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NO PAPER STUFF

•Maradona

By Larry Izamuje

I have lately pored through the pages of so-called foreign soccer aficionados who have put the Super Eagles under their periscope, have gone into verbal sessions with soccer faithful who just would not leave history in the cemetery .

Almost everywhere, their posits do not give cause for hope as the Super Eagles take on Argentina today, that is if your patriotism is allowed to take their heavyweight punches.

My years in this write-and-talk -for-pay business have shown that everyone should be given a fighter’s chance but not so with pro-Argentina theorists. They just describe the Eagles as good enough for the gallows against the Albiceleste- Argentina’s national side.

Soccer’s Hall of Fame
I am reminded of the Argies’ place in soccer’s hall of fame as one of the two countries that share the spot for the most wins in major championships (19).The other is Uruguay. They evoke memories of Argentina’s best moments in the sun, winning the World Cup in 1978 and 1986.

I am bitterly told to compare both teams and how well they have fared in continental football. Argentina’s win of the Copa America, South America’s equivalent of our African Cup of Nations is into double digits at fourteen while we have only twice ruled Africa.

They flaunt FIFA’s participation and performance records at will and they show that the Argies have hoisted their flag in all World Cup finals since 1930 except the ones held 1938-54 when they withdrew on their own accord. Nigeria, they poke words at me, is just making her third appearance.

Perhaps, because they never played at the World Cup level, there are no shifts in position when I mention our UK Tourists of old, members of the Red Devils ,the Green Eagles of Coach Otto Gloria and other good players in-between.

The names Henshaw, Baby Anieke, Wonderboy Hamilton, Thompson Usiyen, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Christian Chukwu, Adokie Amiesimaka, Henry Nwosu, etc got dismissed with mention of Mario Kempes, Osvaldo, Ardilles, Buruchagga, Ruggeri, Redondo etc.

My attempt to draw discussions to the more recent teams of both countries got debased with
full time score sheets. I n 1994,parading what remains the best team we ever took to a World Cup final, the Argies pulled every stop including drug use by Diego Maradona to beat us 2-1. In the year 2002 in Korea/Japan, they pipped us 1-0 but ran away with a better score in points(3) as we sulked.

Comparisons
They are quick to advice that whereas we beat them in 1996 to win the Olympics football event gold, they gave a sweet revenge in 2008 beating us to the gold at the Olympics and remind me that whereas we have just once won Olympic football gold, they have twice done so (2004 and 2008).

Memories are evoked of the humbling defeat at U-20 level in Holland 2005 when they won the trophy fooling our defender to twice gift them penalties. The man who did that magic then has since transformed his game and taken it to senior level heights that he is now the world’s first citizen on-field. He comes to the field today with a graceful record of 47 goals from 53 matches in one season for his club, Barcelona.

They put me in remembrance of silver wares .Messi won the golden ball and golden boot of that U-20 tourney and has won more medals and trophies than the Nigerian who placed second then, Mikel Obi. Now, they have Messi ready, able and willing to pepper our goal today and our Mikel will be a  spectator due to injury.

Whereas we went to bed after that tourney in terms of churning out global starts, they raised Aguero, top scorer at the 2007 U-20 tourney and winner of the Europa Cup this year with Athletico Madrid.

Between
Lagerback and Maradona
Their coach is better now, I am told. Employed with very shallow managerial experience in 2008, the team that suffered shaky match days has found places in the cold for their initial worries and announced its readiness for Nigeria and the rest of the opposition they will face in World Cup 2010 with a comprehensive 5-0 whitewash of Canada in their last friendly. Conversely, our coach is just celebrating his third week of work with his boys!

Maradona tried out 87 players in two years before penning his final 23. He played A-grade international friendlies with Haiti, Jamaica and Spain. He was in charge during their World Cup qualifiers. Lagerback watched videos to select his initial 44, watched even more to reduce to 30 and on the strength of two low-key friendlies, named 23.

Whereas inactivity due to injury and non-selection by their team handlers shot out great activity from the performance index of a lot of our players in the season just ended, the Argies never failed to taste action.

Bombarded with BIG names
As I arrived Johannesburg Thursday morning, Argies here for this one read names that can cause the heart to skip a bit as they compared our team and theirs in the usual pre-contest battles of the fans.

They mentioned those to punish us-lone goal scorer at Beijing 2008 final against us(Angel Maria), French double trophy winner(Gabriel Heinze), two Champions League finalists in the defence (Walter Samuel of Inter and Demechelis of Bayern), promoted back with Newscastle to the English Premiership after Obafemi left them ( Guiterez), Italian league second place winner with Roma ( Burdisso), Europa Cup winner (Aguero),Champions League winner (Milito),World Footballer of the Year (Lionel Messi) and although their teams did not win trophies this year, Javier Mascherano(Liverpool) and Carlos Tevez (Man City), two of the best players of 2009/2010 football.

Rounding off, they boastfully submitted that Cambiaso and Zannetti, two Champions League winners with Inter failed to make their mark because there was too little space for too many stars. They reminded me they are ranked 7th and Nigeria 21st and told me to multiply seven by three and I will see today’s scoreline. They say they are three times better.

Trust me. Words do not fail me in concluding such talks. A World Cup game is NO PAPER STUFF. If so, there will be no need to gather the rest teams to hustle. FIFA would have called us all to watch Brazil and France play again as the countries with the most final match day victories.

I recalled gladly how the press in Argentina exposed Maradona , a cult hero as a player but paralytic as a coach. My confidence got boosted by the fact that Argies themselves, blame Messi for lacking the fire power they know him for in Barcelona’s jersey once he dons the colours of Argentina. Against a weak Canadian side drowned by many goals, he still could not score! I remembered how Riquelme, the Albiceleste captain in Germany 2006 said Maradona brings nothing to the thinking table of tactics.

Eagles must DIE

Still I left with the song of Vince Gill on my lips ‘it will take dying to get it done’ against Argentina. The Eagles must ‘DIE’ by showing commitment, dedication and discipline, go tackle for tackle, dribble for ribble or they will be ‘killed’ if they do not come to the occasion with the lion arts. Rather than get  killed, DIE! Argentina must know that a World Cup match is no PAPER STUFF.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.