Like is usually the case before a much anticipated event, I’m stuck in a bit of limbo at the moment. The sense of anticipation mixed with anxiety has built up gradually over the past few days and weeks, welling up to a crescendo as the World Cup kicks off and making my emotions run the entire gamut of hope, doubt, despair but perhaps most tellingly of impatience for the start of hostilities and the visceral thrill I get out of watching my Nation strut it’s stuff on the world stage.
It’s pretty pathetic, I know, especially considering that the national team in question is one called the Super Eagles, a team that has been so enigmatic in recent times that almost everyone has given up expending valuable emotional energy on it. In the words of a friend of mine, he won’t be putting his heart at risk at the behest of this particular Eagles team, since as he put it, they lack the will to win. Since the most visible feature of the Eagles in recent times has not been a failure to win, but rather one of failing to play the kind of swashbuckling football that had become our trademark, I guess what he meant was, the Super Eagles have simply failed to inspire their legion of adoring fans with their recent performances. He may be right, and my continued emotional attachment to the Eagles may be nothing other than a subconscious attempt to achieve vicariously what I was unable to through sheer force of will or talent, but whatever the case my emotional health and dare I say my fortunes seem to be inextricably intertwined with those of the Super Eagles.
I’m sure by now you will be wondering if there is any point to this rambling and the simple answer to that is, probably not. I hadn’t planned on writing anything until after our game against Argentina, but I found the account of my colleague on the Argentine blog, Sebastian Garcia, on the agonizing he’s been going through oddly comforting. Both in the sense that I realized that I wasn’t alone in feeling wound up and ill at ease in the moments leading up to that curtain call as well as in the realization that our Argentine brothers also feel a sense of trepidation ahead of a game against daunting opposition.
Like Sebastian, I’m also playing the game ahead of time in my head. However, unlike him it’s not driving me nuts. Not yet, at any rate. Perhaps the reason for my relative calm is the knowledge that whilst a good result against the Argentines is important, the pressure to win will have to reside primarily with the Argentines. Thus, the most important consideration for Nigeria has to be not to lose woefully or play so poorly that confidence will be irreversibly shattered after this game. I know this may sound like I’m already conceding defeat, but the fact of the matter is, for a team that has been as written off as often as the Super Eagles have been in the lead up to this Competition, anything other than a complete hiding at the hands of Argentina will be generally accepted as a reasonable outcome in the knowledge that our other opponents in the group, South Korea and Greece, though no pushovers, will provide a more realistic outlet for picking up points in what promises to be a tough battle for second place in the group.
As I have stated earlier, and I have to stress this, this is not to say victory over Argentina is unattainable. Indeed there are a few chinks in the Argentine Armour that a seasoned World Cup campaigner such as Lars Lagerback can be fully expected to exploit. The most obvious being the absence of natural full backs in the Argentine side and/or depending on the formation the Albiceleste adopt, the weaknesses inherent in using three Central defenders at the back. With both scenarios, the obvious countering strategy will have to be to make us of the width of the Pitch as much as possible while getting Haruna Lukman to make late runs behind Aiyegebeni or Martins, since we’re expected to have a lone striker. This is, assuming as I am, that Lagerback goes with my gut instinct and adopts a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation. I would if I was Lagerback, gamble on a further perceived weakness on the part of Maradona’s charges, the likelihood that he may decide to use Jonas Guitterez as a makeshift right back. In the event that this turns out to be the case, a situation where Osaze Odemwingie is utilized on the left side of a three pronged attacking midfield would seem to be a reasonable option as he can be expected to provide constant harassment and could be counted on to exploit this loophole. The only problem with this would be who to play on the right side since Lagerback seems to prefer using Obinna Nsofor on the left of midfield and Odemwingie on the right. However, I feel the best solution in this regard would be to use Chinedu Obasi. Whether Lageback agrees with me, I very much doubt, but we’ll wait and see.
Whatever, the final outcome, it promises to be an absorbing game of football, though for the football purists who will expect a free flowing game, I’m afraid Lagerback will seek to frustrate. How well he succeeds in turning off the taps will go a long way in determining if the Eagles can navigate this trickiest of opening fixtures and establish a firm foothold on the tournament.