The Super Eagles are tipped to excel at the Russia 2018 World Cup PHOTO: AFP
Perhaps more than ever before, Nigerians will tune to the 2018 World Cup optimistic that their darling Super Eagles will return from Russia clothed in glory.
At no other time, not even before the 1994 debut of the country in USA, has Nigerians been so sure that the Super Eagles would return from the World Cup with accolades trailing their anticipated fantastic outing at the World Cup.
There are some incurable optimists, who believe that the youngest squad to the Russia 2018 World Cup has the quality to become Africa’s first winner of the biggest laurel in international sports.
This optimism is hinged on the array of talents available to the coaches, as well as the near perfect training and management of the players by Coach Gernot Rohr and his assistants.
And then on Wednesday in Lagos, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) added fuel to this optimism by unveiling a programme, which many football faithful agreed would pave the way for the country’s successful participation at the competition.
Among other things, the programme lists venues and dates for six pre-World Cup friendly matches, Super Eagles’ kit launch, pre-World Cup camp and venues, the team base camp, sponsors’ event and how the team will travel during the World Cup finals proper. It is the first time since Nigeria debuted at the competition that the Eagles would know the path to their participation in the championship six months before the game kicks off. This eliminates the confusion and crisis that usually trailed the country’s participation in the competition for which no African country has gone up to the semi-final stage.
Speaking at the unveiling of the Super Eagles’ programme on Wednesday, NFF President, Amaju Pinnick said the body decided to tidy up arrangements for the Eagles’ path to Russia to give the team the chance to concentrate fully on their preparation and participation in the competition. Pinnick said the federation was convinced that the Super Eagles have the potential to win the World Cup hence it decided to smoothen their path to the competition.
One of the measures the NFF has taken to put the Eagles on a sound footing is the decision to extend Coach Gernot Rohr’s contract by two years, a decision which Pinnick said gives the Franco-German the peace of mind to concentrate on building a team capable of stunning the world in Russia.
He said: “We decided to give Rohr an additional two-year contract to stop other countries from stealing him from us after the World Cup. There is no buy out clause in the new contract.
“We believe in what he has done to make the Super Eagles very youthful and one of the best teams in the world. We also want to as much as possible eliminate any human error to ensure that we go into the competition ready to conquer the world.”
At the 1998 World Cup in France, Nigeria, which was tipped by pundits as one of the top contenders for the trophy, was eliminated by Denmark through a 4-1 bashing that belied the enormous talent in the squad. That was a team that two years earlier defeated Brazil and Argentina to win the 1996 Olympics gold medal in Atlanta, U.S.
The 1998 squad was blighted by indiscipline and disputes over bonuses and allowances to the extent that the players had no time to train and plan for the match against Denmark. The same scenario was re-enacted at the Brazil 2014 Wold, where the players boycotted training and threatened to shun their second round game against France over allegation of unfulfilled promises. But to ensure such incidents do not happen in Russia, the NFF leadership and the players have already sat down to agree on bonuses and allowances for every stage of Russia 2018.
Pinnick revealed on Wednesday that Africa’s football governing body, CAF has donated about $500,000 to all the teams representing the continent at the World Cup, adding that the money would be used to recruit specialised backroom staff to work with the coaches.
He added that Rohr has liaised with managers of clubs of Nigerian players to help him in ensuring that the players maintained a high level of fitness even if they were not featuring for the first team.
“By the end of March, we want to be done with visa/consular issues because we want the team to concentrate fully on preparation.
“We have sent coaches to work with our Europe-based players to guide them to maintain discipline and top shape ahead of the World Cup. We also have coaches monitoring the activities of our opponents. These are experts who will note the playing patterns, strengths and weaknesses of our opponents and the possible ways to handle them when we meet in Russia,” he said.
Pinnick revealed that the Nigerian contingent would arrive in their Russia base on June 11, five days before the Super Eagles trade tackles with Croatia in Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad.
With the World Cup camp set to open on May 22 in Abuja, the Gernot Rohr led Super Eagles would take on Poland at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw on March 27 before the recently arranged Serbia date four days later in London.
They would then round off their friendly engagements with clashes against Congo in Abuja on May 28, England at Wembley on June 2 and finally Serbia in Austria on June 6 before moving into the Eurasian country for the big tournament.
Alongside the Argentina 2017 friendly, Nigeria would have had a total of six World Cup tune-up games to get them in better shape for the competition.
Analysing the programme as laid down by the NFF, former Super Eagles’ defender, Mike Onyemachara says it is unprecedented in the history of Nigerian football, cautioning, however, that the federation should do everything possible to keep to the terms of the agreement.
“This is what other serious countries do before many competitions because it eliminates agitations for bonuses and other distractions. We already know what German players will get as they prepare to defend their title and we hope that the Super Eagles’ case would be followed strictly to the latter.
“I believe this team has the potential to get to the semifinal of the competition, which has been difficult for African teams to achieve. Winning the competition could be a daunting task, but in football you never say never. Anything can happen.”
The Vanguard’s Sports Editor, Tony Ubani believes the national team now has a solid ground to go for the ultimate prize at the World Cup, saying ensuring peace and smooth preparation for the competition would aid the team to success.
He, however, cautioned the players and officials to remain committed to their programme, adding that they should work hard to survive the group phase of the competition if they desired a better outing in Russia than the country’s previous attempts at the event.
“I am impressed by the programme laid down by the NFF. It shows that we are ready to do things differently, which means we should expect better results from this edition than the previous ones. But I must warn the players against being over confident because all the teams at this level of the game are tough and equally desirous of success in the competition.”