All of Nigeria’s FIFA World Cup Matches

Monday, 01 October 2018 09:38

Six World Cups. Two different periods of three successive appearances. 23 goals. One net-bulging celebration. One FIFA Goal of the Tournament Nominee. One mighty jaw-dropping miss. And that one ridiculously alluring and out-selling kit.

Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup has produced quite a few memories, many of them. From Finidi George celebrating like Finidi George in Foxborough, to Jay-Jay Okocha espousing his love for ‘Nkechi’ in Kobe. From the entire nation cursing at Sani Kaita, to Coca-Cola’s ‘Naija Issa Goal’ ringer.

That one time in every four years when even those with very little interest in football take note, when fathers seem to have no other duties than simply being fans, when the morning after the night before is about nothing other than the night before.

So in keeping with Independence Day (our Independence Day, not the American movie), we take a look at every World Cup game Nigeria has ever played in:

1994 (USA)

VS Bulgaria (June 21, Dallas)

After coming close but missing out on appearing in the 1990 World Cup, Nigeria finally made their debut on the global stage four years later. Their first game in Group D was in Dallas against Bulgaria, a game most famous for Rashidi Yekini shaking the net in raucous delight after having the honour of scoring the Super Eagles’ first ever World Cup goal. Goals from Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amuneke capped off a very satisfying win for Clemence Westerhof’s side.

VS Argentina (June 25, Foxborough)

Nigeria’s second group game of USA ’94 was against opponents we’ll come to get accustomed to meeting. Argentina had also begun the tournament with a win, but, thanks to Samson Siasia, fell behind in Foxborough after just eight minutes. It didn’t last long, though, in the 21st minute Claudio Caniggia levelled for Argentina, and then the same man put La Albiceleste in front seven minutes later. 2-1 it finished, and thus began World Cup meetings between us and the Argentines, all of which have ended in disappointment.

VS Greece (June 30, Foxborough)

Nigeria went up against fellow World Cup debutants Greece in their final group game, knowing elimination was a possibility, but so was the chance of topping the group. As it turned out, it was the latter that happened, Finidi George opening the scoring in first half stoppage time, then producing his eye-catching celebration, before Amokachi sealed victory in second half stoppage time. That result, coupled with Argentina losing to Bulgaria, meant the Eagles finished top of Group D.

VS Italy (July 5, Foxborough)

In what seemed like a deliberate attempt by FIFA to make sure the Super Eagles don’t see much of the United States, Nigeria played a third successive game at the Foxboro stadium, a last-16 clash against Italy, who had struggled to get out of Group E. Things to be falling Nigeria’s away, Amuneke putting us in front after 25 minutes, and then in the second half, Italy substitute Gianfranco Zola got sent off. With two minutes to go, Nigeria were heading for the quarter-finals, but a loss in concentration let in Roberto Baggio to roll in a late equaliser for the Azzurri and take us to extra-time. Things got no better in the additional 30 minutes, only 12 of it had gone, when Baggio won a penalty, thanks in no small part to Sunday Oliseh dallying in possession on the halfway line. Baggio scored the spotkick, Nigeria had no answer despite a numerical advantage, and the fat lady sang on our World Cup.

1998 (France)

VS Spain (June 13, Nantes)

A second successive World Cup appearance in a row, and Nigeria were up against it in their first game, having been drawn to play European giants Spain. There were very little surprises when La Roja took the lead midway through the first half, thanks to a Fernando Hierro free-kick, but Nigeria would hit back via the head of the ‘headmaster’, Mutiu Adepoju rising highest to meet a corner, ensuring the Super Eagles would go into halftime on terms. But only two minutes had elapsed in the second half when Raul fired Javier Clemente’s Spanish side back in front. Nigeria, however, would respond again, via a stroke of luck, Spain captain and goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta spilling Garba Lawal’s cross into his net with 17 minutes left. And five minutes after, the turnaround was complete, a long-range belter from Sunday Oliseh proving to be a worthy winning goal, as the Eagles left with the points.

VS Bulgaria (June 19, Paris)

For the second World Cup running, Nigeria came up against Bulgaria. But this game in the French capital was underwhelming, the only note of quality was when Jay-Jay Okocha played in Victor Ikpeba to score the only goal of the game just before the half-hour, as two wins in two games meant Nigeria had not only qualified, but also guaranteed top spot in Group D.

VS Paraguay (June 24, Toulouse)

With Group D already in the bag, Nigeria could afford to take their foot off the gas in their final group game against Paraguay, and  appeared to, as the Paraguayans took the lead after just 31 seconds through Celso Ayala. Nigeria replied via Wilson Oruma, but Cesare Maldini’s side’s greater need showed in Toulouse, and goals from Miguel Angel Benitez and Jose Cardozo ensured they’d progress to the next round alongside the Super Eagles.

VS Denmark (June 28, St. Denis)

It was the venue of the World Cup final that the Eagles headed to four days after the Paraguay defeat, to face Denmark, who finished second in Group C. But inside 12 minutes, we were already two down; Peter Moller and Brian Laudrup giving us a mountain to climb already. Danish substitute Ebbe Sand made it three immediately after coming on, on the hour mark, before Thomas Helveg added a fourth with 14 minutes left. Nigeria got a consolation goal from the right boot of Tijani Babangida, but our second World Cup journey, like the first, lasted four games.

2002 (South Korea/Japan)

VS Argentina (June 2, Ibaraki)

A third World Cup appearance in succession, and Nigeria were pitted in the ‘Group of Death’, alongside Argentina, Sweden and England in Group F. With us being pitted in the latter four of the groups, our World Cup group stage would be in Japan, and it began on the 2nd of June in Ibaraki. It didn’t get off to a great start, as a 63rd-minute header from Gabriel Batistuta consigned us to defeat.

VS Sweden (June 7, Kobe)

There was still time for Nigeria to turn things around, and five days after facing Argentina, we were up against Sweden in Kobe. After 27 minutes, we went in front, Julius Aghahowa heading Joseph Yobo’s cross into the Sweden net, but Henrik Larsson would reply for the Swedes eight minutes later. Then just past the hour mark, precisely the 63rd minute- just like Batistuta did against us in Ibaraki- Larsson scored again, converting from 12 yards after been fouled in the box by Isaac Okoronkwo. There would be no equaliser for the Super Eagles, and after just two games, Festus Onigbinde’s side were eliminated.

