The Soaring Eagles -By Issa Babatunde Ahmed

Filed under: National Issues,Sports Issues |

 

Irrespective of the type of sport, as long as the team represents the green-white-green flag, all tribes of Nigeria become united in support. The round leather game called “football” is one language all the various ethnic groups in the country understands. A sensitive and crucial part of life for the people of Nigeria.

Despite the shortcomings of the nation’s economy by political office holders, the people of the largest population in Africa look forward to consoling themselves with the outing of their darling Super Eagles at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia later this year.

As the Super Eagles prepare for their sixth campaign at the FIFA World Cup in Russia after qualifying in flying colors which was almost immediately marred after Football governing body awarded three goals and three points to Algeria for fielding Shehu Abdullahi. The fullback was ineligible to feature for Nigeria in the last qualifying game.

The month-long mundial hosted by Russia will which begin on Thursday, June 14 would have been a great pain in the neck if the team was kicked out of the competition for administrative mistakes but thankfully, Rohr’s men had one of the most impressive run towards Russia 2018. The Eagles were the first African nation to qualify for the mundial, finishing the series with 14 points, six more than Zambia who were surprisingly in second place.

Nigerians are fanatics when it comes to football especially their national teams, so with expectations rising day by the day after an impressive campaign during the qualifying series with the team playing good football after a while and full of confidence, the team 4-2 victory over Argentina recently in an international friendly match was also enough to gear the fans more. Nigerians were glued to their television for the FIFA World Cup draws, moderated by Gary Lineker and Maria Komandnaya, well for many the competition commenced that day after the draws.

The Super Eagles have been drawn in the same group as Argentina for the 2018 World Cup, It is a record fifth time. Other countries in Group D are Iceland and Croatia. Nigeria first met Argentina at its first ever FIFA World Cup appearance in 1994, losing a close contest that ended 2-1.Both countries met again in 1998, 2002 and 2014.

Optimism is high due to Genort Rohr’s ability to bring youngsters and experienced players together, some with foreign allegiances, the Eagles has a rich history of stirring major upsets in group stages of the FIFA world cup, Nigeria scored a major upset in France 1998 by defeating Spain 3–2 after coming back twice from being 1–0 and 2–1 down. The Eagles qualified for the second round with a win against Bulgaria and a loss to Paraguay.

Another major upset which is the best Super Eagles performance at the mundial was when they topped their group which included Argentina, Bulgaria, and Greece in 1994. Nigeria defeated Bulgaria 3–0, lost to Argentina 1–2, and reached the second round after a 2–0 victory over Greece.

In the second round Nigeria played Italy and took the lead with a goal from Emmanuel Amunike at 25 minutes. Nigeria were within two minutes of qualifying for the Quarter-finals, but Roberto Baggio scored to take the game to extra time. He also scored the eventual winning goal. The game ended 2–1 in favor of the Italians.

The Super Eagles have won a total of five games in five Fifa World Cup tournaments, lost ten while they have secured a draw thrice. As one of the most consistent attendant from Africa in recent time, Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup after finishing level on points in the qualification group with Angola, but having an inferior record in the matches between the sides.

The team have managed to find the back of the net 20 times having scored in all Fifa World Cups, they have conceded 26 goals in the same number of outings. 18 games 18 points– The number of matches Nigeria have played at Fifa World Cups, making them the second-highest playing African country in the history of the competition after Cameroon. This figure also represents the total number of points gathered by the country in all World Cup matches to date. Cameroon boast of the most points (19) by an African team at the tournament.

No thanks to our administrators the first edition of the FIFA competition in Africa is arguably the poorest outing of the super eagles in the competition filled with crazy moments as the team failed to win a game, Sani Kaita’s marching orders by referee Olegario Benquerenca against Greece in a group stage game at the Durban Stadium on June 6, 2010 puts a dagger to the hearts of many Nigerians and not forgetting a pass that found Yakubu Aiyegbeni about four yards away from an empty net, Yakubu pushed the ball wide of the left post to keep South Korea ahead 2–1 in the last group game.

Nigerians are forgiving but I am not sure how easily it took them to forgive the team and administrators during this trying period that led Super Eagles to an indefinite ban from international football due to government interference following the 2010 World Cup, following the team’s early exit and poor showing, the then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan suspended the national football team from international competition for two years, though the ban was lifted days later.

It’s another World cup year, hopes are high but can we avoid past mistakes? Having qualified for six of the last seven FIFA World Cups, missing only the year 2006 edition hosted in Germany and have reached the round of 16 three times but not still able to progress to the Quarter-finals in the competition, the potentials in the team are eminent but it is also important to have in-house programmes in order, the growth of a sport is reflected in nation’s ability to transform the training, participation and competitive strategy of the athletes.

 

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