By Onochie Anibeze
I like discussing football with my friend, Idah Peterside. He is such an optimist. He played the game and, naturally,Â he should be passionate about it.
But not everybody who played the game is a student of the game. Idah leads you into the game. He mirrors it, pictures it and compels you into it by making you to look forward to each game. He is a good ambassador of the game. I was worried when I called Monday and he had not arrived. But when we spoke on Wednesday, it was vintage Idah:
â€œThere appears to be tension in the air. Everybody is feeling it. I know how it feels. Everybody wants Nigeria to be at the World Cup.
Weâ€™ll be there. The players and coaches are more concerned than everybody. We are all involved in this. We know what the expectations are. We know the responsibility that we are saddled with.
We have been working hard and after two training sessions here in Abuja,Â I can feel victory. I see it and we will all savour it. Tunisia may be tough, the game may be tough but we will get the result that may surprise all. There could be as many as three goals. But if we win by a lone goal, victory is victory.
We know that this match means a lot to us. But I have a strong feeling that the toughest match will be against Mozambique in Abuja. I will never forget what we went through in Mozambique. I met Musa Otieno, the captain of Kenya. He told me that Mozambique gave them hell in Nairobi before luck shone on them. I think that if we beat Tunisia on Sunday, it will be a great step to the World Cup.
But if we beat Mozambique after the victory on Sunday, then South Africa ticket would have been secured. We will win the match on Sunday. But after that comes the real task.
I know it will also be tough in Kenya in our last match but that match may no longer matter if we win on Sunday and go on to beat Mozambique. I say this because I know that Mozambique will beat Tunisia at home.
Nigeria will be in South Africa for the World Cup. Sundayâ€™s match will boost the confidence of Nigerians on this. The atmosphere in camp is impressive. The players canâ€™t wait for Sunday. They are waiting for the refereeâ€™s whistle. They want to finish Sundayâ€™s job in time and get ready for the next.
I know that Tunisia will be cautious. A draw will be good for them. They will play one man up front, five behind and they will try to close the game and go on the counter. They will be very fast and will play one-touch game. They will have one man behind who will play like a Libero but the man marker will play as a midfielder especially when they win the ball.
They will try to man-mark everybody in our team. They will have five players around the ball in the defence but the pace with which they will attack when they win the ball will be a thing of concern to us. They have a left midfielder who is very fast. He is quick on the ball and they rely on him a lot. He can deliver. He can unsettle any side with his pace.
And when he is pacing on, their right back plays as winger when they are attacking, so this gives them options even when they break away from the left. The man running to the right opens the game. They play well but we have what can clip their approach. The way we will play will force them to their half and we will open them and get our goals.
(He says some tactical things that may not be for public consumption). They will do everything to close the game and go on the counter, hoping to get a draw. But we have the game to drag them out. I think we will win. Nigerians will enjoy the game. They should not panic.
Let the fans do their own for I know that the players will do theirs. The coaches have worked hard enough too, so letâ€™s get cracking.â€
Peterside, a popular analyst on Supersport,Â is the spokesman of the Super Eagles. He once played for Nigeria too.
Just before the chat with him, Chris Green, the FA chairman of Rivers State and one time state commissioner of sports also had a chat with me. He is of the opinion that the match will be an easy one.
Said he: â€œTunisia will be well beaten. Everybody is tensed up but I donâ€™t know why. I think that the match in Kenya will be crucial. People have written off that match on the grounds that the group winner would have emerged before the game.
Suppose we beat Tunisia and same Tunisia goes on to beat Mozambique and Mozambique draws in Abuja. It means we will have to beat Kenya in Nairobi. And you know that Kenya will be fighting for a place in the Nations Cup. Kenya is a difficult place to play because of the weather factor.
To me, that may turn out to be the match. Letâ€™s hope that things will turn out to favour us before that match otherwise that is the match that may determine our World Cup fate.â€
Millions have shown tremendous interest on Sundayâ€™s match. Chief Jonathan Ogufere, a genuine and sound football administrator who once held sway at WAFU has even written a letter to the Eagles, urging them to brush Tunisia aside. Abuja will be agog on Sunday.
The match against Kenya proved that the football culture can be revived. The 60,000 capacity stadium took over 70,000 and match commissioner, Tony Baffoe nearly put off the match. But for football federation to achieve that, they had to move their matches from Saturday when traders still trade in the markets to Sundays when they are usually free.
Again, fans had to be conveyed from different locations to the stadium. How times have changed. Some years back, the task was how to limit the number of fans surging to the stadium for such big matches in Lagos.
Now, the authorities embark on some kind of mobilisation to ensure full capacity in our national stadium. I donâ€™t know of any country in the world where they beg fans to come and watch football. When Manchester United visited Abuja and played against Portsmouth, not more than five thousand watched them.
Yet, thousands of Nigerians will claim to love these clubs more than the owners. However, it was not so in the past.
What happened to our football culture is shameful.
Letâ€™s begin to support our football. Let the stadium experience great turn out even if vehicles are not stationed in different locations to convey fans to the stadium.
And when they get there, let movement be swift, let traffic flow and let there be good organisation so that the story could be different from the recent past when even the Super Eagles even found it difficult to gain access into the stadium due to chaotic traffic situations around the stadium.
Let Sunday be good. Peterside wants the crowd to cheer and promised that the players will deliver. May this come true. I have quoted him copiously today and even dedicated this column to his eloquent quotes.
I hope the story on Sunday will be interesting so that we can have more of Idah peterside, more of the Eagles and their coaches on our way to the World Cup in South Africa. Good luck, Super Eagles.