By Jacob Ajom
Former Super Eagles assistant coach, Sylvanus Okpalla is confident that, with the right attitude, the current Super Eagles squad could take the world by storm at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Okpalla who spoke with Saturday Vanguard Sport in a chat at his FESTAC Town residence, said “Eagles must avoid the mistake the 1994 squad to the World Cup in USA made. They must go there with the right attitude. They must be positive in their approach to every match and see themselves as contenders for the trophy.”
The former Nigeria international said, “In 1994, Nigeria had one of the best teams in the world and were ranked 5th by FIFA. That would have given the players enough confidence to see Nigeria lift the trophy if the players saw themselves as potential champions.
“The mistake they made was that they did not believe in themselves and perhaps, never believed a black nation could win the World Cup. Their biggest problem was inferiority complex and that is what this present squad must do away with.”
He said he was happy with the level of unity in the team and warned, “this has to be translated on the field of play. Football is team work. Eleven Messis or Ronaldos who are not playing as a team could be beaten by a team of eleven ‘mechanics’ who are playing for one another as a team.”
Okpala said with good home work, Nigeria could surprise the world in Russia. “Coach Rohr must be very sensitive to who he includes in the squad and what role he assigns to each player in the squad. The players must know that sometimes what you play in the club differs from what you find in the national team. In most cases it does not work. The boys must learn to adapt quickly. But I think we have a team.“
He recalled the great African teams of the past that did well at the world Cup without big name players. “In 1978, a squad of predominantly home-based players from Tunisia went to the World Cup and shook the football world after defeating Mexico 3-1, drew with Germany and lost 1-0 to Poland. In 1982 the Algerian squad too was impressive just like the Cameroon squad of Italia ’90 where they became the first African team to reach the quarter final of the World Cup.
“Most of the Cameroon players then were in 2nd and 3rd divisions in France. What is required is good preparations.”