Count Down to the Uganda Cranes versus Nigeria's Super Eagles meet
Nigeria to be taught the Obua dance.

Count Down to the Uganda Cranes versus Nigeria's Super Eagles meet

Nigeria in trouble.

By Ramathan Kasozi
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First published: May 21, 2007

Football is a team game but under certain circumstances, we always crave for that bit of individualism especially in situations like the big clash that will pit Uganda's Cranes against the mighty Super Eagles of Nigeria on 2nd June 2007 in Kampala in a 2008 Ghana African Cup qualifiers tie.

The West Africans exhibit plenty of individualism in their methods and can call on magic from any player in their array of superstars. The Cranes' secret weapons on the other hand rotate around team work, although sometimes the individual skills of custodian Denis Onyango, David Obua, skipper Ibrahim Ssekajja, goal poachers Geoffrey Massa and Nestory Kizito decide the result(s). Kasozi Ramathan examines some of the match-ups to watch out for when the ball rolls into motion at Namboole stadium on the second day of June this year.

Denis Onyango versus Obafemi Martins
Timothy Batabaire is expected to keep a keen eye on Nwanko Kanu's movements and Sekajja will be busy against Obafemi Martins. But since the Newcastle United danger man is under pressure to manufacture goals for the Super Eagles, one would expect him to come face to face with the Cranes' steady goalie, Denis Onyango. This therefore, will call for Onyango's usual heroic reflex saves when Martins cracks the Cranes' rearguard and charges at him or when he unleashes some of his customary scorchers from a distance.

Martins commands good pace, can punch with both the left and right feet, is strong in the air and is a good header but he faces one of the best goalies plying their trade on African soil. The former SC Villa goalie is a shot blocker, with a superb game reading and defense organization. For the 270 minutes of the current African qualifiers campaign that he has played so far, he has picked the ball from the back of his net only once courtesy of Nwanko Kanu. What a match up with Obfemi!

Nestory Kizito against John Utaka
If there is any Ugandan player you will fancy to take on a player of international status, it is the lazy looking Serbia-based left full back. He loves direct confrontation and the chance to prove himself against an opponent. He is superbly gifted with the ability to read wingers and is an attack-minded player who can pick the ball from the opponent, launch attacks and involve himself fully in the game.

Utaka often fell squarely into his traps in the first leg forcing, the Nigerian coach to call for a substitution which failed to pay dividends. In the opening minutes of the first leg, the Super Eagles often launched their attacks from Kizito's territory only to discover that they were misplaced and so shifted to Malinga's right flank. Other notable big boys that have faced the wrath of Kizito include South African Sebusiso Zuma whom he turned into a novice.

Sekajja up against Kanu
There is always relief in the Cranes' camp when the Argentina-based all-rounder turns up for national duty, not because he is the team skipper but because he is arguably the team's chief play maker. In a game of this magnitude, having a tackling central defensive pair might be a risky strategy especially with West African referees in the equation (which tends to result in unusual decisions against the Cranes).

Therefore, the only solution to this is placing the potential man-of-the-match in the right place. Sekajja's coolness, intelligence, game reading and experience from the 'league of skills' in Argentina is remedy enough for Mr. Kanu's 'ichuli' antics. The Cranes' skipper has in the past came face to face with Ghana's Sammy Appiah, Bafana Bafana's Steve Piener and Ben Macathy and emerged victorious. Whether Csaba deploys him in the middle of the field like he did in the first leg or not, the result is likely to be the same as he directs all departments in the team.

Babadi sizes up with Mikel
Battles in the mid-field are crucial and usually decide the result at the end of the game so I do not see the game on 2nd June 2007 being different. Rastafarian Noah Kasule Babadi comes face to face with Chelsea FC wonder kid, John Obi Mikel once again. Mikel, like he did during the first leg, will mostly be sitting back for the Super Eagles as his game is more about passing than penetration. He will certainly launch attacks and venture upfront with his colleagues given the opportunity.

Therefore, the URA FC midfielder, who has seen it all as he has locked horns with big guns like Ghana's work horse Michael Essien before, will be asked to repeat what he did in Abeokuta to stop Mikel from getting his rhythm by professionally tackling him and intercepting his grass hugging passes. However, this will call for assistance from whoever will be playing in concert with him from the middle of the field.

