A baby delivered the last time the Super Eagles of Nigeria clashed with the La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) of Spain should be 15 years old by now, but that’s to say the least as the use-to-be ‘underachieving’ football nation are now ‘overachievers.”
13th June 1998, a Sunday Oliseh’s low power-drive from 25 yards took Spanish goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta completely by surprise, and was all Nigeria needed to scale through the star-studded Spain hurdle, victorious. Despite winning their final match against Bulgaria 6-1, Spain failed to progress to the knock-out stage.
The little child would have grown into a teenager accustomed to terms like fuel subsidy, austerity measures and names like John Mikel Obi, Fernando Torres, Juan Matta, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Vincent Enyeama in his vocabulary. A lot have changed. Nigeria’s current assistant coach, Daniel Amokachi, was an unused substitute in that encounter.
There are many talking points ahead of Eagles’ final mission to land the nation in Confederations Cup’s ‘mars’- I mean the knock-out stage. Permit me to say Nigerians are tired of permutations, but all the four teams in Group B have a mathematical chance of progressing- plus Tahiti.
And the job at hand for Stephen Keshi and his injury-ravaged team is to win Spain. Even a win may not be enough if Uruguay thrashes Tahiti; coach Oscar Tabarez’s side will finish above the African champions if they score five goals greater than Nigeria’s winning margin over Spain.
At least, Spain are theoretically not yet assured of a place in the semi-final. However, only a defeat by four goals or more will leave them at risk of elimination.
The last time the Super Eagles won a European opposition was in the 1-0 defeat of France in a friendly match in St Etienne in November 2009. Joseph Akpala scored his first international goal in that enncounter.
The permutation is as good as it gets. As a Nigerian, one consolatory omen of the encounter billed for the Governador Placido Aderaldo in Castelo is that the last African team to beat Spain, in a full international match was Nigeria, in Nantes, France, in 1998.
“Of course we do have a chance, until the end of the 90 minutes you can’t tell what is going to happen,” Keshi allays fear.
That same child, if he’s a football lover like most young boys of today would have it in his subconscious that Spain have won back-to-back European championships, came to South Africa in 2010 to lift the African World Cup, and are one of the favourites to lift the 2014 edition in Brazil.
The Confederations Cup could just be a dress-rehearsal to the World Cup, but the current crop of players selected by Vicente del Bosque are leaving no stone unturned to see that they keep up their superlative form. Spain’s 10-0 victory against Oceania minnows Tahiti is the biggest ever winning by a men’s senior team at a Fifa tournament. Hungary was the only other side to score 10 in their 10-1 victory over El Salvador at the 1982 World Cup.
“The idea is to top the group and then we’ll see,” said Chelsea midfielder Juan Matta. “We have come to Brazil to win the title and currently we are on the right track.”
Del Bosque may recall the 9 key members of his squad who were rested for their 10-0 win against Tahiti. Keshi could be without Varese of Italy on-loan forward Nnamdi Oduamadi, who was substituted at half-time against Uruguay, following a tangle with Egidio Arevalo.
The record speaks for itself. Spain, a nation that just last month announced plans to close 48 state-run rail routes and reduce services by an average of 32 percent on 127 orders in order to save €86.5 million a year, in a bid to slash the budget deficit to the European Union’s 3 percent target by 2016.
And Nigeria, a nation that in January 2012 stopped subsidising the cost at which consumers buy petroleum products in the country in a bid to tackle corruption and improve our foreign reserve.
European and African champions lock horns in Brazil, where the masses have been demanding improved public services and end to corruption, after a hike in transport fare sparked series of unending protests across the country.
Aged 15, this young boy would have just witnessed Eagles’ best ever run of 18-match unbeaten streak come to an expected end in the 2-1 loss to Uruguay on Thursday, after match-bonus had delayed the national team’s scheduled flight to the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup. He would want to keep an open mind and savour the unpredictable nature of the round leather game.
(Materials from BBC Sport were used in this post. Follow @TelvinMcRock.)