Are We Ready for the World Cup

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The 2014 world cup has started in Brazil and thankfully, there was no need of a last minute transfer of football’s biggest tournament to England as some egocentric English pundits might have secretly hoped, what with their persistently pessimistic reporatage of Brazil’s preparations. No stadium collapsed and the protests (expected considering economic realities in Brazil) have subsided and all we have to do now is stay awake to enjoy the matches, with our girlfriends and wives too. Having seen a couple of matches particularly the host country’s victory over Croatia in the opening game and Netherland’s vengeful trouncing of Spain, my mind shuttles to the hopes of the Nigerian team, our very own Super Eagles. I ponder our chances and I ask if we are truly ready for this world cup. I asked the same question on Twitter recently and most responses seemed to suggest the team is only in Brazil to make up the numbers. I am not satisfied with that.

I am a big unrepentant fan of the Super Eagles and I hope they go far enough in the tournament and perhaps win it. I know this sort of hope is fraught with danger based on the antecedents of the team, knowing that they often disappoint when you least expect yet surprise with superlative displays when sometimes written off as it happened at the Africa Nations Cup 2013 in South Africa. I have about four songs prepared with the Super Eagles in mind and I often turn to these songs when radio pundits paint a gloomy expectation of the Nigerian team. One of them is “Super Eagles” by Solid Star which happens to be my current ring tone. It’s a feel-good, hippy and assertive track that opens with “Clear the road for Super Eagles(2x)/Super Eagles all the way/Green white green na the colour”. Perhaps reminiscent of the old time songs of Nigeria’s trumpety Supporters Club, Solid Star mounts on a boastful horse, neighing proudly to war chants. He adopts a oneness with the team reflective of a unified Nigerian spirit pervasive at times like this. He goes on: “Anybody wey we catch for road, sara! If we catch Argentina, na sara! Anybody wey we catch for road, sara! Because we go teach dem lesson o…” You may pause at this point to reflect on the truthfulness of this boast or otherwise. We will teach our perennial football nemesis, Argentina a lesson, really?

Nigeria is in Brazil with a 23-man squad with an average age of 25.8yrs. The team is led by 33year-old skipper and defender, Joseph Yobo, who is on loan at Norwich City FC of England from Fernebache FC of Turkey. Yobo has featured less in the team in recent times and his inclusion is perhaps questionable, being a man prone to costly gaffes in recent years. He is joined in the defence pool by six other defenders: Efe Ambrose of Celtic who seems to have made the right-back his own and can sometimes score goals; Azubuike Egwuekwe the home based defender with Warri Wolves who can be quite assertive in the backline though slow in pace; Godfrey Oboabona, a consistent face in the Super Eagles squad in recent times; Kunle Odunlami, another home based Eagle who played well against Scotland in the friendly match; Kenneth Omeruo, who has injury concerns but should be fit and one of our most reliable defenders; and Juwon Oshaniwa who needs to up his game judging by his performance in the loss to USA. Injury to Elderson Echiejile is a big blow for the team but the replacement with Ejike Uzoenyi should mitigate a bit considering that Uzoenyi can also play in the midfield. You imagine Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero running at these defenders and then remember Solid Star’s assertions, it should be well.

Artquake’s “Go Super Eagles” is yet another song I have in my playlist. It’s not as intriguing as Solid Star’s version in my estimation but it’s my Message alert tone all the same. It’s done in the gyrative tunes of palm-wine induced percussions and is perhaps the duo’s attempt to push back into the limelight, good business sense I must say. The song begins with “Super Eagles go, no dull us, we beg you, biko o, we dey for your back, carry go”. This marks an outright outsideness in my mind, even laced with subtle cynicism and cautious hope. Artquake believe in the Super Eagles but are wary of their hopes in the team being dashed, sounding more like a cheering crowd that may retreat if the battle does not favour the gladiators they have pushed forward. Somewhere along the line, the song tells the Eagles’ opponents of their expected defeat thus: “One kondo le ma je, two kondo le ma je, three kondo le ma je, infact, five kondo le ma je…We no be negbere/We no dey nogbere/Super Eagles le won lere” loosely translated “You’ll lose one-nil, you’ll lose two-nil, you’ll lose three-nil, infact, you’ll lose five-nil…We are not slackers/Super Eagles put them to flight”.

