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Fly, Eagles fly -The Nation Editorial

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The 2018 World Cup gets underway in Russia today with 32 countries set to battle for the ultimate prize in world football. This once-every-four-years event will run from June 14 to July 15 in 12 stadiums spread across cities including Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi. Nigeria’s Super Eagles are among the five African teams competing in the tournament and would be aiming to surpass their record of reaching the Round of 16 at the World Cup finals.

The Eagles were the first African team to qualify for this year’s World Cup and they have been drawn in Group D with Argentina, Croatia and Serbia - after emerging from an appropriately - styled ‘Group of Death’ in the African qualifying series. A fortnight ago, President Muhammadu Buhari told the Eagles that only victory at the World Cup in Russia will gladden Nigerians. He urged them to embrace fair play, adding that they should demonstrate at the tournament the gallant spirit which Nigerians are known for.

Buhari who spoke during a reception organised for the team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said, “As you are going to represent us in Russia, you must bear in mind that you are not just going for a tournament. With each game, you must remember that you are carrying the passions, emotions and feelings of over 180 million people. Play fair and clean, but demonstrate the gallant spirit… Nothing unites Nigerians more than football and nothing will gladden the people of Nigeria than for you to acquit yourself honourably by winning in Russia. He added that “You are the youngest team in the tournament which means you are likely the most inexperienced team, a fact that will not be lost on your opponents. But it is also something that you can use to your advantage.” 

President Buhari commended the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for drawing up the right programme that is helping to refine the team. In the course of their preparation, the team played friendly matches with Argentina, Poland, Serbia, Democratic Republic of Congo, England and Czech Republic. They won two, drew one, and lost three of the friendlies. 

Sweet victories over Argentina and Poland were followed by defeat by Serbia, a draw with DR Congo and losses to England and Czech Republic, leading the team’s manager Gernot Rohr to say the Eagles were not ready for the mundial with nine days to their first match on June 16. Failing to win any of their final four tune-up games raised doubts about the Eagles’ readiness for the global football fiesta. The outcomes of the England and Czech Republic friendlies become worried Nigerians. However, the phlegmatic Rohr dismissed those anxieties, saying “I am not sad because of this result (against the Czechs); the result that matters will be in Russia.” 

In Russia, the Eagles will open their World Cup campaign with a match against Croatia before other clashes with Iceland and Argentina in Group D. Rohr will be hoping his young Eagles have overcome their pre-tournament lackluster performance. 

We believe that for the Eagles to eclipse the country’s best World Cup showings, which is Round of 16 finishes in 1994 and 2014, the team must believe in themselves that it must aspire to challenge for the World Cup rather than just participate in the tournament. It  is pertinent for the Eagles to win their first match against Croatia on Saturday.  Record shows that on the three occasions the team won their opening matches in 1994, 1998 and 2014, they progressed to the Round of 16.

Here, we urge the players to avoid playing for individual glory if they must achieve the desired results at the competition and the technical crew should conceive and adopt a system for the team to excel. We believe that this is our time and we are going to Russia 2018 World Cup to win it. We join millions of Nigerians in wishing to the Super Eagles, best of luck.

The Nation

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