I heaved a sigh of relief when Nigeria crossed into the quarter-finals with a head-on battle against Cote d’Ivoire. I never wished for any country less than the team regarded as the number one in Africa now.
I know many Nigerians wished for something softer with their sights set on the trophy but I can give a million reasons why it should be better to play these Ivorians instead of Togo or any other country.
The first question we should ask ourselves is whether this brand of Super Eagles has been really tested. And the answer is definitely no. So why don’t we grab this good opportunity to test Stephen Keshi and the team? If we keep running from the likes of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon, when are we going to face the top African teams, beat them and regain our confidence? Or have we forgotten that there was a time we were confident enough to believe we could beat any team on the continent home and away? Or did anybody believe the Eagles were going to lose against England before the kick off at Wembley in 1994? That is the kind of team and confidence Nigerians should desire and the earlier we get on with such build up the better for us all.
We may have beaten Farense 5-0 and played 1-1 with Catalonia but are those true tests, given the circumstances those games were played? How long are we going to shy away from the Ivorians? Would it be until Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure retire? The best way to measure our development is to play a quality side like this and so bring on the Elephants and let’s gauge how well these Eagles can fly.
Another reason I am happy that we are playing Drogba and his brothers is because I want Nigeria to be regarded as real African champions should the Eagles win the trophy. Hold on don’t dismiss them yet; we will get to that on this page. South Africa won the 1996 Nations Cup on home soil but each time people discuss that competition it is often said that they won because Nigeria stayed away under totalitarian Sani Abacha. So if Eagles (for instance) win this competition and in a way avoid Ghana and Yaya Toure some Nigerians won’t be satisfied. The argument would be that the Eagles could have been beaten if they had met those two teams along the way to the trophy.
And that brings me to the fact that the Ivorians are beatable. Eagles may not have played like the 1994 set or even played anything called good football but we can’t rule out the suggestion that on Sunday the fighting spirit and skill in them could come alive. The Ivorians are better but the Eagles can beat them. Call it upset or any name but it is possible. The same Ivorians and the Ghanaians were seen as the favourites last year but what eventually happened? The answer is before you.
The other reason I want us to face Cote d’Ivoire is because I want to watch a Grade A match on Sunday. Be sure that the roads would be free when that game kicks off but may not command the same following if you throw in a lesser team than the Ivorians. This match is a marketer’s delight any day. We may have forgotten some matches of Tunisia ’94 but I am not sure we will so quickly forget the semi-final match between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. We may not enjoy the same quality this time given the calibre of players available to Nigeria but be sure that sweet memories of great rivalry will surely add spice to this match.