I imagine how possible it will be for the Super Eagles to beat their opponents with as much as a five-goal margin in this tournament. Iran, Bosnia and Argentina all won their last friendly matches while Nigeria lost hers to USA 1-2. The Super Eagles have scored fewer goals than the other teams in the group to qualify for the world cup. The team has also conceded four goals in the last four friendly games so keeping a clean sheet is also an issue. Our attack is currently led by 27year-old Emmanuel Emenike of Fernebache FC of Turkey who is quiet a prolific striker, pacy, clinical finisher and good in the air too. We missed him at the Confederations Cup last year due to injury but he came back to guarantee our qualification for the world cup with a goal against Malawi, also hitting the net twice against Ethiopia in the final play-off match. How effective Emenike will be may however depend on the support he gets from Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses on the wings. Fast-paced Ahmed Musa needs to be more focused when delivering the balls into the 18yard box but he’s quiet a lethal option forward all the same. It’s often said Victor Moses plays less for the team and more for himself but then the adjustments have to be both ways. He spent most of last season warming the bench at Liverpool and is quiet eager to prove his worth, Coach Stephen Keshi should know how to manage him. Osaze Odemwengie’s return to the team makes the option of his energy and agility available when pressure needs to be applied, good one. Shola Ameobi seems more laidback but a good striker in the box all the same. He can impose his presence to win aerial balls and quietly finish off when the keeper least expects atimes. I hope Michael Uchebo can step up his good showing against Scotland and give us more options up front while we also keep up our hopes about Heenreveen’s Uche Nwofor who has scored 3 goals in 6 games for the Super Eagles,  as well as Michael Babatunde.

The midfield is supposedly a football team’s engine room and again we will place high demands on Chelsea midfielder, Mikel Obi who will be commanding the midfield. He somewhat reminds me of the song “Fly Like the Eagles”, a joint effort by Sasha P, Nosa, IcePrince, Dammy Krane and Seyi Shay. The song is more uppity in its composition and delivery, dripping of more office suaveness than sweaty fields. Mikel sometimes plays for the Super Eagles like an undisturbed chap, calmly shielding the ball from the opponents in his half before spreading a pass in the opposite direction. We need his charismatic control in the midfield but I hope he switches to the fast-paced Solid Star or gyrating Artquake variation when needed though. Ogenyi Onazi, a pivotal member of the victorious AFCON 2013 team should also prove highly instrumental in the middle with the support of Almeria’s Ramon Azeez and Reuben Gabriel if he stays fit all through.

I like Flavour’s sweet voice that opens “Power to Win” done with MI, Irene Logan and Kwabena Kwabena. Giving that catchy feel only he knows how to, he sings “…Here to win, it’s my choice/You can dream, if you believe, give it all, all you’ve got/They’re fast, I’m faster/ They’re strong but I’m stronger/I’m the best, slap it up my chest/My dream, my speed and my strength give me the power to win”. I do hope this stays through for the Super Eagles to and they can fly to the top as the song says.

In all of this, I do hope the Super Eagles play out their hearts for their fans all across the country who have readied their generating sets and fuel reserves, even drink coffee if necessary to stay awake to watch the team. I know the fans are ready for the world cup, I think the team is ready too, and I hope the men at the Glass House, office of the Nigerian Football Federation do not throw stones with the monies reserved for match bonuses and allowances. We don’t want to hear silly stories, not especially now that Senate President David Mark has led a big-enough-to-be-a-football-team government delegation to deliver Presidential handshakes and goodluck wishes to the team.
Viva Super Eagles
Viva Nigeria.

I am @tobisammyjay on Twitter
tbowale@gmail.com

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