It seems that any substitution involving Yossi Benayoun causes surprise these days. Less than a week ago the Israeli’s late withdrawal, during Liverpool’s loss to Lyon drew a chorus of boos from the club. Last Wednesday, he emerged from the bench 15 minutes from time as the Reds chased the game at Arsenal, and his introduction raised more than a few eyebrows.
It was not that it was Benayoun being brought on, of course. The 29-year-old’s guile and composure was more than welcome at a stage when Liverpool were on top of their energetic but inexperienced opponents. The consternation from the travelling pocket of Reds supporters packed into a sold-out Emirates Stadium came from seeing that it was David Ngog who was to be replaced.
Ok, it is not the same as removing, say, Fernando Torres, but still it was surprising. The young Frenchman had given Rafa Benitez 75 minutes of hard-work, and plenty of quality. It was his clever back-heel which opened up a glorious chance for Philipp Degen in the early stages, one that the Swiss full-back wasted.
Contrasting his performance with another Liverpool player looking to establish himself as an understudy (or partner) for Torres, Ryan Babel, and it is clear to see which player is showing more promise at this stage.
Babel cost more than £11 million, seven times as much as Ngog, when he arrived at Anfield from Ajax in 2007, and the early signs were highly promising. Moving with a fluidity which reminded Kopites of John Barnes or Thierry Henry, the Dutchman netted ten goals in his debut season at the club, and looked set to push on and establish himself as first choice.
That he has not is a damning indictment, at a time when quality attacking players at the club are apparently in such short supply. Torres is undoubtedly the top dog at Anfield, but there is an undoubted chance for someone like Babel to nail down a regular place. A chance, it appears, he is unable, or unwilling, to grasp.
On Wednesday night, he flitted around halfheartedly, offering only a partial threat as Liverpool were second-best for large spells. One nod down for Emiliano Insua’s goal, and a skimming 30-yard free kick that Lukasz Fabianski fielded well was the sum total of his night’s work. A night that was capped with a poor miss, as he failed to connect with Dirk Kuyt’s low cross late on.
Babel’s apologists point to the fact that he is yet to fully earn the faith of Benitez, and that he has never received a prolonged run in the first team. There may be an element of truth in this. Babel has already been named as a substitute 55 times in his short Anfield career, and has been substituted on countless other occasions. But when confronted with statistics such as those, is it not logical to wonder why?
The answer, it seems, is a case of attitude. Ngog may not be the darling of the Kop, though his strike against Manchester United last weekend will help, but his performances always display plenty of hard-work, a willingness to learn and improve, and a team-first attitude. Supporters respond to such traits, and the Frenchman is currently reaping the rewards.
For Babel, who has made plenty of noise in the past about needing to leave in order to secure first-team football, the long-term prognosis is less promising. It is clear that the talent is there, but Benitez could be forgiven for doubting if this Liverpool side are able to unlock it on a regular basis. The January transfer window may represent Liverpool’s best chance to pick up a sizable fee for Babel, who will be 23 by the time Christmas comes.
Obviously things can change. Babel’s pace and shooting power means he will always appeal as an alternative option from the bench, but at this moment in time, it makes more sense to back the Frenchman than it does to go Dutch.
2021 AFCON Qualifiers: Osimhen, Diedhov Inspire Nigeria, Senegal
Victor Osimhen inspired Nigeria with a brace to record a 2-4 away win over Lesotho yesterday, just as a hat-trick from Famara Diedhiou helped Senegal win 4-1 away to eSwatini as the second round of group games in 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying got underway.
There were also wins for Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda, South Africa, Congo Brazzaville, Guinea, Benin and 2021 Nations Cup hosts Cameroon.
Senegal, the 2019 Nations Cup runners-up, made it two wins from two in Group I in a match that was interrupted by a dramatic rain-storm in eSwatini.
In difficult conditions, Diedhiou scored a quick-fire hat-trick with goals in the 59th, 66th and 68th minutes.
In an eventful match, eSwatini came straight back with a 70th minute goal from Fganelo Mamba but Mamba was then sent off shortly after his strike for two bookings.
