A day from today, Nigeria will join thirty-one other nations of the world to participate in the 20th Edition of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in the South American country of Brazil.
The world expects the best display of round leader artistry from the 32 contesting nations in an event reputed to be the greatest football showpiece on the planet earth. In Nigeria, where football, arguably, remains the only unifying factor, the stakes are very high.
This is understandably so. The nation made its debut appearance when the World Cup was 66 years old in 1994 and yet, it entered the second round of the tournament in that year and has made three other appearances thereafter — France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and South Africa 2010.
The 1994 heroic performance raised the stake and has since made Nigerians to settle for nothing but the best in football tournaments, especially the World Cup. This, no doubt, made the nation’s football governing body, Nigeria Football Federation, to set a semi-final target for the Super Eagles in this year’s World Cup.
The recent release of the 23-man list of the Super Eagles and the conclusion of the international friendlies, with their attendant criticisms from Nigerians, have set the stage for the character and tone of Nigeria’s participation at the world football event.
Now that the stage has been set, there is a need for Nigeria and Nigerians to demonstrate sportsmanship by leaving their reservations, opinions and frustrations behind them and forming a formidable force behind the contingents as teams draw strength and inspiration from the support, confidence and trust from their nations.
Although a lot of football fans may not agree with the list drawn by the Super Eagles’ Chief Coach, Stephen Keshi, his pedigree, competence, experience and courage are not in doubt. Besides, as the man on top of the mountain, he must have factored in those elements that are elusive to us into drawing the list.
Having been the captain of the nation’s heroic USA 1994 World Cup team and a veteran coach of many award-winning international football tournaments and having given his word to meet the NFF target, Keshi should live up to his word by inspiring his team to achieve the kernels that ensure enviable performance at an event of this magnitude — discipline, determination, patriotism and can-do spirit.
It is heartening that the Federal Government has made funds available on time for the prosecution of the World Cup. The Minister of Sports and Chairman, National Sports Commission (NSC), Dr. Tamuno Danagogo, disclosed recently, “Government is doing everything possible and had made releases to cover their camping periods, the pre-tournament friendly matches in London and USA to all the group stage matches. Once those are over, we have made other provisions to take them to whatever stage.
“The important thing for the government is for the players to excel and if they do well, Mr. President is so interested in sports that everything that needs to be done would certainly be done to ensure that they get the best outing.”
And this has been confirmed by the Chairman of the NFF, who said a fortnight ago, “The government has approved our budget and decided to release the funds in instalments … Our preparations are going on as planned and we have not complained as nobody said the money would not be released.”
The Super Eagles thus have no excuse not to perform as there appears to be no hampering external factors. Coach Keshi has drawn his team and has demonstrated courage to stand by his list and to note that public opinion is indispensable in a situation like this.
The underlining element in sports competitions is performance. The best list is puerile if it cannot deliver. But the world will ultimately celebrate the worst list that brings laurels home. Nigerians need results and all the on-going sentiments will bow to outstanding performance as the tournament progresses.
The nation’s heroic 1994 performance was attained under the watch of a Dutch coach, Clemens Westerhof, who was, incidentally, keshi’s coach; and Nigerians have been sold out to hiring foreign coaches ever since. Keshi has an opportunity to make a statement that a home-based coach is capable of leading the nation to outstanding performance at the World Cup.
As sports leaders, the NFF must demonstrate magnanimity by burying all real and imagined differences between them and Coach Keshi and putting the nation’s interest above all considerations.
Coach Keshi must listen to all observations made by well-meaning football lovers especially those arising from the recent Scotland and Greece 2-2 and goalless draw international friendlies respectively, and make amends as appropriate. Nigerians have complained about the goal-shy disposition of the strikers and a not-so-strong defence. They also fear that goalkeeper Vincent Enyama has no strong complement. These observations are germane and fundamental and must be addressed by Coach Keshi and his technical assistants.
Nigerians desire a good outing in Brazil and giving the teeth to this aspiration is a collective effort. Collectively, we can make our dream for World Cup work.