Russia 2018 Draw: Super Eagles Must Be Ready For Tough Group

If I was in a debate to speak in favour of the notion, ‘With An Easy Draw, The Super Eagles Can Do Well At Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup’, I would come last.

There is nothing to say in support of what I don’t believe in. Every group at the Word Cup will be tough. Period. The top seeds and the other big name teams are wary of the supposedly minnows with their element of surprises. And vice versa.

I love the Super Eagles just as the millions of the team’s’ faithful do. We become one united Nigeria while celebrating the team’s success or anticipating one. But do we really need faith that binds us but blinds us?

Super Eagles qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in style by beating a gallant Zambian team 1-0 in Uyo on October 7, with a game to spare in the African qualifying Group B. I celebrated that Nigeria’s qualification for a sixth FIFA World Cup appearance at Russia 2018. But the celebration was over for me after two weeks the Eagles bagged the ticket, for obvious reasons.

If you dwell in celebrating one achievement, your sense of reasoning might be blighted from performing a fair self appraisal and doing the needful for the bigger task ahead.

Many Nigeria fans are still celebating, carelessly, the Super Eagles’ qualification for Russia 2018.

There have been frivolous prayers for an ‘easy draw’ for the Super Eagles to make headway and equal or beat their Second Round personal best record at the FIFA World Cup finals.

I have treated this fans’ mindset as just pedestrian. But I found it disturbing when the ‘eggheads’ – Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, and some NFF chieftains also joined the bandwagon, praying for an easy World Cup draw.

Pause to ponder: does this age-long cliche, ‘Easy Draw’ hold sway in today’s football?

Methinks that an ‘easy group’ from a FIFA World Cup draw exists only on paper, and feebly on the minds of people who harbour them. In practical terms, every game at the World Cup, will always be won by the better team which hungered for it the more and fought for it, and sometimes by the luckier side.

Good coach, talented and technically gifted players, united team, hard work, motivation and adequate preparation are the sine qua non for a strong World Cup team. A typical strong World Cup team is one with this makeup, not necessarily one wearing the toga of former World Champions, defending champions, 20-time World Cup appearance, et al.

What I’m saying in essence is that the Super Eagles shouldn’t anticipate an ‘easy group’ when the 2018 World Cup draw gets underway at the State Kremlin Palace Moscow on on December 1. There will be no easy group, and to anticipate one is like taking a defeatist stance. To prepare well and be ready to play any opponent with confidence is the way to go.

World Cup history is already awash with upsets, and Russia 2018 will record its own surprises. Some average teams will go through hot mills in their preparation and and come out smoking at the World Cup. Some debutants and minnows will swallow live wasps and come out disdaining some big boys with killer stings. That’s what modern day football has become.

There are remarkable African examples to motivate Gernot Rohr’s team. Dark horses Algeria smashed West Germany 2-1 in a 1982 World Cup Group 2 match. Cameroon pipped Argentina 1-0 at Italia ’90. Debutants Senegal beat former World champions France 1-0 at France ’98, just as minnows Nigeria thumped star-studded Spain 3-2. It was Spain’s 11th World Cup appearance at France ’98 and Nigeria’s second.

The Super Eagles should brace up, be strong and brave to lead Africa’s quest for bigger stardom at the FIFA World Cup.

It’s high time Nigeria stopped brandishing carelessly, ‘World Cup experience’ as though it’s a formula that will add a dash of flair to the Super Eagles’ performance in Russia. Sixth World Cup appearance is just an item in Nigeria’s football profile. At Russia 2018, only the team that has achieved much less might look at this record and hold the Super Eagles in awe.

We can only hope that the few players in the current Nigeria squad who have the experience of playing at the World Cup will be resourceful and fire up their debutant teammates with sterling performances. Only five players in the Gernot Rohr’s current squad who have chances of making the final list to Russia 2018 can boast of World Cup experience. John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, Ahmed Musa and Elderson Echiejile, are in view for now.

For me, what is important is having a set of players who have experience from playing for clubs in the competitive foreign leagues where they have rubbed shoulders with great talents. Nigeria is blessed with such experienced and talented players who can be honed into a strong World Cup team.

Gernot Rohr has done very well so far as Nigeria coach. Handling a team that beat off the challenge from Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria in the 2018 FIFA World Cup African qualifying Group B, was a great task expertly and professionally dispatched. Now, it’s important that the NFF continue providing all that the coach needs to prepare the Super Eagles well and go to the World Cup in Russia with a much stronger team that can assert itself in group, qualify for the Round of 16 and possibly reach the Quarter-finals.

I’m personally setting a Quarter-final target for the Super Eagles at Russia 2018. I’m sure that Rohr and his players know that the Round of Eight is the milestone that will better Nigeria’s personal best at the World Cup finals.

Dutchman Clemens Westerhof, Bora Milutinovic (Yugoslav) and the Late Stephen Keshi (Nigerian) led the Super Eagles to the Second Round at USA “94, France ’98 and Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup finals respectively. Nigeria failed to advance from the group stages at Korea/Japan 2002 when Adegboye Onigbinde (Nigerian) led the team, and at South Africa 2010 when Lars Lagerback (Swede) was in charge.

The ball is now on the court of German manager, Rohr. Hopefully, he will play it very well by taking Nigeria to new heights at the World Cup. That he is in the threshold of making his first World Cup appearance, is enough motivation to get cracking with the Super Eagles.

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