For a football-loving country like Nigeria, exiting the on-going FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia at the group stage, has left fans with mixed emotions, most of them negative. The disappointment was palpable and could be felt all over the country as the Eagles had come within a few minutes to qualifying for the round of 16; an achievement the nation had attained on three previous occasions and was hoping to surpass this time.
The match eventually ended 2-1 in favour of Argentina and put paid to any hope of further progress in the global football event.
It was a big blow to the psyche of Nigerians and indeed millions of other soccer fans on the continent as Nigeria, perhaps more than the other four African participants at the Mundial, carried the best hope of a good showing. This was not to be, with the exit of Nigeria on June 26.
But all hope is not lost, as some commentators have pointed to the technical quality of the young team and the imperative of keeping them together for the future. They also argued that the coach of the team, Gernot Rohr, should be retained for continuity and consolidation of what he has built so far. Under Rohr, it was the teams’ first real global tournament experience and many lessons were learnt from Russia 2018, which would be appropriated for the future good of the team and the nation.
A decipherable pattern in all the team’s group stage matches at Russia 2018 was that they started slowly in the first half. It was in the second half of the games that they turned up so good a performance. In the last group match against Argentina, it even got worse as the team retreated after scoring the equalizer. It was an unusual tactical approach by the national team which is known for its robust and early start to games.
This approach had helped our team, which tend to collapse before the end of the 90 minutes duration for football matches. This is attributed to momentary loss of concentration and lack of stamina
and discipline in our team. This is also evident in the performance of our team at this football fiesta and should be worked on rigorously if we ever hope to win the World Cup.
We should jettison the habit of unfairly criticizing and demonizing our teams when they do not meet our expectations or lose at football and other sporting tournaments. The habit of throwing away the baby with the bath water can never be the solution. The Nigerian team was the youngest at the competition and the majority of the players can build a strong team for the future. For continuity, team chemistry and bonding are essential characteristics of great teams.
There is need to fortify the areas of weaknesses in the team. This includes the defence, midfield and attacking positions. Some of our players are old and have lost form. The team should be reinvigorated with young and talented players from the local league whenever they are discovered. It is a fact that most successful soccer countries build their teams from the local league and spice them with a few from abroad.
We need to imbibe the lessons that have served other past winners well and find ways of reflecting them in our football. Football is like the modern warfare, every country goes into it with its best.
The next World Cup scheduled for Qatar in 2022, is only four years away. Its preparations should start with the next edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). All efforts must be deployed to ensure that we qualify for the continental soccer fiesta.