The 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia is less than 22 days away and many Nigerian football fans are already filled with trepidation regarding the team’s chances of making an appreciable impact at the global fiesta.
The Super Eagles are in Group D with Croatia, Iceland, and one of the pre-tournament favourites, Argentina. Having played at Round 16 in all but two of their World Cup appearances, the Super Eagles should know that the quarter-finals is the milestone that would better Nigeria’s personal best at the Mundial.
Clemens Westerhof, Bora Milutinovic, and the late Stephen Keshi led the Super Eagles to the Second Round at USA “94, France ’98 and Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup finals respectively. The ball is now in the court of the team’s Rohr. Hopefully, he will make Nigerians proud by taking Super Eagles to new heights at the World Cup. That he is on the threshold of making his first ever World Cup appearance as a coach, is enough motivation for him to get cracking with the Eagles.
However, are the three-time African champions really good enough to match their previous achievements? Can they equal Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana’s quarter-finals’ record? Can Rohr’s squad go even further than the last-eight stage and set a new African record?
The Black Stars of Ghana almost became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa 2010, no thanks to Luis Suarez’s handball on the goal-line that prevented Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah from scoring in the last minute. Asamoah Gyan, painfully, missed the resultant penalty – with Uruguay triumphing in the shoot-out to make the World Cup semis.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that the Super Eagles should brace up for the task ahead, be strong and brave to lead Africa’s quest for bigger stardom at the FIFA World Cup. We believe that it is high time Nigeria’s football managers stopped celebrating World Cup qualification as an achievement. Sixth World Cup appearance is just an item in Nigeria’s football profile. Only the teams that have achieved much less might look at this record and hold the Super Eagles in awe.
Nigerians are of the hope that the few players in the present Super Eagles’ squad who have the experience of playing at the World Cup will be resourceful enough to fire up their debutant team-mates with sterling performances. Only five players in the 30-man provisional list released by the coach have reliable chances of making the final list to Russia 2018 based on their World Cup experience, Captain John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, Ahmed Musa and Elderson Echiejile. What is important, in our view, is having a set of players who have experience from playing for clubs in the competitive European leagues where they have rubbed shoulders with the best talents on the planet. Nigeria is blessed with such experienced and talented players who we can count on for a successful outing in Russia.
It is also imperative, in our judgement, that the federal government and the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) continue to provide all that is required to prepare the team well. This entails a prompt release of bonuses to the players so as to avoid distractions.
NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, in his recent media parley with some sports writers in Abuja, disclosed the details of the agreement signed between the players and officials of the federation over the sharing formula for the expected FIFA bonus for qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and assured that the players’ $2.8m (about N1.8 billion) share of the money is ready for disbursement. He disclosed that the players were part of the decision-making process that arrived at that figure.
While we see it as step in the right direction, we insist that all the details of the agreement are observed and carried out diligently by both parties to stave off actions that may cause distraction to the team and international embarrassment to the country. NFF, on one hand, should match its words with action by ensuring that Nigeria surpasses previous achievements at the World Cup. On the other, Nigerians, much as they wish the players success in that tournament, are also admonishing them to allow their patriotic zeal to outstrip the material expectations that come with participating in the World Cup event. We urge them to go to Russia and prove themselves worthy ambassadors of Nigeria.
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