There is need for the Super Eagles to concentrate on their mission – to excel

There is a simmering excitement around the FIFA World Cup due to kick off in Russia on Thursday (June 14)with 32 countries, including Nigeria, participating. In all, 64 matches will be played in what is generally considered the biggest global spectacle. Not only has it been so since the first edition was held in Uruguay in 1930, the World Cup has also evolved into a commercially viable sporting event that generates huge revenues from TV deals and sponsorship fees. It is also a sporting fiesta that unites people across serious divides.

The tournament holds every four years and is a strong platform which many countries use as a scale to measure their international relevance. We are therefore delighted that Nigeria is one of the 32 countries that will exhibit national pride across 11 Russian cities. It is also remarkable that the Super Eagles were the first side from Africa to reach Russia and now maintains their impressive run of appearances at the finals, having missed only one tournament – Germany 2006- since qualifying for their debut World Cup in 1994 in USA.

Russia 2018 will also mark the sixth time that Nigeria’s flag will be hoisted at a World Cup. Currently the Super Eagles occupy the 48th position in the FIFA ranking and have only lost four matches in the last 24 official engagements, including the African Nations Championship (CHAN). Nigeria’s first World Cup match against Croatia in Kaliningrad on June 16, will set the tone for the next two Group D fixtures against Iceland in Volgograd on June 22, and against Argentina, four days later, in St Petersburg.

 The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has put together a string of warm up matches to ensure the team gels for the main task ahead. But given the way they performed in their recent friendly matches, the Super Eagles must up their game if they expect to do well at the tournament. It is, however, noteworthy that as a result of the decline in the national domestic league, the national team has for years depended almost solely on players from European leagues to prosecute important competitions like the World Cup. But the situation is gradually changing as there are now home-based players good enough to play for the Super Eagles and excel. Some of them have been included in the team by the national coach, Gernot Rohr.

The World Cup is a platform for the exhibition of national pride. But as we also learned four years ago in Brazil, the conduct of the players and officials at the tournament is capable of inflicting a huge embarrassment on national reputation. We don’t want a re-enactment of that sordid episode when the players boycotted training on the eve of a ‘Round of 16’ match over bonus disputes with officials. The money row disrupted their concentration and was the cause of their elimination by France in an evenly balanced match.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has advanced $2 million to the national team to help settle beforehand players’ bonuses while FIFA has paid $1.5 million to each of the 32 teams taking part in the tournament as preparation fee. The teams that advance to the Round of 16 are also entitled to minimum of $8 million as appearance fee. These are the funds that usually elevate tempers among players and officials. We insist they should not end up in private pockets. Government should therefore hold the NFF and the Sports Ministry accountable and ensure judicious use of the World Cup vote and funds generated through FIFA, CAF and corporate sponsors.

We wish the Super Eagles a successful outing in Russia.