NIGERIANS, most especially sports lovers, heaved a great sigh of relief recently, following the qualification of the national team, the Super Eagles, for the final of the World Cup coming up next year in Russia.
The team emerged the first among the five teams from Africa to fly the continent’s flag at the global fiesta despite a game outstanding and we commend them for the great feat and challenge them not to rest on their oars in the quest to do the nation proud in 2018.The qualification, we note, was hard-earned and most heartwarming considering the gamut of socio-economic challenges confronting the citizenry coupled with the fact that most analysts did not give the team a chance after the draws were made and the country grouped along such football powers as Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia. For this reason, Group B was aptly described as Group of death given the sterling performances of these countries in past global and regional football tournaments.
It is on record that the Cameroon senior national team, the Indomitable Lions for instance, apart from being the only African team that had advanced to the Quarter Final in the history of the World Cup, is the reigning African champion.Little wonder, therefore, that soccer lovers and the citizens celebrated their darling team who did them proud with pomp and music and we note with joy that this is the first in the nation’s football history that participation in the global fiesta held every four years is guaranteed even before the last qualifier game though the road to success did not come easy.
We recall with concern that in the past, lovers of the round leather game were subjected to on and off the pitch rigorous permutations and excruciating experience and most times had resorted to prayers for divine intervention on account of unimpressive performance by the national team which is not the case with the present squad and we totally commend the players and the coaching crew led by Gernot Rohr for their commitment, hard work, resilience and dedication during the qualifying matches.
Also, it was observed that unlike in the past when inadequate funding had been a major distraction for successful preparation and even participation by Nigeria’s national teams in global events, Super Eagles received the needed financial support as both coaches as well as the players who are mostly foreign based did not experience any hiccups in the payment of their winning bonuses and allowances and we commend the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for doing the needful in disbursing money appropriated for the qualifiers as at when due. This must be sustained.
Certainly, the qualification marks the beginning of yet another crucial phase for the team ahead of the World Cup which is adequate preparation if the Super Eagles must excel, do fatherland and continent proud this time around. Therefore, we challenge the NFF to immediately draw up a comprehensive training programme for the team because it will take a properly honed and motivated players to make any meaningful impact in the global tournament that will feature 31 other nations apart from Nigeria and will parade their best legs including past and current world best players, Lionnel Messi of Argentina and Christiana Ronaldo of Portugal respectively.
We demand that preparations for the fiesta must begin in earnest and further challenge the technical crew to embark on talent hunt to discover Nigerian stars across the globe and particularly in the local football league to further fortify the Super Eagles because it is only the best prepared national team that will eventually make any meaningful impact in the tournament and possibly win the prized laurel with its attendant handsome financial reward and recognition.
For Rohr, his assistants and the players that will make the final team to Russia we insist, must be given the right motivation and needed financial support before, during and after the competition while early camping is recommended and international friendly matches with national teams of other great football nations that had already qualified for the fiesta lined up to perfect their skills ahead of Russia 2018.The high profile international friendly with Argentina slated for November 14 in the Russian city of Krasnodar already secured by the NFF is most welcome.
We acknowledge the tremendous goodwill and financial support accorded the Super Eagles so far not only by public spirited Nigerians but governments especially the Akwa Ibom State Government that made her stadium, Godswill Akpabio Nest of Champions, readily available for the hosting of the qualifiers considering that both the national stadia in Abuja and Lagos had been neglected by the authorities concerned which is regrettable and shouldn’t be.Other sports enthusiasts are further encouraged to support the team financially for a hitch-free preparations and subsequent victory in the competition.
The federal, states as well as organized private should as a matter of national urgency join forces and come up with appropriate architecture and investment in the development of soccer infrastructure which has been our bane as doing so will enable the technical crew discover young football talents even from the kindergarten level and groomed to become world beaters. Similarly, the current composition of the team with foreign-based professionals accounting for 99 per cent members of the team is unacceptable for a soccer loving country of about 180 citizens.It is matter of regret also that before now and after 57 years of independence that Nigeria cannot boast of reputable and world class soccer academies, which should harbour talents that could easily be drafted to replace tired legs when the need arises as is the case with great football playing nations.
There is no gain saying the fact that most of the current international stars plying their trade across top teams in Europe and lately China were discovered locally and had the opportunity to graduate from the junior national teams and clubs.
Therefore, we further challenge the NFF in conjunction with private investors to do all within their power to making the domestic league virile and formidable considering that football has become a multi-billion naira sport, and now in an era whereby soccer stars are more famous and in some instances wielding tremendous influence politically. Former world footballer of the year in person of George Weah of Liberia who recently emerged top in the Liberia presidential poll is a classic example though he is expected to face a run-off soon.
Again, we observe that a major lesson that should be learnt from the recent qualification is that Nigeria has huge manpower and potential but yet untapped which if properly harnessed and merit as watchword, and such mundane issues as ethnicity, tribalism and nepotism relegated to the back burner, citizens in various fields of endeavours including sportsmen and women can excel and ultimately become world beaters bringing fame, fortune and glory to fatherland.
During the qualifiers, and taking a close look at the players, we could easily notice their dogged determination to succeed, team spirit, unity of purpose, a common goal to achieve victory and grab the sole ticket in Group B.Perhaps the most nerve soothing and enthralling encounter during the campaign was the four goals defeat inflicted by Nigeria on the reigning African champions, Cameroon, on October 7 at Uyo, proving book makers wrong. The Rohr tutored boys including home-based Ezenwa who manned the post for Nigeria were simply amazing as they gave a good account of themselves through sterling performance which marked a turning point in the qualifiers.
Therefore, we are swayed to agree with recent strong optimism expressed by both President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Ahmad Ahmad, and Amaju Pinnick ( President, NFF) predicting that Nigeria will make history at the 2018 World Cup.For Ahmad who was recently in Nigeria for a football stakeholders’ forum, Super Eagles have emerged the strongest African contender in the tournament and tipped the team to lift the World Cup in July next year if given adequate preparation and motivation, adding that “Nigeria has the strongest team from Africa going to the World Cup, hence much is expected of the Super Eagles in Russia next year”. The Supporters Club should also be well funded for its members to accompany the team and cheer them to victory. We further enjoined the Super Eagles to take the quest for glory seriously not only for national and continental pride but for the hefty financial reward awaiting them in the fiesta.
It is on record that $10million is up for the grabs by each of the teams after playing the first three games in the group stage; possibly pocket another $12 million, should the team advance to round of 16; gets a $18million reward should they berth in the quarterfinal; $25million for semi-final; $30million for third place; $40million for second place winner and a handsome $50million if they are lucky to win the cup.
Considering these high stakes, therefore, the team cannot afford to disappoint her teeming supporters across Nigeria and the world but should face their opponents with all seriousness it deserves and rock solid determination to win. This must be uppermost in their mind for them to excel in the tournament.
For a better society