Let the game begin – The Nation

What has arguably become the world greatest fiesta kicks off today. We speak of course of the World Cup football tournament. The world, or shall we say, the world of football  will be riveted to the frills, the thrills and the magic of the round leather game for the next one month. Nothing else excites, unites and concentrates the attention of the peoples of the world today more than the game of football and the World Cup tournament held every four years is the showpiece.

This 20th edition will be held across cities in the South American country of Brazil, following after a tradition that started 94 years ago in Uruguay, also in South America. Thirty-two countries, including the host, will bid for the World Cup silverware, the grandest football trophy of all. The favourites to win the diadem include the host Brazil, her continental rival, Argentina, the defending champion, Spain, and Germany. Any result to the contrary would be an upset of the form book.

Some of the biggest names that make the game tick are abundant among these four top nations. There is Lionel Messi of Argentina who has won the World Footballer of the Year trophy four times in a row; Spain boasts of a host of stars like Xavi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, while the German team has Thomas Muller who won the Golden Boots at the last edition in South Africa, 2014 and Bastian Schweintieger. Brazil has an up and coming Neymar but her strength may be in her all-star that is devoid of any out-of-the-world star in the mold of Pele and Ronaldo. Other big stars the world would look forward to include Cristiano Ronaldo, the current World Footballer of the Year from Portugal, Mario Balotelli of Italy and Yaya Toure of Cote D’Ivoire.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles, the reigning African champions will be led to the mundial by its coach, Stephen Keshi, the same one who led them to win the African Football Championship in South Africa last year. Nigerians are hopeful of a good tournament for the Eagles this time, having not made an impression in the tournament after her 1994 debut edition in the USA. That remains Nigeria’s  golden era when she paraded world renown stars like Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini (now late), Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba, Daniel Amokachie and Sunday Oliseh, to name a few.

Regrettably, there are few big names playing in top leagues across the world in this class of 2014. Secondly, Keshi has been rebuilding the Eagles over the last two years and though it managed to pick the African trophy, the team cannot be said to be ready yet to contest creditably at this level of world football. Another point to note is that this crop of Eagles does not seem to be endowed with fleet- footed, young and talented players. While the average age in most countries’ teams may be 25, Nigeria’s team may not have such luxury. But some players in this team we expect to make an impact include the goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, strikers Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses.

Nigerians may not expect their team to lift the cup but they look forward to a respectable performance. They expect good team play and they expect to see the creativity and pace that make our football fluid and exciting. It is noteworthy that Keshi has included about three players from the home league; that is good for Nigeria’s football development. And win or lose, we hope that the current initiatives for growing the game will continue as bountiful results are already being reaped by way of engaging our youths and creating employment for them.

It is our prayer that this season of world football festival will usher in peace and harmony to a world that has become increasingly fractured. We hope that humanity will ride on the crest of this exciting global show to eschew anger, violence and bigotry which seem to be finding new fervor among the peoples of the world. May the best team win.

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