The 2018 World Cup, otherwise known as Russia 2018, kicks off today in Russia. Thirty-two countries, including Nigeria, would vie for the trophy, which would be decided after 64 matches. The country’s hope of winning the trophy rests on the 23-man national football team, the Super Eagles, and its handlers.
The road to Russia 2018 for our national team was, against all expectations, great as the team qualified from a rather difficult group that had the then African Champions, Cameroon, the former number one ranked team on the continent, Algeria, and Zambia, a no less formidable past African Champion.
Qualifying for the global football fiesta in style and with a match to spare, fired the imaginations of soccer-loving Nigerians, and brought back fond memories of the Nigerian can-do spirit and the possibility of surpassing our best effort of the round of 16 and even winning the ultimate prize. Winning the trophy is a possibility because great success is forged in the furnace of great ambition and exertion.
The preparations for the football event have been on point with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) taking care of the logistics that would ensure a good outing for our team. Matters like match bonuses, which blighted our participation at the global event in the past, have been settled. The support cast is not lacking either.
The National Council of Arts and Culture has opened “Nigerian Houses” in some of the host cities to showcase our hospitality and drum support for the national team. The Supporters’ Club, famed for its global appeal, has been well mobilised and will be on hand to lend their special support.
This has allowed the team and its handlers to concentrate on the game preparations. The Super Eagles played five friendly matches as part of their tune up for the World Cup. Countries like Poland, Serbia, Congo DR, England and Czech Republic were selected to give our team the necessary exposure to other teams before the event starts. The results of the friendlies did not quite meet the expectations of many Nigerians.
Our team won one against Poland and lost three (Serbia, England and Czech) and drew one (Congo DR). But the passionate fans of the national team may have reached conclusions too early based on the results already. Apart from friendlies providing the opportunities for a warm up for the main event in any sporting competition, they also serve as a platform to discover mistakes and correct them before the event. Besides, Nigeria has a history of always managing to do well at major events where the preparatory matches leading to them offered little cheer.
Our hope is that history repeats itself this time; and more importantly, that our national team has learnt the lessons from the rather depressing friendly matches’ results to galvanise the nation to a resounding outing at the mundial.
The Super Eagles has the distinction of being the youngest team going to the football fiesta, so there is a lot of hope on them. In the unlikely case that they do not meet our expectations at the football event, there is a lot of room to learn from it and make amends in future ones.
No doubt, the matches will be fast and tough. It would require sacrifice, endurance and suffering on the field of play. It would task the technical know-how of the coaches and the players on the field. But at the end of the event, a winner will emerge.
The other 31 countries and indeed the others which did not qualify for the mundial would try again in the next four years when the event would hold in Qatar. We wish the Super Eagles a successful outing at the global football event and urge them to make Nigerians proud.