WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS: Ramblings of a Yoruba Football Fan

WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS: Ramblings of a Yoruba Football Fan

My thoughts have floated fleetingly to the upcoming qualifiers, or should I say Nigeria V Cameroon this week, and for some odd reason, the image of Kempes from the ’78 final, arms spread, etc…

…the photo of him after his 3rd goal belongs to the pantheon of indelible images – like, the photo behind the of Gary Lineker’s header from behind the Argentine goal in ’86.

World Cup stories develop quickly – often by a spark. You go into it hoping this is yours – consider Paulo Rossi’s 3-2-1 to tally 6 in 1982 and Roberto Baggio’s “5goals in 3games” that only started from the 2nd round. His equaliser against the Super Eagles – passing the football into the corner, represents as pure a piece of skill as witnessed in a Mundial, especially considering the circumstances

It is a tournament unlike any other. However glitz and glamour competitions like EPL and Uefa Champions League, World Cup still creates a pressurised stage incomparable in the career of any footballer – the Semis and Final proper

In that regard – Pele and Maradona should not be compared to any other as they seem the only two players that played without pressure or fear in a Mundial, I would hang BFR around the floor of the ceiling those two attained for his achievements in 2002.

So yes it is the ultimate stage…..yet can we say Diego Forlan is above and beyond a Lionel Messi as a footballer, for his performance in 2010 with Uruguay? And so on… and you understand the point I am trying to make?

Anyway, Yaounde remains a barren ground for Nigerian football. Fortunately, this current generation of players should be too young to be aware of the football grip Cameroun had on us – seemingly broken at AFCON 2004 courtesy of the boots of Jay Jay Okocha. Perhaps the word “grip” is an understatement. The Camerounians have won 3 AFCON’s on our heads…

…beaten us in U-21(Semis), U-23 & AFCON finals, right here in Nigeira. Let us not talk about the 1989 Mundial qualifiers, which heralded the entry of Clemence  Westerhof into Nigerian football.

Despite post-2004 improved performances against the Lions, I remained worried. Especially with the return leg in Yaounde. Can we get something there? The Zambians did. And this is goal-scoring team. We need to score twice vs Cameroun home and away

The recent AFCON Qualifier loss to South Africa was deeply worrying, as it exposed glaring flaws particularly in defence – and now our 1st choice goalkeeper-Ikeme is down with tragic personal issues.

Mikel and Moses return to the squad – which is absolutely huge motivation for us coming into this match. Moses reminds me of Neymar playing for Brazil in terms of attitude and temperament. They want to be on that pitch wearing that green or yellow jerseys for the countries. In our fullback positions – we are scarily deficient. When we played Algeria – each time Yacine Brahimi and Mahrez ran at those positions, the full-backs seemed not to know what to do.

Every football competition or tournament has its flavour of pressure – the one you can feel palpably even through a television set. An expanded world cup has allowed more qualifiers and reduced the drama that WC qualifiers behold – in the very recent past – we can remember Diego Maradona sliding in the mud as his talented but extremely underachieved Argentina crawled into 2010, even surviving a 50yard lob from a Peruvian player injury time…

…after equalising….in injury time! – that would have nailed them home  to watch the rest of the world play in South Africa 2010.

The humdinger between Algeria and serial African Champions Egypt in 2009. It also reminds us that the last time Egypt played in a World Cup was 1990 – expanded world cup, much more easier to qualify indeed.

The fun & real competitiveness is in South America and Africa. S/America – where middle level teams like Chile are squeezing every drop of talent from its Golden generation and putting the traditional heavyweights under severe pressure. The expansions from FIFA have bloated qualifiers – ensuring that only extremely irresponsible big European teams will not qualify. Otherwise, it’s business as usual in Europe.

Looking ahead – I like the Brazil team for the Mundial proper. They will not be overconfident or coming under the crush of hosting, that spewed out some of the most bizarre consequences of pressure exhibited by a team at a world cup – and I don’t mean just the 7-1.

Back to the qualifiers. Cameroun were unimpressive at the Confederations Cup, although it gave them 3 additional matches to “blend” before this round. They defend resolutely, and as always – pack a lot of physical strength in their ranks. We can get 4 points from these games. Let’s hope the stumble vs South Africa was just that.

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