The Super Eagles start in Russia 2018 as rank outsiders. And if they do not perform well, it will likely be due to inexperience and lack of quality, and not by effort.
In the past five editions of the FIFA World Cup, they have taken part in, there are reasons that can be cited for coming short.
Two vivid examples show how the Eagles counted their hens when all they could see were eggs. In 1994, the Eagles already celebrated a famous win in their minds, but Roberto Baggio struck with three minutes left in regulation time. Italy, despite playing with 10 men, got a penalty and contested the final against Brazil.
Another example was in 1998 where the Eagles had already beaten Denmark even before stepping on the pitch and were preparing to face Brazil in the quarterfinals – they never made it that far!
2. Concerted team disharmony
The World Cup in Korea/Japan in 2002 showcases this team disharmony. After coming third at the Nations Cup, the team led by Sunday Oliseh broke into factions which were further exacerbated by the Nigeria Football Association [as they were known then].
The coach, late Amodu Shaibu was sacked. And in protest, Oliseh, Finidi George, and Austin Okocha – majorly the senior team members agreed in principle to down tools, but their union did not hold up and the nation had perhaps its worst ever representation at a World Cup with Okocha as the captain!
3. Coaching default and mishaps
This is perhaps the first time that the coach that qualified the team for the World Cup has had peace to prepare for the tournament. The default was, the coach that qualified the team got sacked, especially if they are home-based. Philippe Troussier qualified the team for the 1998 World Cup, but Bora Milutinovic was head coach in France.
Amodu qualified the team for the 2002 World Cup, but Adegboye Onigbinde took the honours. Again in 2010, Amodu qualified the team for South Africa but Lars Lagerback was at the helm when the tournament kicked off. The late Stephen Keshi faced all kinds of shtick on the way to Brazil and even resigned at a point but he walked tall in Brazil.
4. NFF/Government interference
They say he who pays the piper dictates the tune – a role the NFF has played and created discordant tunes. The interference was appalling until now when Gernot Rohr has been given more leeway to create the Eagles in his own image.
The 1998 team was one that saw undue influence from the then head of state, Sani Abacha. Clemens Westerhof had the direct ear of then second-in-command, Augustus Aikhomu. The 2014 team was tinkered by some powerful agents not forgetting the Federal Government’s quota system. All these have always ensured that not all Nigeria’s best legs get in the final 23-man squad.
5. Lack of a proper understanding
The World Cup has a different meaning to different people, associations, and teams. Some just want to be part of the football extravaganza, some want to prove a point and some know they can win it. A perfect example was the 2010 World Cup – one which the NFF sponsored all manner of people to South Africa on a shopping spree.
So many were lodged at Sandton Sun in Johannesburg with concubines and girlfriends for the duration of the tournament, paying $200/day or more. The football, for which they travelled, suffered as a consequence.
The World Cup is serious business and the truth is, it is not an emergency. Most nations fought tooth and nail through their various qualifiers, with a coaching setup, geared to taking their best to prove a point.
The Eagles cannot be in Russia to admire the nice buildings in St. Petersburg or the world-class stadiums, the World Cup can only be serious business for those that understand, like defending champions, Germany.