VS England (June 12, Osaka)

With the Eagles already eliminated, the final game against England was a dead-rubber for us. And in the heat-soaked atmosphere in Osaka, an uneventful goalless game was notable for a start for 17-year-old Femi Opabunmi, and a World Cup debut for a young Vincent Enyeama.

2010 (South Africa)

VS Argentina (June 12, Johannesburg)

Surprise, surprise. Argentina again. Diego Maradona, who was the skipper when we first met the two-time world champions in 1994, was the coach this time, as Lionel Messi and co were the newest sets of Argentine opponents, this time in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. Nigeria were back on the Only six minutes had gone when Nigeria went behind, Gabriel Heinze heading home a Juan Veron corner. That was the only goal of the game, but the match itself was most notable for Vincent Enyeama’s Man of the Match performance in Nigeria’s goal, denying Messi on every occasion.

VS Greece (June 17, Bloemfontein)

Bloemfontein was the next South African location, as Lars Lagerback’s Eagles aimed to get their tournament back on track. Greece were the next opponents, a side who’d never scored in the World Cup before, so we were pretty confident. And that confidence almost graduated to smugness when Kalu Uche gave us the lead from a free-kick after 16 minutes. Nigeria were riding high, but things took a downturn when Sani Kaita was sent off after a kerfuffle with Greece’s Vasilis Torosidis. Nigeria were suddenly under pressure, and on the cusp of halftime, Haruna Lukman deflected Dimitrios Salpingidis’s shot into the net. Level at halftime, Nigeria had a numerical disadvantage, and were indebted to Enyeama for staying in the game. But Enyeama could do little in the 71st minute, when he pushed out Alexandros Tziolis’ shot towards Torosidis, who put Greece in front. 2-1 it finished, and Nigeria’s World Cup hopes hung by a thread.

VS South Korea (June 22, Durban)

Nigeria’s national side are famous for their dose of tension-inducing ‘mathematics’, relying on other results going their way to progress. That form was how the Super Eagles got to South Africa in the first place, and they relied on ‘maths’ going into the final group game of this World Cup against South Korea. We needed a win, as well Argentina beating Greece in the other Group B game. We looked to be doing our bit when Uche put us in front inside 12 minutes, but Korea hit back seven minutes before halftime through Lee Jung-Soo. Things became nightmarish when Park Chu-Yung rifled home a free-kick four minutes after the interval, then came the moment that will reverberate throughout World Cup history. Midway through the second period, Uche laid on a pass for Youssuf Ayila, whose cross (you’ve heard, read and/or watched this so many times, haven’t you) was turned puzzlingly wide by Yakubu, who stood two yards from goal. Yakubu did score from the penalty spot with just over 20 minutes left, but a draw was insufficient, as the Eagles crashed out of the World Cup. Neither Yakubu nor Sani Kaita have been seen in a national shirt since.

2014 (Brazil)

VS Iran (June 16, Coritiba)

Nigeria’s first game of the 2014 World Cup was in Coritiba, but back home, everywhere looked green in the build-up, from the streets of Ibadan, the roads in Port-Harcourt, to the nooks and crannies in Oshodi, there was a buzz in the air. Iran were seen by many as the weakest side in the group, so a Nigerian win was expected, almost a foregone conclusion. The game turned out to be the first draw of the tournament, a tepid goalless draw which saw Shola Ameobi in a Super Eagles shirt: it really looked weird.

VS Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 21, Cuiaba)

Nigeria’s second game of the tournament was against Europeans Bosnia, at midnight in our time, in Cuiaba (which for the record is recognised by the Microsoft English dictionary, unlike Coritiba). Nigeria looked to have gone behind early, but Edin Dzeko’s effort for Bosnia was ruled out for offside, a decision which match referee Peter O’Leary later admitted to be a mistake. Nigeria, however took the lead after Emmanuel Emenike got the better off Bosnia skipper Emir Spahic and played in Peter Odemwingie, who found the net, just before the half-hour mark. Dzeko hit the post late in the second half as Bosnia sought an equaliser, but Stephen Keshi’s Eagles held on, and put one foot in the second round.

VS Argentina (June 25, Porto Alegre)

Oh look, people, Argentina again- na wa oo. Nigeria went into the game against the Argentines in Porto Alegre needing just a point to go through with the South Americans. Argentina took the lead after three minutes via Lionel Messi, but Nigeria responded barely a minute later through Ahmed Musa. Messi put Argentina back in front, with a free-kick just before halftime, but Musa would respond for the Eagles again, just after the break. However, La Albiceleste would have the last word, Marcos Rojo forcing home from a corner three minutes after Musa’s second leveller. Despite the loss, Nigeria still headed for the next round, after Iran’s loss to Bosnia. As for Marcos Rojo, it wasn’t the last time we’d hear from him.

VS France (June 30, Brasilia)

On June 30, in the Brazilian capital, Nigeria went up against France in the last 16. After a tight first half in Brasilia, Les Bleus upped the ante, leaving us to cling on for dear life, Yohan Cabaye hitting the bar, while Victor Moses made a goal-line clearance, and Vincent Enyeama produced a handful of saves. But with 11 minutes left, Enyeama would flap at a French corner, leaving Paul Pogba the chance to head the ball into an empty net. A stoppage time own goal from Joseph Yobo- making his 100th Nigerian appearance- sealed Nigeria’s fate, and we headed home, with the last eight still unreachable.

2018 (Russia)

VS Croatia (June 16, Kaliningrad)

Nigeria made light work of their CAF Qualifying group, easing past Zambia, Algeria and Cameroon, despite suffering a three-point deduction, to make it to Russia. Our first game in the World Cup was against Croatia, and an uninspiring first half ended with us behind after an Oghenekaro Etebo own goal. Our second half fared any better, as a penalty from Luka Modric sealed an opening game defeat for us in Kaliningrad.

VS Iceland (June 22, Volgograd)

Nigeria knew the game against Iceland in Volgograd was a must-win, for us to stand a strong chance of getting past the group stage. Once again, the first half was unexciting, but this time, the Super Eagles went into the break level. Then the second half got off to the best possible start, Ahmed Musa firing Nigeria in front after four minutes. Musa hit the post afterwards, before going on to the seal the win with 15 minutes left. Iceland got a chance to get back into the game, but Gylfi Sigurdsson skied a penalty, as Nigeria held on for three priceless points.

