Sir: There will be no hiding place for the Super Eagles of Nigeria when the world’s most glamorous sporting event, the world cup, opens in Russia in 2018.
The Nigerian side will actually be the team to beat as other countries who have qualified have started redoubling efforts to overawe the Nigerian side should they be drawn together on December 1 when the draw is made in Russia. The gang up against Nigeria is not because it qualified from its group even with a match to spare. It’s also not because in its round robin encounters with Cameroun, Algeria and Zambia, super powers of the round leather game on the continent, it did not taste defeat. Nigeria is in trouble because after qualifying for the showpiece event, the Super Eagles went on to do the unthinkable.
Yes the Nigerian Super Eagles are actually the architect of their own trouble. They played themselves into trouble when they went to Russia on November 13 and decimated one of the Super powers in the sport, Argentina 4-2 with the whole world watching proceedings. The legendary Diego Maradona 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 which should not be trifled with. So Nigeria’s opponent in Russia will not take matches against the Super Eagle with levity. They will go all out and fire from all cylinders to humble this team that humiliated Argentina in Russia.
From all indications, this will be Nigeria’s toughest World Cup ever. Forget the fact that by African standards the country has done relatively well in the competition. 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, Spain’s all-time great goalkeeper who fumbled with the ball and allowed Eagles to run away with 3 to 2 win over Spain. After USA 1994, the Eagles had managed to put up mainly respectable, and at times shambolic, performances in subsequent appearances at the world cup in the first round almost always qualifying for the second round. That’s where 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 Super 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 berth. Anything short of that will be tantamount to a successful failure. And these Eagles Class of 2018 have what it takes to shake the world.