By Paul Bassey
I have heard it said and I have read again and again how The Super Eagles are a tournament team ( ? ). The tradition of struggling against teams with inferior football cultures is still with us.
Drawn in Group F in the World Cup 2004 African Qualifiers against Kenya, Malawi and Namibia, one would have expected the Super Eagles of Nigeria to qualify with matches to spare, yet that is not the case here.
In Kenya last Wednesday, it was nerves galore, tension aplenty as we stood on the verge of being knocked out of the world cup by a team that has not beaten us before but was anxious to create history even if further progress was not guaranteed.
Many Nigerians do not know that this stage of the competition is just the preliminary round and that the real battle lies ahead. When we get out of this group as nine other countries will, then we will go into a home and away second round encounter that will provide the five African representatives in Brazil.
Incidentally the media has not helped to highlight hostilities in the other groups even as crucial matches were played last Saturday and yesterday. In Group A there is a titanic battle between Ethiopia and South Africa.
After both sides won massively at away last Saturday against Botswana and Central African Republic respectively, there is the massive clash in Addis Ababa next week end as Ethiopia host South Africa with a two point advantage. Anything less than victory for the Bafana Bafana means Ethiopia are into the second round.
In Group D, Ghana’s dream of making it to three successive World Cups after Germany and South Africa hangs in the balance as they trail a point behind Zambia. Last week, Ghana went to Sudan and won convincingly 3-1, while Zambia replied by thumping Lesotho 4-0.
This week end, Ghana is away to hapless Lesotho with a possible victory in mind, hoping that Sudan will do them a favour and hold Zambia in Khartoum.
Another great team that is flaunting its pedigree home and away is Cote Divoire. The Ivoriens without Didier Drogba in her line up went to Gambia and triumphed 3-0 and there is no stopping them in Group C with ten points from four matches played.
Tunisia is also poised to come to the explosive second round party. On Saturday, Sierra Leone was in the process of denting their plans but the North Africans rallied back to equalize 2 two goals apiece on the dot of ninety minutes, taking 10 points to an away game against Equatorial Guinea ( 4 ) while Sierra Leone with five points can only hope, if they win their two remaining matches and the Tunisians flop theirs…..a tall dream.
( It has pleased FIFA to appoint me Match Commissioner for the Equatorial Guinea-Tunisia match, so I will keep you posted ) Congo, I can confirm, will make it to the next round.
The Congolese lead Group E with 10 points while Gabon with four, are their closest rivals with two matches to go. ( Burkina Faso and Niger with three points each are out of the race ) When the Congolese host Burkina Faso this week end in Point Noire, victory song will ring out at the end of ninety minutes!
So much has been said about our victory on Wednesday that will guarantee qualification, depending on the ability of Kenya to hold the desperate Malawians who are still licking the wounds of their goalless encounter against Namibia in Blantyre. Other greats also proved their mettle yesterday as Egypt went to Zimbabwe to win 4-2 while Algeria beat Benin 3-1in Cotonou. Nigeria cannot be an exception.
The Kasarani display was not entirely convincing. At a point, the Eagles were playing against themselves. But for Victor Wanyanma who struggled to be relevant in midfield, the Kenyans did not display match winning stuff, not in any department of the game. Yes it is a match we should have wrapped up even in the first minute, yet 45 minutes crawled by with nothing to show.
In the second half, though the Eagles changed tactics, the story was not different. At a point I believed the bag of Sports Day reporter Remi Sulola contained an analgesic so I asked for a Panadol. She said she had none. ( It was the Eagles Doctor who relieved my headache, later in the team hotel )
Let the Eagles beat Namibia and spare Nigerians the stress, opening a window of shopping for relevant and key additions with the second round in view. The Eagles should beat Namibia and fly into Brazil for the Confederation Cup ( A tournament ) riding on a crest of belief. After all Haiti made Spain sweat on Saturday.
Mes que un club de Seguidors
When Taye Ige spotted me at the Oriental Hotel on Saturday, he screamed. “ Oga what are you doing here. Don’t tell me you have ported” Laughter.
He and my other colleagues knew better. When you support Manchester United, the greatest football club in the world, you die a red.
Let me commend however the public relations machinery of Penya Barca De Lagos Club whose inauguration was held last Saturday. By telephone calls, mails and text messages, they made sure you were reminded about their event. The catch for me, apart from the honour of being invited was the phrase Mes Que Un Club De Seguidors, translated to mean “ More than just a fan club”.
It was that bit that drew me to Oriental Hotel and Club President Leslie, assisted by Kayode Adeleke, Ebie Loius-Domeih and Ali Baba ( Yes the same Ali Baba) and all those who put the event together the message was clearly spelt out. They emphasized that their focus and objective apart from football will be other ideals and values incorporating sportsmanship, community development, humanity and social integration.
For them, Youth development and grass roots empowerment was key in contributing to the sports environment in Nigeria. I pray the Arsenals and Chelsea’s of our supporters can toe this line that will diminish the cut throat and senseless “support” that often times lead to grievous body harm and death all in the name of blind allegiance.
With the support Skye Bank, the Spanish Embassy in Nigeria and Unicef, I thought I had seen and heard enough, skipping dinner before I forgot where I was.
See you next week.