By Paul Bassey
Walter Gagg is a FIFA Director with incredible knowledge of the round leather game.
Mention a game that was played many years ago and expect Walter Gagg to furnish you with uncanny details, complete with the dramatis personae.
For over 15 years and consecutively too, he has become more like a consultant to CAF, directing all the security concerns of CAF competitions and helping out with other activities.
No wonder then that when CAF needed someone with a FIFA touch to be appointed to the high level CAF Inspection team to the six bidding countries of the 2019 and 2021 Nations Cup, that person had to be Walter Gagg.
It was in Abidjan, Cote D’ivoire that we met.
With the luxury of a break during the intensive inspection tour, Gagg was to tell the officials of the Federation Ivoirien de Football that in a group that had Colombia, Greece and Japan, Cote D’ivoire had perhaps the best chance of any African team to move into the next round of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014.
The Ivorian football officials were delighted with the news, coming from him.
I waited for my time. At breakfast the next day at the prestigious Hotel Ivoire, I cornered him. “Gagg”, I said. “yesterday you talked about the chances of the Elephants, what about the Super Eagles of Nigeria?”
He did not respond immediately, rather he took out a piece of paper from his pocket and studied it. It was a World Cup fixtures guide. “….You should have it. I never go anywhere without it. Later I will make you a copy”, he promised.
After studying the document that contained all the groups,time of matches and venues, he said Nigeria should beware of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“…It will be 50/50. You can beat Bosnia, but Bosnia can also beat you. The greatest asset of the Bosnia team is the coach, Safet Susic, (59) the greatest Bosnia player alive, who was also a legend in Paris Saint Germain as a player”
Gagg went on to say how the coach was such a model tactician, he reminded me that during the European Qualifiers, Bosnia and Herzegovina won eight and drew one of the ten matches played, scored 30 goals and conceded only six and with players playing consistently in top clubs in Europe Bosnia was a threat.
Some of those players were identified as the goal scoring machine Edin Dzeko of Man City, Vedad Ibisevic ( Sttutgard ) Tino-Sven Susic (Hadjuk Split) Izet Hajnovic (Galatasaray) Asmir Begovic first choice goalkeeper at Stoke, Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma) Senad Lulic (Lazio) and Emir Saphic of Bayer Leverkusen among others.
Again he brought out his reference material.
Two key factors will go a long way in deciding the group he said. One is the result of the opening matches . Nigeria must beat Iran and hope that Bosnia hold Argentina. (He then added that Iran was a very tactical side but with very little international experience. “ ……Their Portuguese Coach Queiroz was in South Africa during CHAN to study the playing pattern of Nigeria and he is very good at reading games” he said)
The second factor was that Nigeria was going to play Bosnia in the South of Brazil, a place called Cuiaba, which with over 40 degrees centigrade was the hottest state capital in Samba Land.
“…That place is hot, very hot. Whoever can cope with the heat or plans on how to cope with the heat is likely to emerge victorious
“By the way, where is your Base Camp?” He asked. I quickly got in touch with NFF Spokesperson Demola Olajire, who replied that it was in Vitoria Hotel Campinas, about 65 minutes drive to and from Sao Polo Airport. Walter Gagg thought it was okay, although the best site would have been in the south where Nigeria will play Iran and Argentina in Curitiba and Porto Alegre. “……. Beautiful weather in the South.
“In the East of Brazil where you will play Bosnia is very hot and humid. It will be quite telling on the players. I have been there, with the Swiss National team some years ago and though we managed to draw 1-1 it was quite an experience”
Argentina? “You have always been grouped with Argentina, but ah…I remember the final of the U20 World Cup in Holland in 2005….what a match. Nicholas Navarro, Segio Aguerro, Lionel Messi, Mikel Obi….”. The world believes a world cup without Argentina in the semi finals is a failure that is why on paper everyone believes it will be Argentina and one other. It is up to you to prove the world wrong”
Nigeria? “….Great potential. I like Keshi, he is a good coach and my friend. When you go back, say me hi to him. Also extend my greetings to Amokachi, Ike and Kanu. Great professionals. Nigeria has a great chance. As I said earlier, the Eagles can beat Bosnia, all they need is tactical discipline and maximum concentration throughout the duration of the matches. You cannot expect to take any team for granted, not even Iran…..”