VS Argentina (June 26, St. Petersburg)

Yes, Argentina again- guys, we really should hold a reunion. Nigeria were in second place in Group D going into the final group game, while Argentina were bottom of the group with a solitary point, a draw for the Super Eagles would just about be enough for a place in the last 16. But after 14 minutes, we had gone behind, Lionel Messi doing what Lionel Messi does, and giving Argentina the lead. Messi hit the post in the first half as well, as Nigeria went into the break behind, and staring elimination in the face. But a lifeline came six minutes after halftime, when Javier Mascherano fouled Leon Balogun in the box, and Victor Moses converted the resulting penalty; Nigeria were level and back in pole position to qualify. The Super Eagles came close to going in front on several occasions, Odion Ighalo firing a shot wide, and also tested the Argentine goalkeeper Franco Armani, as did Wilfred Ndidi, while Etebo came close with a free-kick. But heartbreak would come with four minutes left, as Marcos Rojo finished from Gabriel Mercado’s cross to put Argentina on the cusp of the last 16. There would be no salvation for Nigeria, as we headed home after three games.

Published in Awa Football

Waiter: So, what are you having?

Spotkick: Errr… A huge slice of humble pie. Along with some egg to throw on our faces.

That’s right. Before the World Cup began, we lot here were so confident, our predictions so well thought-out, like we were Clifford Devoe in Season Four of CW’s The Flash. We did say come back to tell us how stupid our pre-tournament would be in a month’s time.

Who will win the World Cup?

This was the first question posed, and of course we bullishly laid out our supposed winners. Shehu Idris went with Portugal, and asked us not to ask him to explain. Portugal went out in the last 16, we still won’t ask Idris to explain.

‘For the good of the game, the whole should support Argentina winning the World Cup’. ‘…a team that has Lionel Messi going into any tournament stands a very good chance of winning it’. Ola Fadahunsi’s words were so profound then, by Argentina’s second game they seemed so illogical. La Albiceleste were lucky to even get past their group, and met their match in the first knockout round.

I went with France, who did turn out to win the tournament. There was scepticism in my prediction, which I’ll now smugly classify as humble and brilliant foresight. This self-lauding will cancel itself out soon.

Who will win the Golden Boot?

‘I feel Cristiano Ronaldo will win this’. Ronaldo started like a house on fire, with four goals in the first two games, but wouldn’t score again. Sorry, Idris.

‘Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s Thomas Muller’. Muller didn’t score a single goal as Germany went out after three games. Told you that self-lauding will cancel itself out.

‘Giroud has always proven himself in front of goal for Les Bleus’. Fadahunsi said as he predicted one of Olivier Giroud or Lionel Messi to finish top scorer. Giroud played seven games for France, without a single shot on target. Messi scored once. Oi vei.

Golden Ball Winner

Idris saw it in his dreams that pint-sized, fleet-footed magician Bernardo Silva would cart away with the golden ball. Tip, don’t gamble on the word from Idris’ dreams.

‘I’m going with David Silva, because no one else did’, that’s what I said. I’ve seen why no one else did.

Fadahunsi went with Messi. Is he secretly Argentine?

Which team will surprise?

‘These boys will stun the world’. Which boys? Saudi Arabia. Who said they’d stun the world? Yes, Idris. Let’s just move on.

‘One African team’ Fadahunsi said. He opted for Senegal, all five from the continent didn’t last more than three games.

‘Watch this space: Egypt top Group A and beat Portugal in the round of 16’, I said. Egypt lost all three games. Delete this space.

Which star will flop?

‘Does Alex Iwobi count as a star?, Idris asked. We’ll leave you to decide.

‘Paul Pogba. Enough said’. Fadahunsi really should have said more.

‘Cristiano Ronaldo, I call you out here’. I think he heard me.

Nigeria’s World Cup chances?

The general consensus was that we wouldn’t make it past the group stage. At least we got that one right.


Long version: At least we have Nigeria’s early exit as a form of vindication, plus I got France winning the World Cup. No one gets predictions right, and we are no different.

Short version: We are simply idiots.

Published in International Watch

Spotkick's FIFA World Cup 2018 Review

Monday, 16 July 2018 11:45

And so the curtain has fallen, the fat lady has sung, the last rites have been read. Forgive the ending cliches, we’re just finding it hard to say goodbye to the 21st World Cup and wondering what to do with ourselves. But with the tournament having reached its conclusion, Messrs Not Moony, Not Wormtail, Not Padfoot, and Definitely Not Prongs, Spotkick’s finest, gave their conclusion on the Mundial.

Player of the Tournament

Ola Fadahunsi: Luka Modric. Nobody comes close. He was phenomenal all through and he's one of the guys that had the most minutes at the World Cup - Modric is a complete work of art.

Trust Inonse: Who else for me than the Golden boy of the tournament - Kylian Mbappe. At 19 his confidence and determination is next to none. I don't think I have seen a better player at his age.

Kunle Ajao: Luka Modric, without a shadow of a doubt. Sometimes he felt like the solo act in this World Cup orchestra. Always a delight to watch on the ball, he even adds superb work rate off it.

Shehu Idris: Unarguably and undisputedly Luka Modric. Prior to this tournament his name wasn't even mistakenly mentioned amongst those worthy of the FIFA the best award but only sprinkle of people will wave his inclusion now. How he managed to lead Croatia into the Final and outshine the glorious Class of '98 with extra ounce of work-rate and non-human voltage of creativity is a paper for another time. FIFA got this call right, Modric was head, shoulders and knee above everybody else in Russia. 

Goal of the tournament 

OF: Ahmed Musa’s second goal against Iceland. That set the entire nation bouncing.

TI: The goal that got me thinking - Benjamin Pavard. Coming to the world cup as a rookie and still had the audacity to speak to the ball to get France their second goal against Argentina . Borrowing the word of Etim Essien- it was a slapping NASA

KA: Benjamin Pavard’s volley against Argentina is the kind of the thing you dream of, but 100 times out of 100, you thump that wide. He didn’t.