Senegal took advantage and scored a fourth through Badou Ndiaye to make it 4-1 to the visitors.
Congo Brazzaville is second in Group I, three points adrift of Senegal, after a 3-0 win over Guinea-Bissau.
Goals from Prince Ibara, Junior Makiesse and Silvere Granvoula earned Congo the victory.
In Group L, Nigeria survived a scare. For the second match running, the Super Eagles had to come from behind before winning 4-2 in Lesotho.
Masoabi Nkoto gave the hosts a shock lead after just 11 minutes, but Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen put on an impressive display to inspire his team to victory.
The in-form Lille striker set up goals for Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze and on a terrific day for the 20-year-old, Osimhen then scored twice to take the match away from Lesotho’s reach, although they did bag a late consolation goal when Chidozie Awaziem struck into his own net. Nigeria has maximum points in Group L. Earlier in this group, Benin, who lost to Nigeria in their opening match, were 1-0 winners over Sierra Leone at home.
Jodel Dossou scored after 28 minutes to give Benin their first points of the campaign.
S’Eagles Get Defensive Boost Against Lesotho
Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr has been handed a defensive boost ahead of the AFCON 2021 qualifying match against Lesotho, after Center Half Kenneth Omeruo was passed fit for the clash by the team doctor.
Omeruo was an injury doubt, after he picked up a knock during training before the game against Benin Republic, and he was dropped to the bench – an unused substitute in the 2-1 win
The Super Eagles arrived Maseru on Saturday with all 23 players invited by the coach and team doctor, Ibrahim Gyaran gave an update on the players’ match fitness
Although it is uncertain if the CB will be selected for Sunday’s game, Gyaran as quoted by told thenff.com confirmed, “that there are no injuries within the 23 -man playing body.”
Nigeria tops Group L with maximum points after match day one and can go three points clear if they pick a win in Maseru.
Nigeria Misses Out On Olympic Football Event
Nigeria missed out on a chance to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games football tournament when they were held 0-0 by South Africa at the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Cairo on Friday.
Unmarked Sunday Faleye wasted a great chance to snatch victory for the Nigerians in the final minute of their last Group B game by heading a cross wide when a goal seem inevitable.
Ivory Coast edged Zambia 1-0 through a goal from Kouadio-Yves Dabila in the other Group B match of the eight-nation qualifying competition.
The final group matches were played simultaneously in the Egyptian capital with all four countries in contention for semi-finals places before the kick-offs.
Ivory Coast (six points) topped the final standings followed by South Africa (five) and they advanced to the semi-finals tomorrow while Nigeria (four) and Zambia (one) headed home.
Impressive Group A winners Egypt will face South Africa at the penultimate stage followed by Ivory Coast against Group A runners-up Ghana.
The semi-finals winners are guaranteed places at the Tokyo Olympics while the losers get a second chance in the third place play-off to fill the third and last African slot.
Egypt has competed at Olympic football tournaments 11 times – a record for an African nation, but have never collected medals.
Ghana will be seeking a seventh appearance, South Africa a third and the Ivory Coast a second at a tournament where Nigeria (1996) and Cameroon (2000) have won gold.
Olympic qualifying is restricted to under-23 footballers, but three ‘over-age’ stars are permitted at the finals.
Meanwhile, Henry Nwosu has called on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to go back to the drawing board after Dream Team VII failed to reach the semi-final of the 2019 Africa U23 Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The Imama Amapakabo’s men played out a goalless draw with South Africa in their final Group B game at Al-Salam Stadium on Friday and crashed out in the process.
Nwosu said that it will be unfair to blame the failure on the players and added that the NFF was distracted by the corruption case hanging around their neck affected the Nigerian teams.
“The team did not do well. They did not qualify for Olympic which is our expectation for them,” Nwosu told Tidesports source.
“I believe the corruption case the federation has been battling with affected out teams because if our house is in the order we will be able to make better planning and preparation.
“We need to re-plan and make the system better so that it can work for the players, the coaches and Nigeria will be the better for it.
“We can’t blame the players, they did their best. It is the federation that needs to put their house in order.”
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