2010 World Cup.

June 11, 2010

So, it’s finally begun. We’d been eagerly anticipating this day since South Africa was announced as the hosts of the 2010 world cup.

I’ve been following reaction on the radio, on Facebook and Twitter, … and of course, on the telephone. My friends tell me, (and I’m sure they’re wrong) that I always have a phone to my ear. The anticipation is massive. I suppose it’s even greater if you’re African. After all, this is the very first tournament to be hosted in Africa. We’ve got the largest number of teams from Africa than on any previous world cup. Never mind that I once heard that it’s a 6 our flight from Lagos to Johannesburg. You could fly to Europe in that time, but South Africa is in Africa.

Gbenga Sesan, a well known IT expert and social enterprise guru in Nigeria would have addressed us at the 4th International Conference of Nigerian Students in April, but was prevented by the volcanic ash. He wrote on Twitter of how he wished that the passion for football could be replicated in development programmes. Another friend wrote on Facebook of the Tebbit Football Test, referring of course to the cricket test in the 80s. The question is, if England were to play Nigeria, who would I support, or as he put it, will I pass or fail the test?

Unfortunately Sir Norman, I’d have to confess that I might just fail the test. You see, I was born in Nigeria and stayed in that country till close to my 23rd birthday. I have only spent close to 20 years here. I have also heard that you learn the most in your first 6 years. I did all that learning in Nigeria. Who knows what team my children will support? If I have anything to do with it, they will support Nigeria too.

Please bear with me, because it’s a big problem when your team is underperforming, and the English team is doing so well. I remember the 2002 world cup in Japan and Korea. Nigeria and England met in the last game of the group stages. By then, we’d lost our first 2 and England had won their first 2. It was really only academic, but as I listened to that game on the Sunday morning, I knew that very much was hanging on the result. You see, I was getting ready to go to church, to meet all my English friends and I knew what would happen if we lost the third game.

And for once, my boys didn’t disappoint me. They drew, just because they knew what it would have meant to me. There was a massive scare when (I think it was) Scholes took that shot and it would have been a goal, but for some miraculous goalkeeping. In fact, the commentators needed a replay to confirm that the referee was right and that it was a corner kick.

So, after that, I could at least hold my head up and say we drew with England, even if we didn’t progress. And I could safely support England until they met Brazil, while dreaming of the glory days when we were 20 minutes away from beating Italy in US 1994. Italy, you would recall went onto the finals and drew with Brazil, until penalties separated them and the Latin Americans took the cup. Nigeria didn’t even qualify for 2006, but if I recall correctly, England didn’t make it to our most glorious outing in 1994.

To tell the truth, they haven’t been impressive, leading up to this world cup. I watched them at the African nations cup. I think they only played well in the first 25 minutes of the first game against Egypt. After they scored the goal, they went to sleep. Egypt beat the Eagles. When they played against the Bene Republic, I was shocked by our narrow margin of victory. We were used to destroying them, but this time … what a sobering game. When we played Zambia and drew, my heart was in my mouth throughout the penalty shoot-out, but after we won, I knew we had only one more game. Fortunately, it was the semi finals, and although we lost it, we managed to get the third place medals. Or I think we did, because I didn’t even bother listening to that game.

I hear that Nigeria drew 0 0 with Saudi Arabia in a warm up game. We used to be such flamboyant scorers, what happened? Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t let in as many goals as we used to, but this is the world cup. Can we hold out?

I don’t have to write much about England. We all know about their successes, their stars and their injuries. Strangely, Nigeria play Argentina tomorrow and England play the United States a few hours later. A while back I heard a british footbal pundit say that England would probably meet Nigeria in the knock out stages. Nobody is saying that now. But I’m still a Nigerian supporter, with a new coach announced just 3 weeks to the tournament, a scoring record that I could probably better on my own, and the expected squabbles between players and management … even the expected calls for changes in personnel. I can see my dad sitting in front of the telly and screaming the whole house down. He’ll call me when each goal is scored and telephone companies will expect to make a lot of money off the Akintunde family in the next few weeks.

But it’s ok. After all, South Africa surprised everyone, when after playing badly in the first 20 minutes, they scored a cracking first goal and drew their first game. Radio commentators were already predicting a bad first game and tournament. So people, don’t rule Nigeria out yet. I might yet meet my friends after a Nigeria England game.

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