SI: Pavard!!! A technique that can make the ball spin and float like a balloon that isn't entralled with the wind, that sort of technique, with the outside of boot. That sort of technique, read me well and loud, is out of this world. If there wasn't a net there, that ball would still be floating happily like a hot air balloon in the sky of Russia. 

Match of the tournament 

OF: Germany vs Mexico.

TI: A match I won't forget in a hurry would be Portugal v Spain. What a thrilling encounter that was, as Cristiano Ronaldo showed the world why he is the present world’s best footballer. It was great watching Spain's champagne football against a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal.

P. S, A match I won't use a nail clipper on my nails for is the France against Denmark's horror.

KA: It was only Day Two when crisis-hit Spain played unconvincing Portugal in Sochi. A six-goal thriller that had everything, a free-kick, a penalty, a goalkeeping howler, a routine goal and a howitzer from a right-back. It set the tone for such an incredible tournament.

SI: Spain vs Portugal. The match, you'll agree with me, came dashing into us really early. We weren't ready for such an action-packed match after the tepid opening day of the tournament. Ronaldo's hattrick. Nacho's sumptuous half-volley. David De Gea's unusual gaffe. Diego Costa and Pepe rekindled old animosity. This match had a healthy bit of everything a match of the tournament should have. 

Best surprise 

OF: England. You might say they played lesser oppositions, but how these set of young guys were able to curtail the pressure always put on the Three Lions prior to every major tournament was a surprise. I give them credit for that.

TI: Best surprise? Which other team comes to mind but the Croatian national team. I bet even the best magic practicing priest never saw a final for the blazers.

KA: It’s easy to say England, and why not, a first semi-final in 28 years for them. But if their journey to the semis was a surprise, their path certainly wasn’t, and they lost the three games where they faced quality opposition. Plus, no one saw Croatia as finalists before the tournament, so it’s them for me.

SI: Croatia of course. They surprised everyone including themselves. That they made it to the final wasn't the actual surprise but the jarring fact that they made it there playing gruesome extra 30 minutes after each of their knockout games and they didn't roll around the pitch in agony of cramps and fatigue is the biggest surprise. If Superman was real, he'll definitely be a Croatian.

Biggest disappointment 

OF: Germany summed up the whole disappointment for me.

TI: it's difficult to look away from Germany and Argentina but permit me to give this plaque to the Spanish national team. Who puts together over a thousand completed passes and still loses? That's ridiculous to say the least.

KA: I’ve watched German teams that have played underwhelming football, until this World Cup I’d never watched a German team that was complacent. It looked like they’d recovered after that late winner against Sweden, it turned out to be a false dawn. Watching Germany crash out of the group stage, it was almost like football broke.

SI: Germany. For the first time since Euro 2004, they crashed out of a major tournament in the group stages. For the first time ever in the history of Die Maanshaft, they bowed out of World Cup in the group stages. For the first time in my life, I saw a German team that's almost always vunerable to opposition breaks. Let me stop my "For the first time" game here. This German side were woeful and should be thankful for the mercy of that early exit.

Verdict on VAR

OF: As much as I loved VAR, I think it's doing more harm than good. Making football so predictable, the penalty given to France was evident, no referee in the world would have given that. To top it all, VAR is taking emotions away from the game; that is bad.

TI: Well! I have never been in support of the VAR and the World Cup test hasn't convinced a strand of my hair that it is needed. It kills the vibe of the game and for the fact that it wholly still depends on the discretion of the referee, in my opinion, it's not a solution if it's not solving the problem in totality.

KA: VAR is meant to correct clear cut errors, which means: (a) If the referee is called to look at it, then it’s supposed to be a clear cut error (Nigeria v Argentina). (b) If it’s a clear cut error, it shouldn’t take four minutes to decide (the final itself). That VAR is ultimately subject to human interpretation means it will be ludicrous in my eyes.

SI: Obviously it is here to stay and no amount of campaign launched against it will get it out. Moreover, it had a successful debut in Russia. Except for some little doggedness from referees to overturn their initial wrong decisions, it showed it can make this game a lot cleaner and a little more transparent. However, people still need to get used to this machine. We complain about how long it takes before a decision could be made but does it matter the amount of time for the best decision to be made? Football lover are finicky bunch who scavenge for errors like someone picking beans, VAR won't end football controversies. 

Most excited about

OF: Prior to the tournament, the issue of racism and fans violence seemed inevitable; how Russians were able to nip that all through the Mundial created so much excitement for me.

TI: The unexpectedly peaceful World Cup. Against all odds, Russia hosted one of the best tournaments in recent times.

KA: Watching Belgium’s counter-attacks, particularly against Brazil in the last eight, was a sight to behold.

SI: Kyllian Mbappe. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's era of dominance, either we like to admit it or not, is fast dissolving. Several names of successors have popped up over the years and it looked like these successors will make the claim after the early exit of the aforementioned juggernauts but these guys didn't have the previously thought impact on the tournament. Except Mbappe of course. At 19, with just a season and a half of top-flight club football under his blurily quick feet, he transformed the Mundial into another playground just has he's done with Ligue 1. It looked really easy for 'Donatello’ as his pace fuelled by his youthful exuberance proved harder than Advance Physics test for every defender he faced. His physical precociousness has shrouded his cold-eyed finishing talent. This boy's imminent dominance on football will mirror Messi and Ronaldo's but sadly, his won't have an almost equal rival to battle with.

Least excited about

OF: African countries.

TI: The shambolic performances by the African contingents, it was pitiful to say the least. Although a glimpse of fight came from the West Africans - Nigeria and Senegal- their best could only buy them three matches in Russia.

KA: The constant Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo comparison after each player plays. It’s the World Cup for goodness sake, not El Clasico.

SI: Tiki Taka or Tiki Taxi or Taka Tiki or Kati Kati or which ever name you've given the boring act of caressing the ball endlessly across the pitch without urgency or a sharp edge. It used to be orgasmic when Xavi was still in the Spanish team with his eagle vision but now, it's just excruciating. Iniesta has passed his prime. Isco drives opposition near madness with his dribbles and not his passes. David Silva loses himself and his creativity in the incessant passing drills. Spain should fold up the paper containing the Tiki-Taka blueprints and reach for another approach now. 

Note on Nigeria's World Cup

OF: So many people have been calling for Rohr's head after tournament - different strokes for different folks. In my opinion the Nigerian team to Russia was the best I've seen in recent times.

