Saturday, April 19, 2014

Onazi, Eagles secret weapon




Sitting on the pews at the Estadio Olimpico in Rome, Onazi gazes at the stands where thousands of Lazio fans cheer the team each time they play.

Ogenyi Eddy Onazi is grateful. From the highlands of Jos, Nigeria to one of the most recognisable football edifices in the world, he has come full circle in a very short time albeit through various channels like Sweden, Switzerland, Greece and England.

The diminutive midfielder was also a key component as Nigeria defied the odds to win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations hosted by South Africa.

He appears calm for someone who is like a terrier on the field of play. His intrepid performances have endeared him to the hearts of Nigeria and Lazio fans and Onazi says he loves to give his all on the field of play.

"I'm a fighter. I play to help my team win,"he told supersport.com.

Onazi has been through a lot to get to where he is today. Growing up on the streets of Jos, he honed his skills in youth tournaments where he was highly rated in those circles alongside the likes of Terry Envoh (whom he later played with in the 2009 Under-17 World Cup) and Peter Gyang.
The Enegizer in action last year © Youtube

The combative midfielder later connected with a youth side called My People FC where he was shipped out together with Sani Emmanuel, who was the top scorer at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup to Sweden, prior to the tournament.

Onazi's journey to stardom took the unusual route through mainland Europe which included a stint at White Hart Lane, before finally settling at Lazio's youth side.

His endeavor saw him come through the ranks at the Lazio's Primavera side and made his debut in 2-0 win over Atalanta at the tail end of the 2011/2012 season. He hasn't looked since back then.

Keshi, here is your destroyer

Permit me to use this coinage, which the renowned football journalist Mumuni Alao, used in describing Sunday Oliseh's importance to the Eagles set up prior to Nigeria's debut at the World Cup in the United States in 1994.

Alao, in the now-rested football magazine 'Complete Football' , described Oliseh as the fulcrum which the then coach Clemence Westerhof , should balance his team on.

Oliseh would later go on to have an illustrious career with the national team with his goal against Spain at France '98, a screamer from 30 yards, a highlight of Nigeria's participation in the football fiesta.

Onazi, who has 19 senior caps to his name, has been an integral part of the Super Eagles team since the Nations Cup triumph and will surely be part of Keshi's 23-man team to Brazil.

The tournament might just be the diminutive midfielder's 'come our party' and become as important as Oliseh was, just like Alao predicted.

That of course, is not to say Onazi hasn't been in the thick of things with the Super Eagles. He played in six of the Eagles World Cup qualifying games, chalking 522 minutes of playing time, to showcase his growing influence in the team.

He has also played 26 times in the league for the Biancocelesti,who are currently 7th on the log in Italy's Serie A.

Already rumors have been flying in the media of purported moves to the Premier League, with Liverpool and Tottenham tracking the combative midfielder.

Onazi, however, insists Lazio remain his primary focus for now.

"I don't dwell on rumors, I always concentrate on the issues at hand,"he stated when asked about the rumors.

"My primary focus is to help Lazio finish in a good position at the end of the season."

Dexterity

Onazi has become an indispensable member of Keshi's team and his versatility has endeared him to the hearts of many.

Comfortable anywhere across the central midfield areas, Onazi showed his other attributes, after being thrown into the deep end at right back in Nigeria's second group game against Zambia at the 2013 African Nations Cup in South Africa.

He acquitted himself well, and didn't look out of depth. He has also improved his offensive abilities, as occasioned by his contributions in Calabar as the Eagles clinched a World Cup berth against Ethiopia.

He had two shots on target out of Nigeria's six in the first half in Calabar, and also threaded in Emmanuel Emenike in Addis Abba for the all-important equaliser in a 2-1 away win.

The 21-year-old , known for his ability to break up opponents' play, says his tactical awareness has improved a lot and this has seen him combine offensive and defensive responsibilities at his club side and the national team.

It's something I've been working on. It's for the good of the team. I honestly don't mind playing anywhere as long as it's for the benefit of the team,"

"I have also improved discipline-wise. My days of unnecessary cards are long gone," Onazi affirmed.

Brazil 2014 dreams

Nigeria's quest at the 2014 Fifa World Cup will begin when the Super Eagles face Iran on 23 June. Onazi wants to be there, in action.


Not one of the flashiest players in a team that includes names like John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, the midfielder goes about his business behind the scenes, but with calm efficiency.

His ability to break up play and new found love to go forward and launch attacks will surely be like a jukebox for musical chairs for Stephen Keshi.

If, Keshi decides to give Mikel the license to rove freely, or play in a more advanced role like he did at the 2013 Confederations Cup, Onazi will surely be needed to shore up the pocket of spaces in the midfield, and the youngster says he will relish the challenge.

"It's my dream to be at the World Cup just like any other player," he enthused.

"I can't wait to test myself against the best in the world. I missed the Confederations Cup last year, but I hope to make the party to the World Cup.

"Mikel is a fantastic player. I love playing with him. His vision is great. I think we will play well together if the coach deems it fit. We will make Nigeria proud," the Jos-born player told SuperSport.com.

The World Cup might just be the perfect platform for Ogenyi Onazi to thrust himself into greatness and help Nigeria surpass her second place finish of 1994 and 1998.

He can be the pivot on which Nigeria's hopes can lean.


Keshi, here is your energiser.

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