The Nigerians had me, a dedicated supporter of all African teams,
wishing Bulgaria would score in the last minute to teach them a good
lesson. And they almost did! There are few things more unsightly than
arrogance without substance. The Nigerians have never got close to
winning a World Cup. In fact, this is only their second one. How can
such non-achievers be so arrogant? Perhaps they are simply displaying a
common trait of upstarts--a fear that comes from lack of confidence and
inferiority complex, that is masked by an outward show of bravado.
From the start of the match, it was clear that Nigeria would dominate in
every aspect. But they insisted on being nonchalant and looking as if
they did not want to be playing. A good example of this is Okocha. He
gave the ball away at least ten times without being rushed (the
Nigerians were given plenty of time on the ball). And he still kept
trying some untidy tricks that were never going to work. It's okay to
try a trick or two, even if you're being, IMHO, but if it doesn't work,
your opponent has shown you up, and you should not try it again. If you
do, it better work. What was that one Okocha messed up, only to have a
swing at the deflected ball? A real classy player would be embarrassed
at having tried something and having it look so ugly, and then
compounding the embarrassment by shooting an ugly shot wide of the
goal. But not Okocha--he just kept on trying to dribble past people.
And how about Kanu and Finidi, two players that I had awarded the
honorary title of non-Nigerian because of their intelligent and
beautiful play for Ajax. They got into the act, too. Kanu beats a man
easily on the wing, as is his habit, and then he stupidly tries to beat
another when it was just not on. The way the defender was positioned,
Maradona wouldn't have tried to do that. And Finidi looked like he was
in a trance in the second half. Next to Okocha, he was the second
biggest black hole in the Nigerian team.
Mind you, I'm all for tricks and relaxed and beautiful football. Brazil
'82 are one of my favourite teams of all time. But when they got ahead
and wanted to show off, they did it properly, that is, with some
intelligence. They would play one-touch and try to score beautiful
goals with a series of one-touch moves, and a midfielder running in at
the end for the final touch. When they tried to dribble by people and
were stopped, they wouldn't just stand their and soak up their
embarrassment--they would try to get the ball back so that they could do
some more showing off. They would move forward with the ball and people
would make nice runs.
There was none of that from Nigeria. The Nigerian definition of looking
good seems to be standing still with the ball and looking disinterested,
and occasionally giving the other team the ball. Ah, it was a
disgusting display. I won't bother saying that I hope they are taught a
lesson. I know they will lose eventually to Italy or Germany, or even a
lesser team. And then they will say that they played better but
couldn't finish or something silly like that, and go back to their
palaces in Lagos. Sigh! But I'll probably still be cheering for my
prodigal African brothers. What can I do?!
As for specific players in the team, Ikpeba is the man. His talent
isn't great--he is not natural with the ball, but self-taught. But his
attitude is excellent. I like that he once said Nigeria lacks the guts
that Cameroon have, and that he criticised his team for poor preparation
and scolded the "mafia" clique of players in the team just one week
before the WC. That he still started for Nigeria in spite of such
behaviour is a sign that the mafia is not very strong, and that there is
hope for the team.
The two left-sided players--Babayaro and Lawal--played very well, too,
especially Babayaro. Amokachi, Ikpeba, and Yekini played alright, too.
I am still in shock over Yekini's good play in this tournament.
Good that Uche is out. Maybe a youngster without such a swollen head
will do better.
I feel better now.