TI: Although disappointing from a Nigerian perspective, it's definite that this Nigerian team is the best in recent history. Just a little bit of trimming and a little bit of additional quality would make the team a world beater.

KA: Our World Cup may have ended after three games, but their was a sense of what might have been, rather than a sense of disappointment this time. Despite the early exit, there’s more than enough cause for optimism. A fair amount of stability right now will go a long way in helping. Not that we’ll have it.

SI: Although we crashed out in the group stages, it still hasn't stopped us from dreaming about what this band of young talents can achieve if they remain banded together with Gernot Rohr as the sheepherder. Stability is just what this team needs. Stability in players, coaches and administrators but the latter appears like it won't be getting the required stability as some destructive critters are already tilling the ground and unperturbed if the tree tumbles and all the goody birds bound off.



Published in International Watch

 July the 15th, 2018. A day after Bastille Day, and France stand tall again. 20 years and five World Cups ago they were World Champions, and it’s Didier Deschamps, who was the skipper on home soil back in 1998, is the man who has led Les Bleus to the title here in Russia.

Amidst the French celebrations, it’s hard not to give applause to Croatia, who got to the final against the odds, with three knockout games that went to extra-time. They had mathematically played one more game than the French going into this final due to their minutes accumulated, but they didn’t look it early on in Moscow, full of the same zest and purpose that drove them this far.

But Hugo Lloris in the French goal wasn’t tested, and it was France who’d strike first. Antoine Griezmann won a free-kick after a challenge from Marcelo Brozovic, and his resultant delivery was diverted home by Mario Mandzukic. It was the 12th own goal of this tournament, and the first ever in the history of a World Cup final, putting Croatia behind, but they’ve been in this situation in every of their previous knockout game so far, and like the previous ones, they hit back. Luka Modric’s free-kick was headed across goal by Sime Vrsaljko, and the ball eventually fell to Ivan Perisic, whose effort flew past Lloris and into the net.

He would, though, move from hero to villain in just eight minutes, as he was guilty of handball from a French corner. Referee Nestor Pistana consulted with VAR, and pointed to the spot. The penalty seemed harsh, but Griezmann barely cared as he stepped up and sent Danijel Subasic the wrong way. That goal was France’s only shot so far, Deschamps continuing his conservative game plan. But even by those standards, France looked tepid, and their usual defensive sturdiness wasn’t on show, they seemed susceptible to every cross.

But they survived until the break, and also survived at the start of the second period, when Lloris tipped over a shot from Ante Rebic. Up until then, Kylian Mbappe had largely been a spectator in this game, but his first thrust into the limelight came when he rode off a challenge from Domagoj Vida, but saw his shot blocked by Subasic. He would play a vital part in the third goal, his burst of pace taking him away from Ivan Strinic, and from his lay-off, Griezmann laid off for Paul Pogba, whose first shot was blocked, but his second arrowed his into Subasic’s net.

Suddenly Croatia looked drained, their extra-time exertions in their previous games looked to be catching up with them, and they conceded a fourth when Mbappe rifled a shot into the bottom corner. Now victory seemed certain, but Croatia saw a tiny window of opportunity when Lloris was caught in possession and Mandzukic nipped in to grab a second for Zlatko Dalic’s side.

It wasn’t to be. Croatia had served up a delight for everyone, but their race had been run. Then the final whistle went, this was France’s moment: Allez Les Bleus.

Published in International Watch

And so, football will not be coming home. After England have sneaked their past Colombia in the last 16, and eased past Sweden in the last eight, the belief was gathering, this might actually be their time. A semi-final exit will still be seen as massively exceeding expectations, and rightly so, but the reality is that they crumble at the first sign of quality opposition.

Not that the inevitable focus on the Three Lions should take the spotlight away from Croatia, who will appear in their first ever tournament final. Coach Zlatko Dalic had told his players to stop living off the golden generation, who, 20 years ago today played their third/fourth place play-off game in the World Cup in France, but the side from 2018 are the ones who go one better.

They didn’t get off to the best start, though, only five minutes had gone when they went behind, Kieran Trippier curling in a delightful free-kick past Danijel Subasic and into the net. Dalic had spoken of his dissatisfaction over Croatia’s first half in the quarter-final against Russia, surely he would have been livid over this. The passes were not coming, the players seemed edgy, and even Luka Modric was unusually quiet, as they went into the break behind. The second period followed an almost similar pattern for the Croats, but this time there were signs of consistent, if not intense, pressure. And it paid off in the 68th minute, Sime Vrsaljko with a cross, and Ivan Perisic, who until that moment was having a rather underwhelming game, got in front of Kyle Walker to stab home an equaliser. England were rattled, and it showed with their passes at the back, and Perisic very nearly added a second, his shot kissing the inside of the base of the post.

And so we’d have extra time, for Croatia, a third in succession, the first side to have that in the World Cup since England themselves in 1990. The extra 30 minutes would have been forgiven for being drab and unexciting, but it wasn’t the case, first John Stones saw his header headed off the line by Vrsaljko, while at the other end Mario Mandzukic was denied by Jordan Pickford. But Mandzukic would have his golden moment in the second half of extra time, as after Perisic’s played him in, the English defence played him on, and his finish was unerring.

Now England had to chase, they were in a position they hadn’t been all-tournament, a position of having to come up with some sort of invention. On came Jamie Vardy, but nothing would happen. Not from the main man Harry Kane, or from the set-pieces with which they’ve been threatening. Croatia would have finished off the game, but Andrej Kramaric shot wide when he had Perisic in space. But they didn’t care about that when the final whistle went. Against all odds, Croatia are World Cup finalists.



Published in International Watch


It’s Wednesday, July the 15th, 2026, and from secondary school classrooms, newspaper stands, bus stops, holograms, and inside top-notch firms alike, the chatter won’t stop, a national holiday is about to be declared, as word is still very much about how the Super Eagles of Nigeria won the FIFA World Cup in the United States, much to the patriotic ire of Donald Trump, ex-American president, three days earlier; the Eagles have recently made history by winning the first World Cup with 48 teams.

Not that it was straightforward, though. Preparations for the tournament from the Eagles camp had been blighted by the continuous loot of funds, presumably by members of the Slippery Snakes Society (SSS, pronounced ‘sss’) who are still at large, and the lack of sufficient resources to the national team has led to dispute between the nation’s president, Odunlade Adekola, and Nigerian Football Federation chief, the Android version of Amaju Pinnick, placed there by the real Pinnick himself some four years earlier.


