Nigeria players and officials acknowledge the public as they celebrate after the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Zambia in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on October 7, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
Many exciting things are happening around the world of football these days. Keeping pace has become a great challenge. All over the world last weekend, the penultimate series of matches for qualification for the 2018 World Cup went on. Many countries booked their tickets, whilst many others still have to wait until the last round of matches coming up in November takes place.
For Nigeria, last weekend, the country became the first in Africa to qualify. I shall be taking a close look at that match later in this article.
Ronaldo, Messi Back In The World Cup
For now, let me congratulate Argentina and Portugal for successfully putting their World Cup dream back on track. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will both be at the festival of football following the sterling performances put up by their respective countries last weekend. Before then, there was great apprehension in the air that the present champions of Europe and the runners-up in the South American championship, Copa America, might not be there. The most glamorous sports event in the world would have missed its two current best exponents. What a disaster for the championship that must have been.
Multi-Nation World Cup From 2030
My appearance on The Platform some two weeks ago has rekindled public enquiry into what I proposed in 2003 that was thrown out the window then by the media. Many people did not understand, or see what I saw then, as possibly the catalyst for the most rapid infrastructural development of West Africa whilst creating the opportunity for a true integration of the peoples of the region.
There is also a viable economic environment for the 250 million strong population of the region making it a hub for very active social engagement and interaction. All of these through a simple but unique event guaranteed to bring West Africa into the 21 Century in a seven-year project that was to end in 2010. All of that is now history!
In 2017 more people have begun to see the sense in my 2003 proposal after I explained it better on The Platform, and recent events around the world are confirming the efficacy of my postulations.
The USA, Mexico and Canada (the entire continent of North America) have already indicated interest to jointly (a word that was an anathema in 2003) host the 2030 World Cup!
Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, almost a third of the continent of South America, have also put down their interest to bid to co-host the same World Cup in 2030.
More bids are sure to come in good time including what I hope will be another shot at a West African five-nation bid for the 2030 or 2034 World Cup. That is the future.
There is new positive thinking about the benefits of co-hosting by neighbouring countries driven compellingly by the increasing high cost of hosting by one country only and the increase in the number of participating countries at the global event from 36 countries to 48 by FIFA starting with the 2026 edition.
Nigeria’s idea in 2003 may therefore be back on the front burner of interest.
Enter President-To-Be George Opong Weah!
The best news of all is coming from Liberia. A retired football player may soon become the next President of the Liberia. Some 10 years ago or so when he first indicated interest to contest for the highest political office in his country (and was actually tipped to win the elections as a result of his popularity and service to his country through sports), he was invited quietly to Abuja by the then Nigerian President and persuaded to go back to school to reinforce his intellectual capacity to fix a war-ravaged country like Liberia. He was to step down for the more experienced Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to start the reconstruction of Liberia from the ashes of war.
The entire episode now appears to have been divinely scripted with everything pointing in the direction of his becoming the next President of Liberia, the first footballer of his stature in the world to achieve that feat, on November 7 when the re-run between the incumbent Vice-President and himself would be conducted.
George Opong Weah stands on the periphery of history. We may open the door to the prophetic words of late South African president, Nelson Mandela that ‘the power of sport can change the world’.
His may be the first step in the world to embark on that journey into a new world where young men will start achieve the ultimate once-impossible three-in-one dream – Fame, Fortune and Power!
Not everyone can see it now, but that time is round the corner, mark my words.
Great Super Eagles – Congratulations
Meanwhile, let me return to Nigeria and thank all Nigerians for the support they gave their Super Eagles, super heroes all, who played the game of their lives to survive the challenge put up by the Chipolopolo.
It has never been easy playing the Zambians.
They come from a slightly more elevated area of Africa than Nigeria. That gives the players the slight edge in body oxygen management that makes them run longer slightly faster at sea level than Nigerian players. So, every time and every where Nigeria plays Zambia, or anyone of the East African countries from high altitude, for that matter, the East Africans appear to be fitter, faster and more physically competitive.
The good thing is that despite this ‘advantage’, technically, Nigerian teams always seem to have their number! In 18 meetings so far, Nigeria has won eight times, drawn five times and lost five times to Zambia.
So, last weekend the Super Eagles had to pass through the crucible of Zambian fire and emerged, at the end, bruised but victorious.
That’s why it is very important to appreciate the enormity of their victory as distinct from the self-aggrandisement of government officials latching on to that victory to launder their little knowledge and contribution to the effort.
The Super Eagles have never had it so easy. Probably that’s why many people seem to have quickly forgotten the pressure the entire country had to go through for 90 minutes of last weekend’s very highly competitive match that could have had a different result had the match officials not been brave, vigilant and competent. They ruled out a goal the Zambians had scored, which was obviously from an off side position in the second half.
Ghana experienced a similar incident but did not escape the poor officiating that ensued when their good goal against Uganda, scored in the dying seconds of the match, was cancelled for no justifiable reason.
With the denied goal Ghana are now out of the race for the 2018 World Cup. Less than a week after qualification, the general conversation about the Nigerian team has changed.
People are looking ahead already into the future, at the World Cup, even when the draws have not been made. They have started expressing reckless optimism about the how the Super Eagles can win the World Cup.
What to remember is that only very few teams go to the World Cup with the realistic goal of winning it. This is so, because only a handful of teams continue to win the championship. Nigeria’s odds to win are so high that I would rather continue to bask and luxuriate in the sweet pleasure of qualifying with one match to go until actual preparations start some time in the New Year. Until that time, I say Congratulations great Super Eagles!