By Clement Nwankpa Jr, St. Petersburg, Russia
Gradually, the dust over Super Eagles’ World Cup ouster is settling down. The moment has come to do a post mortem. Did Nigeria actually deserve to go home at this stage? Did they have the wherewithal to wrestle the ticket from Argentina?
Fact is the Argentines were there for the taking. Prior to the game, the predominantly Argentine fans at the arena were bullish but as the game progressed and the reality of elimination gradually sank in, there were palpable fear among them. You could see them carrying their heads in their hands.
That captured the mood among the players on the pitch. Little wonder, Marcos Rojo confessed that the players were afraid at half time, even as they led at that point, but Lionel Messi sensing the mood called on his team mates to be calm and get the job done. That was the difference. One team was calm even under tension, the other was panicky, even as they had the momentum.
The Argentines were there for the taking. It seemed something ominous was about to happen. Wave after wave, the Nigerians carved out chances. It wasn’t difficult doing so because the adventurous Argies left a chasm at the back ready to be exploited. The Nigerians saw the opening. The fact that Gernot Rohr left Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa on the pitch that long meant he fancied their chances of getting a second goal on the counter. But they just couldn’t.
If Ighalo had buriedone of those opportunities, the outcome would have been different. But he didn’t have the calm head to do the needful at such moments. That same calm head Messi beckoned on his team mates to keep. He surely knew the need to be calm at such critical moments. But the Nigerians didn’t. If Ighalo had the needed composure, Nigeria would still have been in contention now.
But the difference between both teams was that while a group was more at home with the terrain, another seemed to be in an unfamiliar ground. One team was well aware of how to deal with such anxious moments while the other was starkly ignorant. One had the weapons to deploy in such situations, the other lacked them.
Anybody conversant with football trends would know that it was only a matter of time before the Argentines got a second goal. Though the Nigerians created anxious moments in the Argentine box, one had a feeling their profligacy would ultimately haunt them.
At this level, inexperience is a terminal ailment. It doesn’t matter when, but somewhere along the line, it must eliminate you. No inexperienced team had ever won the World Cup. Nigeria paraded one of the least experienced teams at the World Cup, so this disease finally killed the patient.
With a little more sprinkle of experience, Nigeria would have gotten the desired result against Argentina. With six minutes left, a more experienced team would have found a way to see that game over the line. The same way the more experienced Argentines remained calm despite the potentially overwhelming situations, dug deep and conjured a winner. Rojo’s precision and clinical execution portrayed a man who knew he had to hit target.
It was completely contrary to the hastiness that betrayed a thoroughly frightened Ighalo in the midst of tension. No Argentine would have fluffed any of those chances Ighalo threw away. Not at that point of the match. Meanwhile, it requires a high level of experience to be aware of your environment and the occasion’s demands in such pensive situations. It gets more difficult if the platform is the World Cup.
The World Cup has its own spirit. It is a stage where the experienced relish with glee while the inexperienced cave in. A team without the requisite blend of experience and youth will always pay the price at the World Cup.
How much is Nigeria willing to invest in this team and avoid a repeat in 2022? Will this experience garnered by this team be made to count in the next four years? Or will these players be discarded and an entirely new bunch that hasn’t tasted the World Cup fever be put forward in 2022? We took a very inexperienced keeper to the World Cup. We should reap from this experience in the next four years. Will he be the one in goal then? Or would we field the current Under 20 goalkeeper in that World Cup?
We have been rebuilding for years. Going to this World Cup, we were also told we are building a new team. Building a new team at the World Cup? Now, that we have seen how dangerous it is to build a new team at the World Cup, can we take a BUILT team to the 2022 World Cup?
We have paid the price of inexperience in Russia. Will we learn from this experience?