('No I will not remove money from my meme allocations to fund the World Cup')


This kerfuffle between both presidents almost led to the resignation of national team head coach, Garba Lawal, who has tactically revolutionised the Eagles setup with his ingenious 3-1-1-1-1-1-1-1 formation, but Lawal was persuaded by Nigerians to stay in the job, although some other reports suggest that he was blackmailed by human rights activist Toke Makinwa.

Nevertheless, the Eagles, led by captain, Rabiu Ali, who’s somehow still 31, depart for the United States, as they are paired in Group E with Ukraine and Transylvania, the latter of which had gained FIFA recognition in 2023. With only three teams in each group, and two progressing to the next round, Nigeria know they can qualify for the last 32 with two draws, and as it happens, their first game, against the Transylvanians, ends up goalless, with the Eagles not even daring to cross their own halfway line, before another goalless draw against the Ukrainians sees them progress in second place behind their Day Two opponents.

The last 32 pits them with Cameroon, coached by Samuel Eto’o, who incidentally is also the president of the Cameroon FA, and the country at large. The Eagles fall behind early in the second half, but two late goals from Samson Okoro, who looks suspiciously like the Stanley Okoro of 2009, but with what like seems like a bleached skin and a hair transplant, takes Nigeria to the last 16, where they face surprise packages, Westeros, another country given FIFA recognition in the previous five years. The minnows are no match for Nigeria though, a comprehensive 4-0 win, thanks to four Rabiu Ali penalties, takes us to the last eight, a feat we had never managed before. As expected, the quarter finals prove to be a tough test, as opponents Spain, coached by Xavi, score twice inside the first 20 minutes, Marco Asensio curling in a direct corner kick, and veteran Alvaro Morata adding the second. But a rousing team talk sees an inspired Eagles fightback after halftime, goals from Kelechi Nwakali, and Alex Iwobi takes us to extra time and penalties, where three Francis Uzoho saves send us to the semis, the first African side to ever get this far.

The semis bring a familiar face, in Gernot Rohr and Mexico, also making their first ever last four appearance. The game ends in a 2-0 win for Nigeria, but controversy is sparked when Eagles skipper Ali spits in Rohr’s face for not taking him to the World Cup in Russia eight years earlier. Ali is subsequently ruled out for the final, against Portugal, led by 41-year-old player/coach Cristiano Ronaldo. La Selaccao dominate the game for the entirety of the 90 minutes, but a glaring error from goalkeeper Anthony Lopes allows Kelechi Iheanacho to score a late winner, his only touch of the entire tournament.

The final whistle goes, from California to Calabar, from Seattle to Surulere, Nigerians at home and abroad spark into delirium. After the initial celebrations and commiserations with the fallen Portuguese heroes, suspended skipper Ali is handed the trophy by FIFA president Jorge Mendes, as Ghanaians watch on through the depths of Instagram, while back home a certain Easterner measures where to place 23 about-to-be-designed statues.




**Despite our greatest dreams, and hopes, the above news is utterly and definitely not real. We wish!!


Published in Awa Football

FIFA World Cup 2018 Preview: Group A

Friday, 01 June 2018 20:07



Glass half-empty: Russia haven’t had competitive football since finishing bottom of Group B in Euro 2016, their third successive tournament of exiting at the group stage. Stanislav Cherchesov’s side have an unstable defence, with more than 10 defenders in the preferred back-three, and, with injuries to key players, look like the third best team in Group A.

Glass half-full: With the effective retirement of the Berezutsky brothers, Russia have a much younger squad, especially at the back, but still possess experienced heads such as Igor Akinfeev, Denis Glushakov, and the returning Sergei Ignashevich. As the home nation, they’ll have the crowd in support, and are in a rather equal-looking group.

How they qualified: As hosts. Duh!!

Last voyage: Russia finished with two points in Group H of the 2014 World Cup, exiting after three group games.

Best adventure: Excluding trips as USSR, Russia have never gone past the group stage since they broke from the rest of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Coach: Former USSR goalkeeper Cherchesov was appointed after Euro 2016, replacing Leonid Slutsky. Mostly managed clubs in the Russian Premier League, Cherchesov also coached in Poland.

Expectations: Cherchesov has been given a target of the semis, but getting past their group would be realistic success.



Glass half-empty: Uruguay haven’t hit the heights in tournaments that they achieved in the World Cup in 2010 and the 2011 Copa America, with sub-par World Cup and Copa America tournaments since. Their defensive steel is lacking, their Copa America act in 2016 shows they are more than prone to a shock early exit; much of the fear factor is gone.

Glass half-full: Uruguay are easing through a new generation, in recognition of the old one ageing. They still possess quality names in Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin, and ended qualifying as the second-best South American nation, with the second-best attack.

How they qualified: Finished second in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, guaranteeing their spot in Russia with a 2-1 win at Paraguay.

Last voyage: Uruguay got knocked out of the World Cup in the last 16 by Colombia four years earlier.

Best adventure: Uruguay have been world champions twice, in the inaugural tournament in 1930, and 20 years after, in Brazil.

Coach: Septuagenarian Oscar Tabarez has been in charge of his second spell since 2006, leading Uruguay to their best spell in the modern era. Holds the record for most international games as manager, El Maestro is likely to step down after this tournament.

Expectations: A quarter-final spot shouldn’t be beyond them, but a last 16 appearance is perhaps the most realistic.



Glass half-empty: Having been absent from the global competition for 28 years, Egypt lack experience on the big stage. A high dependence on Mohammed Salah- struggling to be fit- and an ageing defence doesn’t make for the best reading.

Glass half-full: Egypt will want to leave their mark on a first World Cup appearance in 28 years, have an experienced side, especially at the back, and in-form Mohammed Salah. The state of the group they are in doesn’t make a last 16 spot unrealistic.

How they qualified: The Pharaohs beat Ghana to top spot in Group E of the African qualifiers.

Last voyage: Egypt’s last World Cup appearance was in Italy in 1990, drawing two and losing one of their group games to exit at the first round.

Best adventure: They’ve never gone past the group stage in either of their two tournaments (1990 and 1934).

