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A Glimpse of the future – Nigeria can win the World Cup!

I have also pointed out how Nigeria’s victory at the football event of the Olympic Games in 1996 marked the turning point for Africa at…

I have also pointed out how Nigeria’s victory at the football event of the Olympic Games in 1996 marked the turning point for Africa at that level. Since then the Cameroon have won it, Ghana have come close and the complexion of the championship has indeed changed to include African teams as regular front runners for the Gold medal!   So would it become at the World Cup from 2010. Those that have been reading me for years would recall how many times I have ‘prophesied’ that Nigeria will win the World Cup in 2010! With developments around the Super Eagles since the present campaign started some may even say I have lost my head to still believe so, but I do.    

The performances of South Africa, Egypt and the USA at the Confederation Cup provide glimpses of what the world should expect in 2010 and make the chances of one African country winning the World Cup a real possibility.  I have listened to many commentaries about the performances of Egypt against World Champions, Italy, and Brazil, two scintillating games that left people in awe and admiration. At times during both games Egypt looked good and capable to defeat any team in the World. They matched the Brazilians in every department and totally outplayed the Italians. Unfortunately, they celebrated both performances too much and lost their focus into a match that should have been the easiest but turned out to be their nemesis. Against the USA their naivety (the common ‘disease’ afflicting African countries at this level) came to the fore again! As good examples we recall how Nigeria against Italy in 1994 and Denmark in 1998 displayed a similar lack of consistency and focus. Having played their hearts out against two of the biggest teams in the championship the Pharaohs of Egypt fell like a pack of cards against a struggling USA, a team like themselves, always showing great potentials but never holding out till the end!

The same thing happened to South Africa. Against Brazil that played their worst game in the championship, South Africa, with a slightly higher level of belief in themselves, could have drowned the South Americans. Instead they were too excited about how they were containing the Brazilians and forgot they needed to win the match. Instead they started to entertain their equally excited audience with new found skills and confidence.  In short they were contented to merely look good enough to match the Brazilians not beat them.  With that performance and their brave showing against highest ranked team in the world, Spain, the South Africans have now woken up to the real possibility that, contrary to what everyone had thought about them before the Confederations Cup (in the World Cup to make up the numbers only) they could actually go into South Africa 2010 with hopes of going some reasonable distance (beyond the first round).

The case of the USA that got to the finals of the Confederations Cup after losing their first two matches gives further insight into what can happen to African teams that are obviously mentally and physically stronger than USA and, perhaps, with better and more experienced players.  In this category are Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria at the moment. In recent years these three countries (plus the Cameroon) have held their own against big teams in world football. With a little more mastering of how to avoid, deal with and make best use of set-pieces during crucial matches, any of them would become authentic contenders for the World Cup.  

Just as every match is a completely different journey in football so is every major competition! Even as we all watch Nigeria stumble her way to qualifying for the World Cup the Super Eagles’ performances during the championship proper would be completely different! The element of playing in Africa, just as we saw it influence Egypt and South Africa during the Confederations Cup, would be a big factor for African teams during the World Cup!

I am already seeing exciting glimpses of great possibilities in South Africa in 2010. As I wrote in 2003 when I was leading the campaign for Nigeria to host and win the 2010 World Cup, I am already living in the future, in 2010, watching from the stands the Nigerian President in the Executive Box of the Johannesburg stadium, receiving from the Captain of the Super Eagles the trophy country has just won! With a little more ‘humility’ on the part of Nigeria’s football administrators and technical team, some solid preparation a few weeks before the championship, I can see faint glimpses of that possibility already! The Super Eagles may not have the best players in the world even when they win the World Cup, but as we have seen during the Confederations Cup, what is needed is not necessarily the best players (Spain would have won easily otherwise) but the best team! A critical look at the Brazilian team that won the competition reveals that the players were just above average and played well below the standard of past great Brazilian players that the world is used to. Yet, they played as a team and came out the winning team, deserving their eventual victory!