By Ikeddy ISIGUZO, Chairman, Editorial Board
THERE is a gross misunderstanding about the place of Nigeria in the World Cup and this has given room for too many
speculations about the chances of the team that squares up against Argentina today.
Why all the apprehensions about the result of a game, which like the ones before it would in a matter of years be just a reference? We have much to dread. Years back, we would have marched against Argentina with the unbridled confidence of a winning team.
Argentina cannot forget the confrontation in USAâ€™94 where its totem, Diego Maradona was later found guilty of spiking his system with drugs to win over Nigeria.
Incidentally, Nigeriaâ€™s best World Cup efforts are in the past. The USAâ€™94 team, inexperienced, making a debut, remains that best.
Its youthfulness, the enthusiastic play and a fearlessness that borrowed extensively from their boisterous coach Clemens WesterhorfÂ served the team well. How can we forget its jersey, particularly that black and green one, that glowed and had waves bubbling as the players brought colour, canter and character to the World Cup?
Maradona would remember 1994 as he prepares to redeem what is left of his image that took heavy battering from his drug habits. Back home he is a cult hero, but many Argentines do not regard him as a coach, not a World Cup one. He is grudgingly accepted especially in the media where he has a tough time reminding them about his antecedents as a player.
Nigerians have in Lars Lagerback a coach most countries would want. Ironically, we have a coach, but not have a World Cup team. He is lucky. We have hired a coach, not a miracle worker. There are enough excuses for further dents on our World Cup image.
Our World Cup preparations indicate the results always though in 2002, Nigerians decided to befuddle themselves with statistics. The Eagles got undeserved pre-World Cup plaudits based on games against opponents who were not world class. The 2002 World Cup is mostly remembered for how it furthered interests that stalledÂ the growth of our football.
It is possible that the non-qualification for 2006 could have bearing to the failings of 2002 when we neither had a team nor a coach. The remnants of 2002 are available in 2010. the decisionÂ has left us with an aged team and compromised the 2014 World Cup which cannot benefit positive from South Africa.
By 1998 when the applause from 1994 had barely died, Nigeria still had the spark, sparkle, and sprinklings of aspirations. The World cannot forget Sunday Olisehâ€™s stunner against Spain or the 3-2 outcome, yet that team was not at its best.
The exhilaration that accompanied the qualification in 1994 is absent today. The surplus supply of players from which Westerhorf chose his warriors has dried up. We also have a football administration that is in competition with itself to see how worse it can make things.
We are on record as the only country that does not appreciate the enormity ofÂ tasks that accompany preparing for World Cup games. Others find these tasks engaging, we rather disperse our energies in organising the next election into the Nigeria Football Association.
It is understandable since the NFA glorifies serving its interests, something it has this time promoted to a global scale. The election for distraction is at the core of the World Cup. Our best attention is on the NFA election at the time the world is focused on a global competition for honours, something taken serious enough that Presidents are keeping in touch with their teams, talking to them, and motivating them.
Programme of the NFA elections is the most prominent Nigerian agenda in South Africa. The return of the forms would be concluded on June 21, a day before the Eagles play their last group game.
The importance of the moment is not entirely lost on us. How can we seize the momentum? The NFA has worked its next tenure into the World Cup certain that it would suffer public opprobrium over the World Cup and its performances.
For others it is the World Cup, the global equivalent of the world going to war peacefully. For us it is the Word Cup. We have the right word for everything, yet we are doing nothing to improve on our World Cup record. What a country!
To date, only European and South American teams have played in the finals of the World Cup. The two continents have won nine titles apiece. USA (North, Central America and Caribbean) in 1930 and Korea Republic (Asia) in 2002 are the only teams outside Europe and South America to make the semi-final.
Brazilâ€™s victory in 1958 in Sweden is the only time a non-European team won a World Cup in Europe. Only twice have consecutive World Cups been won by teams from the same continent – Italy (1938) and Brazil (1962). A Brazil victory in South Africa would make it the only country to have won the World Cup in all the continents.
Surprises are part of the World Cup, but they are becoming a rarity. When North Korea, at its other World Cup outing 44 years ago, beat Italy 1-0 to gain a quarter-final slot, it became the first Asian country to reach that stage, in the then 16-team format. From 3-0 defeat by USSR, 1-1 against Chile, the Koreans shocked Italy before losing in the quarters-finals 5-3 to Portugalâ€™s Eusebio.
The Koreans were leading 3-0 in 22 minutes before Eusebioâ€™s four goals confounded them. The documentary, â€œThe Game of Their Livesâ€ is a tribute to the 1966 Korean World Cup invasion.
Fairy tales like these are unlikely in South Africa. We probably saw the last of them in 2002 with Senegal beating defending champion France 1-0 and making it to the quarter-final in its debut.
What is our ambition in South Africa? Loquacious NFA officials are unsure. Last month a minor altercation ensued between them and Lagerback about a semi-final slot being the least expected of him. It was a mere convolution meant to trick the public into thinking the football authorities attached any importance to the World Cup.
Supposedly, one of Africaâ€™s foremost football countries, Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) have made the quarter-finals ahead of Nigeria. If the Eagles get to the quarter-finals (we were minutes away against Italy in 1994) it would still be a fairy tale.
Welcome to our dream Word Cup. In the theatre of dreams, permutations would see us to the semi-final. We are supposed to battle Argentina to a draw, beat Greece and draw with South Korea. With five points, we are comfortably in the second round. There are other variations of this Word Cup, all spiced with the patriotism of a people who are searching for success on the global platform.
Success at the 2010 World Cup is important to Nigerian football after the shattering experience of failing to gain a place in 2006. Things are so bad that if the Eagles get to the second they would be considered an unqualified success.
Welcome to our Word Cup. Enjoy it while it lasts.