By Demola Olajire
Nigeriaâ€™s Technical Adviser, Lars Lagerback, said Tuesday that the Super Eagles have a good chance to overcome Greece on Thursday in Bloemfontein and steer their 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign back on track.
Speaking after the teamâ€™s last training session at Richardâ€™s Bay before Wednesdayâ€™s departure to Bloemfontein, the 61â€“year-old, who led his native Sweden at two World Cup finals in 2002 and 2006, reaching the Round of 16 on each occasion, said he does not see the Nigerians crashing out of the tournament so early in the day.
â€œI believe weâ€™ve got a good chance to beat Greece and then look ahead to the match against Korea Republic. But weâ€™ve got the Greeks in front of us first so we canâ€™t be talking about the Koreans now.
â€œBy and large, the boys did what we wanted against Argentina although it could have been better. Really, I cannot say much now about possible changes in the starting lineâ€“up against Greece because we still have the official training session to come tomorrow in Bloemfontein.”
“â€œI am confident that we can get the result that we need and then approach the last match with belief. I think the Coach of Korea Republic is right to say that the match against them will be very crucialâ€.
The Super Eagles are up against the Greeks at the 45,000 â€“capacity Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Thursday evening, needing a win to stay in contention at this tournament. Greece lost 0_2 to Korea in their first match, just before Argentina beat Nigeria 1_0.
Officials hail good organization in Nigeriaâ€™s World Cup camp It has been plaudits unlimited for the excellent organization that has been at play since the Super Eaglesâ€™ World Cup camp opened in Richardâ€™s Bay on June 2.
Since the camp opened, LOC officials and FIFA officials say, the players, technical and administrative officials have displayed the kind of unity and discipline that is rare in normal settings.
â€œI am truly impressed. The Nigeria camp has given us very little problem as a result of their organization and general commitment. They donâ€™t come late to any schedule and they are usually self â€“respecting. A lot of credit to themâ€, said a member of the Local Organizing Committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
â€œI donâ€™t have the right words to describe their absolute unityâ€, said another LOC official. â€œThey bond together very well and you can see it in everything they do. If they ask for something and you canâ€™t do it, they quickly move on and face the next schedule. It is a very pelasant experience because several people made us believe the Nigerians would be difficultâ€.
An official of world football â€“governing body, FIFA confirmed that their officials have been impressed with the general conduct of the Nigeria contingent. â€œWe have had only good reports about them. It is important that they keep it up for the duration of the tournament. The players, technical officials and the administrators have been greatâ€.
Compared to previous tournaments, the organization of the Nigeria camp is a wonderful experience. In 1994, a village market â€“like situation at the Nigeria hotel in Boston, Massachusetts was held responsible for the Super Eaglesâ€™ ouster in the Round of 16 by Italy.
In 1998, players and officials were generally involved in hagglings over match bonus and allowances every night before games and these had terrible consequences for the teamâ€™s outing.
In 2002, there was not much respect for the young players by some older ones, leading to a situation in which defender Taribo West called his colleagues â€˜junkâ€™ in an interview.
This time, the family is united and everything has been put in place to ensure good rapport and guarantee that the players and technical officials will focus on the assignment at hand, and not on any other thing.
Match bonus and allowance issues were sorted out long before the tournament. The players have immense respect for the Technical Adviser and other members of the technical crew and everyone is motivated to do his job to the best of his ability, with no one meddling in other peopleâ€™s departments.
â€œWe are happy with the set â€“up. One must give a lot of credit to the new Coach, and of course the Nigeria Football Federation. Everything has gone well so farâ€, said a member of the technical crew.
Players, technical and administrative officials in the team camp follow strictly the dress code set for every particular day. There is timeliness, discipline and all is equal before the law. Anyone can be fined for breaching even the dress code unknowingly, including NFF President Sani Lulu Abdullahi, who has however complied with the code easily.
The media is politely and well â€“attended to at appointed periods by the officers in charge, namely NFF Media Officer Ademola Olajire and team Media Officer Peterside Idah.
â€œThere is seriousness, attentiveness and responsivenessâ€, said another member of the technical crew. â€œI love this camp!â€
Lars Lagerback opened a window on what he thinks of his players when he addressed the post â€“training press conference on Tuesday: â€œThe players have a very good attitude and they behave like the true professionals they are. I am proud of themâ€.
Greeks must remember Amokachi!
If there is one man the Greeks will fear most when they enter the pitch against the Super Eagles on Thursday, that man is Daniel Amokachi.
On Saturday at Ellis Park, as the Argentines sauntered onto the pitch, the legend, Diego Maradona, simply could not hold himself when he sighted Nigeria captain Nwankwo Kanu on the turf. He went and hugged him closely, and for about one minute, both were gluded to each other. Legend recognized legend!
Kanu, a highly decorated African footballer, narrowly missed being a member of Nigeriaâ€™s 1994 World Cup team, dropped by Coach Clemens Westerhorf only days to the finals in America. Two years later, in America also, Kanu led the Nigeria U-23 team to win Olympic football gold (Africaâ€™s firstâ€“ever), the Dream Team beating Brazil in the semi-final and Maradonaâ€™s Argentina in the final.Kanu has since then gained legendary status, being
Eagles train in biting weather
Strong lashing wind was on when the Super Eagles had their last training at Richardâ€™s Bay ahead of the match against Greece in Bloemfontein.
It was not easy as the wind became stronger and stronger but the players were focussed and did not appear disturbed as the coaches led the way, dishing out instructions.
Weather reports suggest that it could become much colder in the coming days and the situation in Bloemfontein, where the Eagles play Greece on Thursday, is said to be rather serious as the strong winds and heavy downpour continue in the Western Cape and spreading round the country.
Sports minister, other dignitaries praise Eagles
Minister/Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Ibrahim Isah Bio, has commended the national football team, Super Eagles, for their spirited display against tournament favourites Argentina in Saturdayâ€™s FIFA World Cup Group B match at Ellis Park.
Nigeria lost the match 0-1 but took so much away from the game after a battling performance that demystified Argentinaâ€™s mega-class strikers and earned goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama the Man of the Match award.
â€œI am here on behalf of the Leader of Federal Government delegation to this champioinship, Distinguished Senator David Mark. He said I should inform you that you all did your very best and that the entire nation back home is proud of you.”
He said he has not received one negative message since the match and that all Nigerians have for you are praises.
â€œIn this spirit, I urge you to have it in your minds that the Government and people of Nigeria are fully behind you in the campaign and will be looking forward to your giving your best in the remaining two matches of the group phase, in order for you to qualify for the knock â€“out round.
â€œI believe you can do it, and I believe you will do itâ€, said Honourable Isah Bio when he met with the players at their Protea Hotel Waterfront, Richardâ€™s Bay on Monday afternoon.
The Honourable Minister was accompanied by the Minister of Youth Development, Honourable Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, Director â€“General of the National Sports Commission, Chief Patrick Ekeji, Minister of the Nigeria High Commission in South Africa, Mamman Nuhu, one â€“time Secretary General of the then Nigeria Football Association, Alhaji Sani Ahmed Toro and the ministerâ€™s protocol officer.
They were received at the Eaglesâ€™ Protea Hotel Waterfront by Chairman of the NFF technical committee and a Member of the NFF Executive Committee, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi, a former international defender and also one â€“time Secretary General of the NFF, thanked the eminent persons for coming and assured that the players are in the right spirit to go all out in the matches against Greece and Korea Republic.
Nigeria play Greece in a must â€“win Group B match at the 45,000 â€“capacity Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Thursday.