Friday, December 6, 2013

Brazil 2014: The Draw and Nigeria's Potential......

Nigeria has to look forward to a potentially successful World Cup after the World Cup draws took place in Brazil. Nigeria has been grouped to play against Argentina, Bosnia, and Iran. It is not an easy group by any means. The question in most people’s mind is why Argentina again? Nigeria has now been placed in the same group as  Argentina in four of five World Cups that Nigeria qualified.  Hey, what is the probability of such a draw? While Nigeria has lost on three of those occasions, there is always a first time.  Brazil might be the first time especially since Nigeria does not get to meet the Argentines until the last group game.

In any case, Nigeria as Africa’s champions must be confident that it can play well against any team in the World. Importantly, the current Nigerian team has demonstrated its ability to compete on the field of play against some of the best teams in the World. Thus, Nigerians must look to the 2014 World Cup with hope.

Record-wise, Nigeria’s last two outings at the World Cup were dismal with group elimination in both 2002 and 2010. The 2010 finals was very disheartening because Nigeria was in a Group where it was indeed, at least on paper, a reasonable expectation that the team will reach the elimination rounds. Moreover, the team hired the much-touted Swedish Coach Lars Lagerback after telling the world that the team needed a “World Class” coach because Shuaibu Amodu who had led the team throughout the qualifiers was “not good enough.” Unfortunately, Nigeria collapsed under the leadership of Lagerback. Hopefully, the Nigerian sports administrators will not make the same mistake again – being conned by the search for a “World Class” coach with a magical wand that only exists in dreams but not reality. It takes time to build a competitive team and an overnight fix leads to no where.

In any case, Nigeria must look to do better than its outings in 1994 and 1998 when the team won its group but failed to advance beyond the second round. Certainly, this current team has the ability to advance beyond those two performances. It will not be easy but no one ever stated that the World Cup is easy. The reality is that Nigeria is the best African team in this tournament and this is the stage to underline this pedigree. Coach Stephen Keshi has made monumental progress with this team but his place in history will be duly judged by what he does in Brazil. If he is to become Nigeria’s most famous coach then he has to take the team beyond the 1994 and 1998 records. Without it then he cannot be considered Nigeria’s best. It is that simple.

There will be several Nigerian records that the team should look forward to eclipsing. Already Nigeria has now gone 28 games and counting without losing a World Cup qualifying game. That is an outstanding record. Nigeria’s last loss was away to Angola on June 20 of 2004. However, in the World Cup there are a few records awaiting. Not just going beyond the second round, but also number of World Cup minutes by a player which goalie Enyeama may accomplish if Nigeria plays at least four games in Brazil. Enyeama is perhaps the only starter with any World Cup experience. The other player is Obinna Nsofor who is likely going to play a reserve role and he has less than 90 minutes experience compared to Enyeama’s 360 minutes. The current Nigerian record is held by Peter Rufai at 750 minutes. Can the team do this in a group that also has Argentina, Bosnia, and Iran? That is the ultimate question.

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