With less than 78 days to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, various national teams have stepped up preparation for the tournament.
With Senegal the only African team to have played in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, Nigeria has a tricky task to better that record in Russia.
For the Super Eagles to surpass the record of the Terranga Lions (Senegal), one thing is paramount, the players must be disciplined as it is on record that teams dominated by indiscipline players hardly win competition, especially one as big as the World Cup.
For Nigeria to make any headway in Russia, Coach Gernot Rohr must abandon tactics for now and work assiduously on indiscipline in the team.
But for the unpatriotic attitude of our players, how could the captain of the side, John Mikel Obi absent himself from the friendly matches against Poland and Serbia on the ground that he needs to renew his work permit in China when he could have done that before now. Mikel, like his colleagues is aware that the Eagles will play those friendly matches on FIFA window but rather he decided to hide under the guise of his work permit renewal. Also, Junior Ajayi and Daniel Akpeyi could have applied for their Poland visa long before now despite getting invite early for the matches but they chose to wait till the last moment. Another area where our players must be cautioned seriously is their consistent attitude of arriving late to camp. There are several instances when our players sneaked in after the camp deadline yet the coaches refused to turn them back citing flimsy excuses. Even those who are inactive at their clubs do turn up for matches late in an attempt to claim they remained relevant in Europe or wherever they may be coming from.
Overtime, indiscipline and unpatriotic behaviour from the players have caused the Super Eagles and the nation setbacks in major championships such as the African Nations Cup (AFCON) and the World Cup.
For brevity, I will highlights some of the championships where unruly behaviour of our players cost the Eagles success in the past.
During the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia, some members of the Super Eagles were said not to be remorseful, consistently broke camp rules and even embarked on drinking spree the night after the team lost 0-1 to Morocco in their opening match courtesy of a Marouane Chamakh’s header. Among those caught in those acts were; former Chelsea defender, Celestine Babayaro, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Victor Agali. Rather than apologising to the coach, their teammates and the other stakeholders, the trio resorted to abusing officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) hence their suspension from the team.
The exit of the troika led to opportunity for Garba Lawal, John Utaka and Osaze Odemwingie to cement their positions in the team. The Eagles, who were already three-man short eventually went as far as the semi-finals where the team lost on penalties to host nation, Tunisia. Had Babayaro and his accomplices remained with the rest of the squad perhaps the Eagles may have won the 2004 AFCON.
Similarly, after Nigeria defeated the highly rated Spain and Bulgaria to emerge group winners ahead of Paraguay at the 1998 World Cup hosted by France, expectations were high that the Eagles led by Bora Milutinovic (the handout coach) will roll over Denmark, their next opponent in the Round of 16. However, on the eve of the match, the players threatened not to kick the ball in protest of their unpaid allowances by the NFF. Most of the aggrieved players who are senior members of the squad were said to have stayed awake all night to register their displeasure with the officials.
The unrest in the team led to the scandalous 1-4 loss to the Scandinavian country in the knockout stage. Prior to that, Daniel Amokachi was reported to have led three other players to hire a Ross Royce to embark on an excursion in France when he they could have devoted such time to prepare for the next match.
Four years later (Mali 2002), a disagreement between the NFF officials and senior members of the Eagles which included; Finidi George, Victor Ikpeba and Tijani Babangida emanated in the camp but the team ‘wobbled and fumbled’ (apology to Coach Fanny Amun) to the semi-finals but lost 1-2 to Senegal in a nail-biting defeat.
Former Super Eagles coach, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde while preparing the team for the 2002 World Cup axed no fewer than six first team players and injected fresh players into the squad due to gross indiscipline.
In the same vein, Odemwingie openly criticised the tactics of Amodu Shuaibu (now of blessed memory) after the Eagles lost 1-3 to Egypt in its opening match of 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola.
Failure to nip indiscipline in the bud before the team travels to Russia, then the Eagles may be out of the tournament even before they kick the ball in their last group match. To pick at least six points off Argentina, Croatia and Iceland at the World Cup, our players need to keep their head low and avoid breaking camp rules.