Coach: Former Inter Milan and Valencia manager Hector Cuper succeeded where many others have failed and led the Egypt to the global stage.

Expectations: A not-so tough-looking group means a last 16 spot isn’t out of the question.


Saudi Arabia

Glass half-empty: Seen as the potential whipping boys of Group A, Saudi Arabia are back in the global stage after missing out in 2010 and 2014. Managerial chopping and changing, as well as uncertainty in qualifying doesn’t have fans optimistic.

Glass half-full: lack of expectations, but internally and externally, could play well into the Saudis’ hands. Survive Game One against Russia, and anything is possible.

How they qualified: Saudi Arabia finished second in Group B of the AFC qualifying Third Round, pipping Australia by goal difference.

Last voyage: The Saudis haven’t been on the world stage since 2006, where they left with one point and two goals scored in Group H.

Best adventure: They did shock the world in 1994, topping a group involving the Netherlands before bowing out in the second round.

Coach: Former Valencia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi was the third manager in as many months when he was appointed in November. The Copa America winning-coach with Chile in 2016 also took charge of San Lorenzo back home in Argentina.

Expectations: Almost null. Going home with three respectable 1-0 defeats would be almost commendable. Then again, the World Cup is a magical place.


June 14- Russia v Saudi Arabia (Moscow)

June 15- Egypt v Uruguay (Yekaterinburg)

June 19- Russia v Egypt (St. Petersburg)

June 20- Uruguay v Saudi Arabia (Rostov)

June 25- Uruguay v Russia (Samara)

June 25- Saudi Arabia v Egypt (Volgograd)

Published in International Watch

Remembering the World Cup: USA 1994

Sunday, 20 May 2018 14:22

 Moves from one end of the pitch to the front of the goal. The crowd on their feet, the noise in Windy City is a rhythmic cacophony. Steadies. Shoots. Horribly misses. Yet the goals splits open, and she continues running anyway, it was routine after all; or at least it was supposed to be. That’s right, Diana Ross at the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup didn’t completely go according to plan, the likes of Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl in attendance for her gaffe in Chicago. Not that she’d be the only one with high-profile misses before the tournament ran out.

The World Cup in the United States was the first one with three points attached to a win, the first one in 20 years without England, and the first ever involving Nigeria. The Super Eagles shook off the disappointment of missing out to Cameroon in 1990 to book their spot this time, and were pitted in Group D with Greece, Bulgaria, and Argentina (they we’d be seeing more of over the next World Cups). Clemens Westerhof’s team got off to the perfect start, with a 3-0 win over the Bulgarians, and Rashidi Yekini’s famous net-bulging celebration in Dallas. Game Two wasn’t quite so good, as despite taking the lead through Emmanuel Amuneke, two goals from Claudio Caniggia ensured a defeat for the Eagles to Argentina. But Nigeria topped the group with six points, following a 2-0 win in the third game against Greece, and they, alongside Argentina and Bulgaria, headed for the last 16.

Group D wasn’t the only group where three teams had six points, Group F also shared that trait. The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia- a surprise package in the tournament, who produced a memorable goal through Saeed Al-Owairan- and Belgium all finished with two wins and a defeat, but that was nothing strange compared to the final standings in Group E, where all four teams were separated by the virtue of goals scored. Perhaps it should have seen as a forewarning of weirdness when the Republic of Ireland beat Italy in the opening game of that group. The Azzurri had the best player in the world in Roberto Baggio, but succumbed to a Ray Houghton goal in East Rutherford. The Irish finished second in the group after a 2-1 defeat to Mexico, where John Aldridge scored and threw his famous tantrum, and a goalless draw with Norway, who had the misfortune of being the only side eliminated from this group, after scoring just once.

But no group stage elimination would make the headlines like Colombia’s. Pitted in Group A with hosts USA, Switzerland and Romania, there were high expectations for the Colombians after their terrific qualifying campaign, so much so that drug cartels and other citizens allegedly gambled on the national side. So, a defeat to the Romanians in their first game in Pasadena wasn’t part of the plan. Game Two needed to go well, but it didn’t, a 2-1 defeat to the hosts on the same ground as the first game signalled elimination, a game when defender Andreas Escobar had the misfortune of scoring an own goal, an inadvertent act he paid for with his life, 10 days after the USA loss. The USA, meanwhile, would be heading to the next round, to face Brazil, who topped Group B. Group B produced two of the eventual semi-finalists, Brazil and Sweden, and a few notes of history. In the final round of games in the group, Russia hit Cameroon for a 6-1 win, where Oleg Salenko scored five of Russia’s goals, and Cameroon forward Roger Milla became the oldest goalscorer in FIFA World Cup history at the age of 42. It was the most, and only, notable acts in the tournament from both teams, who headed home after three games.

Brazil saw off USA in the last 16, the game in Stanford most famous for the clash between Leonardo’s elbow and Tab Ramos’ jaw. Sweden, meanwhile, ended the Saudi Arabians’ journey with a 3-1 victory in Dallas. In Foxborough, Nigeria and Italy locked horns in the last 16. With 88 minutes played, Nigeria were a goal up and a man up, Gianfranco Zola having been sent off (in rather dubious circumstances, it should be said). In a matter of minutes, the Super Eagles would match Cameroon’s achievement of an African team reaching the quarter-finals, in their debut tournament. So it was time to keep concentration, and do nothing rash. Unfortunately, two in the Super Eagles side didn’t consider pointless arguing instead of defending when an opponent gets a throw-in close to your box as something rash, so a culmination of events led to Roberto Baggio rolling in an equaliser, to force extra time. Not satisfied with shooting themselves in the foot the first time, Nigeria did it again, this time Sunday Oliseh was caught in possession in the middle of the pitch, another culmination of events later, Baggio- from the penalty spot- was getting his and the Azzurri’s second, and Nigeria would be heading home. Upset averted.

But an upset did occur in the last 16, in Pasadena, where Argentina, finalists of the previous tournament, were sent packing by Romania, a brace from Ilie Dumitrescu and a Gheorghe Hagi strike knocked out La Albiceleste, who by then were already without skipper Diego Maradona, sent home during the tournament for testing positive for cocaine. Oh, remember when this column said Diana Ross wouldn’t be the only penalty casualty in the tournament, step forward Alberto Garcia Aspe, Marcelino Bernal and Jorge Rodriguez, three of whom entered the Hall of Ross, as their penalty misses knocked out Mexico in the last 16 at the expense of Bulgaria.

