most talented squad in decades. They are currently ranked 11th in the world.

This is Belgium’s golden generation with stars including Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel, Thibaut Courtois and Vicent Kompany to mention a few. Hazard has to be the star of the show with a string of impressive performances for Chelsea all season earning the award of PFA Young Player of the Year Award in England and being touted as heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Performances from Kompany at the back would also be crucial to Belgium’s progress as the defender captained Manchester City to Barclays Premier League glory last season.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmot, a former captain of the national team took over in June 2012 and has guided his side from 54th in the world rankings to an impressive 5th. Having been assistant manager for three years before taking over as manager, he knows this Belgium team in and out and would relish the challenge of living up to the hype of his team. Should all his stars perform, it isn’t farfetched to see Belgium going deep in the tournament.

This is Belgium’s final 23-man squad for the World Cup.

Goalkeepers:Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, on loan from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Sammy Bossut (Zulte Waregem).

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).

Midfielders: Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele (both Tottenham), Steven Defour (Porto), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg).

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, on loan from Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli).

ALGERIA.

images (2)The Desert foxes of Algeria are one of Africa’s representatives at the World Cup and the only Arab nation in the finals. They qualified beating Burkina Faso over two legs in the play-off round of the African qualifiers. As the first African nation to win two matches in the same World Cup tournament in 1982, Algeria have not progressed out of the group stage at their two other appearances in 1986 and 2010. They are currently ranked 22nd in the world.

Algeria boasts an array of stars at this tournament including Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia who turned down the chance to play for France at an early age. His performances would be critical to the Algeria’s chances in this group, a group in which they are the dark horses behind Russia and Belgium. Nabil Bentaleb of Tottenham Hotspur is another player to look out for. He broke into the Spurs first team this season and is being touted as a player with a bright future in the game. What better way to announce your appearance than on the grandest stage of them all.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic formerly coach of the Ivory Coast has brought his discipline to the squad and many in the game are touting his side to be one of the dark horses in the tournament.

This is Algeria’s final 23 man squad for the World Cup.

Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (CSKA Sofia), Cedric Si Mohamed (CS Constantine), Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche (USM Alger).

Defenders: Essaid Belkalem (Watford, on loan from Granada), Madjid Bougherra (Lekhwya Club), Liassine Cadamuro (Mallorca), Faouzi Ghoualm (Napoli), Rafik Halliche (Academica Coimbra), Aissa Mandi (Stade Reims), Carl Medjani (Valenciennes), Djamel Mesbah (Livorno), Mehdi Mostefa (AC Ajaccio).

Midfielders: Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham), Yasine Brahimi (Granada), Medhi Lacen (Getafe), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan), Hassan Yebda (Udinese).

Forwards: Abdelmoumene Djabou (Club Africain), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Nabil Ghilas (Porto), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon, Portugal), Hilal Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb).

RUSSIA.

download (1)Russia qualified top of group F edging out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the process. They have been at the World Cup finals on two separate occasions since becoming an independent nation but failed to qualify from the group stage both times. Russia is currently ranked 19th in the world.

Russia’s strength is in their defence, defence heading by four CSKA Moscow players who have been an integral part of the Russian team in recent times. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and defender Sergei Ignashevich would be crucial at the back but perhaps it is in midfield their strengths lie. Midfielder Alan Dzagoev also of CSKA Moscow is the player to watch, gifted and technically sound he is the engine room of the Russian team and the man who creates the chances and makes the team tick. An impressive performance from him at the tournament might well see him move to a bigger club over the closed season.

Manager Fabio Capello is a man with vast experience having previously managed power houses such as England on the international scene and the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid at club level. Under him Russia have steadily continued their rise in World football and would look to improve on performances at 2008 European Championships.

Russia’s final 23 man squad for the World Cup is;

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan).

Defenders: Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow).

Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg).

Forwards: Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow).

SOUTH KOREA.

downloadSouth Korea narrowly qualified for the World Cup having finished second to Iran and edging out Uzbekistan on goal difference in Group A of the Asian qualifiers. Having hosted the competition in 2002 with Japan, they shocked the World by knocking out Italy and finished fourth. It was their best ever performance at the finals and one they would likely not forget in a hurry.

Key players for the team include 21 year old Son Heung Min and 24 year old Kim Young-Gwon whose performances in midfield and defence respectively would set the Koreans in motion. Son Heung Min is Bayern Leverkusen’s most expensive player and he dazzled the Bundesliga last season. He would be hoping for a similar performance in Brazil.

Manager Hong Myung-Bo would well be remembered for his performances at 2002 World Cup which saw the red army finish fourth on home soil. He was the national replacement for the job as they search for leadership qualities in their new manger. He would look to use his personal experience to push his team forward and lead them to an unlikely qualification for the knock-out round.

This is South Korea’s final 23 man squad for the World Cup.

Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryeong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Horang-i), Lee Bum-young (Busan I’Park)

Defenders: Yun Suk-young (QPR), Kim Young-kwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Hwang Seok-ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Horang-i), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Joo-ho (Mainz)

Midfielders: Ki Seung-yueng (Sunderland, on loan from Swansea), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jung-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg).

Forwards: Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Horang-i).

FIFA WORLD CUP BLOG -Day 1- #HALFTIMENGWC2014

It’s the 20th edition of the World Cup and it got under way with a very colourful opening ceremony and a game shrouded with controversies as the host nation, Brazil defeated Croatia by 3-1.

This is a page that will serve you updates, pictures, videos, embedded tweets and match reports during the duration of the biggest football spectacle.  We will also be getting live updates from our man on ground during the tournament.

Hop on, let’s go for a jolly good ride to the samba land on HalftineNG.

THE OPENING CEREMONY

Some excited fans in the stands.
Some excited fans preparing for the biggest show-piece.

It all began with a loud, glitzy and glamorous opening ceremony in the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. The focus at the opening ceremony was on the “three treasures of Brazil” – nature, people and football, the “true Brazilian art form.”

The light ball..
The light ball..
Performers are led by Brazilian pop singer Claudia Leitte (C) as they take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014, prior to the opening Group A football match between Brazil and Croatia.  AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS XAVIER MARITFRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images
Performers are led by Brazilian pop singer Claudia Leitte (C) as they take part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014, prior to the opening Group A football match between Brazil and Croatia. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS XAVIER MARITFRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images

This particular actors got me really thrilled.

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And here comes the Official theme song performed by Singers Jennifer Lopez, Claudia Leitte and Pitbull perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup with the official FIFA song, “We Are One (Ola Ola)”.

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MATCH DAY 1

Brazil stumbled early on, but came back to overpower rival Croatia in the group A preliminary round match in Sao Paulo at the opening of the FIFA World Cup 2014.

Neymar scored twice and Oscar added a third on Thursday as Brazil ran out 3-1 winners in the first match of the 2014 World Cup. The hosts struggled early against a lively Croatian side, but late-game quality and some kind refereeing ensured the Brazilians didn’t disappoint in front of their home crowd.

Not a convincing display by the hosts but they sure look like a team that can improve as the competition progresses.

Neymar celebrates after scoring the equaliser.
Neymar celebrates after scoring the equaliser.

 

Neymar scores from the spot.
Neymar scores from the spot.
Oscar perfectly picks his spot for the third goal.
Oscar perfectly picks his spot for the third goal.