Massa shares spoils with Enyima
It's interesting to note that that both players, Geoffrey Massa and Vincent Enyima, missed the first leg due to various reasons. The Ugandan was suspended after a second bookable offence in Niamey, Niger, while his counterpart picked up an injury on the eleventh hour, handing the gloves over to his junior, Austin Egide.

Like the Onyango and Obfemi match up, these two might not confront each other directly but with loopholes still present in the Super Eagles' rear guard, I do not see Massa being contained for the entire 90 minutes. In fact after the first leg, Ugandans bet that if their Egyptian-based sniper had been involved in the first leg, Nigeria wouldn't have survived at home, even with controversial officiation.

Massa is expected to massacre Enyima
Massa-cre: Massa is expected to massacre Enyima.

The U-23 national captain possesses what any modern striker needs; pace, dribbling, positioning and an eye for goal. His ability to compete for the Egyptian Premier League golden boot against Al-ahal goal poacher Abotrika supports my argument.

King David against Mr. Okoronkwo
Like happened in the first leg, I don't see the trend changing except that Berti Vogts may be forced to revise his playing system or to assign an extra man to handle the Kaiser Chiefs' man-of-big-games, especially as the Mandela stadium is expected to fill to capacity.

David Obua gave Isaac Okoronkwo terrible company in the first leg, from the first whistle to the final one. Despite the fact that Okoronkwo features in a more recognized league, Obua is the better player of the two and this may make the difference on the 2nd of June.

Laszlo Csaba versus Berti Vogts in the battle of brains
There is no question about it. Csaba's resume is not anywhere near Vogts' in terms of weight. But Vogts is still acclimatizing to African football. The fact that both are Germans should also attract some consideration. Despite losing the first leg, Csaba proved tactically better on that occasion because of his brave decision to shift his main defense pillar, Sekajja from defense to midfield. This was the master stroke and his decision to opt for an attacking formation against the mighty Nigeria at their home was a new way of playing Ugandan football.

No seating space will be spared in Namboole on 2nd June 2007
No seating space will be spared in Namboole on 2nd June 2007.

After my analysis of some of the key individual battles to watch out for on the big day, I found myself entangled in a debate with my editor Gideon Munabi. He asked me to consider the transfer figures players from both teams. I replied with an assurance that if transfer values are of consequence on the pitch, then the Cranes are dead and roasted. Here is a look at the transfer values for both teams' players.

Player Team, transfer value

Goal keepers

Uganda: Denis Onyango Super Sport United, South Africa, $10,000

Nigeria: Vincent Enyima $2.9 m

Right back

Uganda: Simeon Masaba, Police FC, Uganda, $1,500

Nigeria: Joseph Enakaire, Bordeaux, France, $7.8m

Left full back

Uganda: Nestory Kizito, Voidjink, Serbia ($30000 from Srems Serbia), (From Villa to Srems, $10000)

Nigeria: Aye Taiwo, Marseille, France, $6.66m

Central Defense

Uganda: Timothy Batabaire, Bloemfontein Celtics, S. Africa, $10,000

Nigeria: Joseph Yobo, Everton, England, $9.8m

Uganda: Hassan Wasswa, St George, Ethiopia, $10,000

Nigeria: Isaac Okoronkwo, FC Moscow, Russia, $3.92m

Mid fielders

Uganda: Ibrahim Sekajja, Arsenal, Argentina, $20,000

Nigeria: Obi Mikel, Chelsea FC, $31.3 m

Uganda: Babadi Kasule, URA FC, Uganda, $1,200

Uganda: Vincent Kayizzi, APR, Rwanda, $10,000

Nigeria: John Utaka, Rennes, France, $8.6m

Uganda: David Obua, Kaiser Chiefs, S. Africa, $10,000

Nigeria: Osaze Odemwingie, Lille, France, $11.3m


Uganda: Geoffrey Massa, El-ssams, Egypt, $10,000

Nigeria: Obfemi Martins, New Castle, England, $19.6m

Uganda: Hassan Mubiru, Denmark, $10,000

Nigeria: Nankwo Kanu, Portsmouth, England, $3.93m

By Ramathan Kasozi
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First published: May 21, 2007
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Ramathan Kasozi is a member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. . A graduate Journalist, Kasozi has more than 5 years experience reporting on sports in Uganda for different print and broadcast media houses.