For one month starting from Friday 11 June to Saturday 11 July, millions of football fans and lovers across the world will be glued to TV or be physically present in South Africa to witness another football fiesta popularly called the World Cup. Apart from its usual glamour, the event will be recording a historical moment.
The African Continent is hosting the most glamorous sport in the world for the first time in the tournament history. South Africa, home of Nelson Mandela, the man who spent 27 years in prison because of the then apartheid that segregated the country, was chosen ahead of other African countries.
Mandela who had strongly opposed the segregation system was arrested and jailed by the then Racist Boers of President Verwoerd led apartheid government in 1962 but released on 11 February 1990 to become the first democratically elected president of Africa's only Rainbow Nation.
It would be a good opportunity for an African nation to grab this coveted cup but I doubt the prospects. Nigerian Super Eagles especially will not give me any kind of heart attack; or rather I will not let them give me. Unless one is being unrealistic, the present crops of players are not the kind that can win the most glamorous game in the world. Of course miracles do happen but I don't see that miracle transforming the Super Eagles to clinch the coveted cup on African soil.
My scepticism is not even because of lack of preparation, or the oddity of employing and using foreign coach instead of indigenous coach. I mean, since neither foreign coach nor indigenous coach can actually bring the world cup to the seeming Nigerian fans, why not keep using ours until they can do the magic.
The foreign coach is highly expensive. Like the indigenous coach, he cannot deliver. Amoudu Shaibu, an indigenous coach, helped us to top our group during the preliminary qualification for the world cup, but what did we do to him? The NFF or whichever body responsible had to sack and replace him with a foreign coach called Lars Lagerback from a Scandinavian country whose nation does not even qualify for the fiesta.
In part it's unfair to have treated Shaibu in such a manner. Where was this Lagerback during the preliminary qualification? And the Nigerian football administrators considered it appropriate to employ a new coach at the eleventh hour? Winning the world cup requires adequate preparation. With such lack of preparation, even miracle cannot smile on Lars lagerback and his Super Heartbreakers; even Jonathan Goodluck's luck cannot see us near the cup.
Oh, not with Nwankwo Kanu, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and the rest of them who have shown many times that they are bunch of tired legs. Of course this may not be their fault. Hum, one cannot cheat nature. The guys have promised brim and stone but promises aren't enough to go beyond the second phase and move on to the semi-final ÔÇô for African record. With little or no adequate preparation, the man Lagerback is already smiling to the bank at the expense of the Nigerian football administrator's visionless approach.
Thus over the year I have learned not to put too much hope on the Super Eagles in this kind of tournament. The best performance actually was the first appearance in 1994 US world cup when the then Clemens Westerhof squad defeated Bulgaria and Greece but lost to Argentina to top the group and qualify for the second round only to foolishly lost to Italy after leading 1-0 almost to the end of the game. Oh, that game almost ruined my fragile heart. Since then it was disgrace here and there. I don't think this world cup will be different as long as Kanu led Eagles is concerned.
In 1998 we returned to the World Cup alongside Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa. Optimism was high due to their manager Bora Milutinovc and the return of most 1994 squad members. In the final tournament we were drawn into group D with Spain, Bulgaria, and Paraguay. We scored a major upset by defeating Spain 3-2 after coming back twice from being 1-0 and 2-1 down. We qualified for the second round with win against Bulgaria and loss to Paraguay. Hopes of surpassing the 1994 performance was shattered after a 4-1 loss to Denmark.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan saw Nigeria again qualify with optimism. With a new squad the Super Eagles were expected to build on their performances in the 2000 and 2002 African Cup of Nations. We were drawn into group F with Sweden, Argentina, and England. We started the first game against Argentina with a strong defence and kept the first half scoreless. However in the 61st minute Gabriel Batistuta put Argentina in the lead 1-0 and won the game. We took the lead against Sweden but lost 2-1. We drew 0-0 with England and bowed out in the first round.
This time around I am not going to be na├»ve. In 2006 when Nigeria did not qualify, I enjoyed the game to the fullest. I am going to use the same strategy now that the Super Eagles are participating. But instead of self-deceit, I shall convince myself to see their participation as a success in itself. I am not going to worry either during the group stage or beyond.
With the calibre of players we have, seeing the Nigerian flag hoisted will be enough for me at the moment. At least I am going to watch three matches involving my country. The Super Eagles face Argentina in their first match on Saturday 12, followed by Greece and then South Korea. Yeah, I'm just gonna enjoy the world cup as if Nigeria is not participating so that I can have my heart intact to enjoy the game for the good of the game.