All is set for the Super Eagles to participate in world’s most glamorous sporting event, the World Cup which opens in Russia next year with the likes of five-time winners Brazil, defending champions Germany, Belgium and Colombia participating. Other participants are Australia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Iceland, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and Uruguay and Argentina.
After qualifying for the mundial, the Eagles proceeded to beat Argentina in a remarkable friendly encounter. Though a friendly match, Argentina did put out a fairly strong line-up that included the likes of Aguero, Mascherano, Otamendi, Pavon, Di Maria, Banega, and Dybala.
The legendary Diego Maradona had described the defeat of Argentina by Nigeria in the friendly match thus: ‘I am angry because they have taken away our prestige” Indeed that famous victory has cast the Super Eagles in a new light and football aficionados across the world, including coaches and players who will be playing in the world, cup now see Nigeria as a formidable opponent that should not be toyed with.
So Nigeria’s opponents in Russia will not take matches against the Super Eagle with levity. They will go all out to tackle the team that humbled Argentina in a friendly.
From the first appearance in 1994 the Eagles led by the Late Stephen Keshi almost created the biggest upset when they faced Italy in the second round and led by 1-0 until the very last moment when a momentary lack of concentration prevented them from caging the Roberto Baggio-led squad in the second round. Italy eventually prevailed by 2-1. Prior to that, the Eagles had humiliated Greece, Bulgaria and virtually retired Andoni Zubizarreta, the Spaniard all-time great goalkeeper who fumbled with the ball and allowed Eagles to run away with 3 – 2 win over Spain.
After USA 94, the Eagles managed to put up mainly admirable, and at times shambolic, performances in subsequent appearances at the world cup in the first round almost always qualifying for the second round. They always stopped and that is why the Eagles are in greater trouble with their compatriots who follow the game with dizzying passion. So this time around the Eagles and their handlers must know that second round qualification is not enough.
The success at Russia 2018 will be measured by at least a quarter final appearance. Anything short of that May not be too impressive. And this Eagles Class of 2018 has what it takes to shake the world. They have as Technical Adviser a man who seems to know his onions and has weathered the politics of the football federation and the interference from high and low quarters. The coach Gernot Rohr has been inspiring and has engineered the team to deliver at critical times. He cannot afford not to deliver in Russia. Luckily for him he has a group of experienced players and new intakes who want to show that they have all it takes to become world beaters.
The Captain of the team, John Mikel Obi, is a veteran of sorts and he has shown that he has the support of his mates which is critical and the character of a team leader off and on the field of play. The likes of Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Odion Ighalo, Abdulahi Sheu, Alex Iwobi have enough experience and fire in their belly to hold their own against any opposition. Emerging key players like Kelechi Ihenacho, Leon Balogun and William Troost Ekong and new kid on the block Brian Idowu could also contribute to an anticipated success story in Russia.
However, forces must not be allowed to infiltrate the team and preparations. Before now, those who played little or no role in the qualification race will want to reap from where they did not sow by dividing the team.
Rohr must be given the free hand to select his team. The role of the Football federation must be limited to contingency support from the background while government officials who have enough money to go to Russia must confine themselves to designated spots.
The team can go on to win the World Cup next year if the right things are done-part of which is giving them quality matches to play to prepare them for the task ahead. The same Argentina we beat 4-2 may meet us at World Cup and beat us silly. The team look good but they need reinforcements to enable them to keep up the performances and do better. The players should guard against being overconfident because they have defeated Argentina.