Suddenly, Bulgaria, who had never won a game in a World Cup before this tournament, were quarter-finalists, but surely their journey would come an end, as they faced Germany in the last eight. Sure enough, Germany struck first, Lothar Matthaus with a penalty two minutes after halftime. It stayed that way till 15 minutes from the end, then things turned upside down. First, Hristo Stoichkov struck home a free-kick, then Yordan Letchkov delivered a superb header to turn things around. In the space of three minutes, the world champions were staring elimination in the face, and elimination would come, much to the joy of the non-participating English (well that’s what BBC said). Romania’s journey also came to an end in the quarters, penalty shootout heartbreak against Sweden despite Florin Raduicioiu’s double, Miodrag Belodedici with the decisive miss.

Sweden would re-unite with Brazil, after their group stage stalemate. But there had to be a winner this time, in Pasadena, and there was, Romario with the sole deciding strike 10 minutes from time. In the other semi, in East Rutherford, Baggio was Italy’s main man, his double was enough to see off Bulgaria. Bulgaria would be thrashed in the third place play-off by the Swedes, but they had already exceeded expectations, and it was a World Cup for them to savour, particularly since their record after this tournament reads: played three, lost two, scored one and conceded seven.

And so on to the final, in Pasadena’s main bowl, with Italy and Brazil facing off. They had met in that entertaining final in Mexico 24 years earlier, when Brazil won 4-1. This final, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction, a considerable low-key- to put it mildly- display from both sides meant for the first time in the history of the World Cup, the winners would be decided by a penalty shootout.

The first two were misses, Brazil’s Marcio Santos following Italy Franco Baresi in failing to find the net, to keep it goalless after one kick each. The next four were successful, Demetrio Albertini and Alberigo Evani for Italy, Romario and Branco for the Brazilians; then Daniele Massaro missed for the Italians. When Brazil skipper Dunga scored, it was match point, which meant Arrigo Sacchi’s side couldn’t afford another miss. Up stepped Baggio, the man who had taken them this far, and in completely ironic and tragic fashion, ‘The Prince’ skied his attempt. Baggio slumped to his knees in devastation, Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel took to his knees in elation, La Selacao were world champions for a fourth time.

Published in International Watch

The second World Cup to be added to our Remembrance library is the first one ever to be hosted in Africa. The showpiece in 2010 was hosted by South Africa, where Vuvuzelas and the Jabulani left their mark on the beautiful game, the latter tainting a career or two (sorry, Rob Green).

It was a World Cup that was seen as an indication of how far the continent had come, and the country South Africa itself, epitomised by the great Nelson Mandela, and it was the hosts who set the ball rolling, with an opening game against Mexico in Johannesburg. The atmosphere was raucous, to say the least, and it hit fever-pitch when Bafana Bafana took the lead, Siphiwe Tshabalala thumping a shot into the top corner after just 10 minutes in the second half. Mexico, though, hadn’t read the script, and Rafael Marquez pulled Javier Aguirre’s side level with 11 minutes to go. South Africa came close to a winner, but Katlego Mphela hit the post in stoppage time, and it finished all-square.

The hosts did take some fair bit of optimism from that opening game to their next match, against Uruguay, but it was a nightmare outing for Carlos Alberto Pereira and his side in Pretoria. After Diego Forlan gave Uruguay the lead, South Africa never looked like recovering, and Forlan added another in the second half, from the penalty spot after Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off, before Alvaro Pereira rubbed salt on South African wounds with a third. They did find a way to win their last group game, but events elsewhere meant they would be the first hosts to exit at the first round, despite Mphela and Bongani Khumalo scoring in victory over France.

France were particularly disappointing in the tournament, both on and off the pitch. Off the back of a terrible European Championship outing two years earlier, Les Bleus began with a goalless draw against Uruguay, before losing 2-0 to Mexico. Then a training ground fracas saw Nicolas Anelka and captain Patrice Evra exiled from the team, before that loss to South Africa meant the finalists of the previous World Cup were going home early, while the winners of four years ago, Italy, were also exiting at the first stop, finishing bottom of Group F to become the first holders to go out in the first round since 1966. As for Group A, it was Uruguay who finished top, followed by Mexico, El Tri nicking a fifth successive last 16 place, ahead of the South Africans on goal difference.

Another African side who has their relatively high hopes met with a crushing reality were Nigeria. The Super Eagles had only just about snuck onto the plane to South Africa at the expense of Tunisia, and in Group B, where they were drawn with Argentina- coached by Diego Maradona, Greece and South Korea, they surely fancied their chances. They didn’t get off to a good start, losing 1-0 to the Argentines, but there was more than enough cause to be optimistic, especially as Game Two saw them up against the Greeks, who had never even scored a World Cup goal. Kalu Uche’s free-kick flew all the way in after 16 minutes to put Nigeria ahead, but things took a downturn when Sani Keita was sent off his kick out to Vasilis Torosidis. Greece capitalised on the extra man, as Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised on the cusp of halftime, before Torosidis popped up with a winner with 20 minutes left. Now Nigeria were staring elimination in the face.

But they weren’t quite out yet, as Argentina’s 4-1 win over South Korea meant that a win for the Eagles over the Koreans in Durban, coupled with a defeat for Greece at the hands of Argentina, takes them through. Once again, they took the lead through Kalu Uche, once again they conceded a first half equaliser, and once again they fell behind in the second period. But the most memorable came midway through the second period, not that Super Eagles forward Yakubu hasn’t been trying to forget. When Uche played in Yussuf Ayila on the left, the latter’s cross fizzed past the Korean ‘keeper and fell to Yakubu. Two yards out, the goal gaping, the net was supposed to bulge; but somehow it was tapped wide. Yakubu did equalise from the penalty spot, but two-all it finished, Nigeria were out, and Yakubu was never seen in another national shirt. Korea meanwhile, saw their draw helped with Argentina’s win over Greece meant they would follow La Celeste to the knockout phase.

Group C had one of the pre-tournament favourites, in England. After years of mediocrity and underwhelming exits in tournaments, England’s qualification form, plus the playing form of some key men that season- Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard especially- had them down as one of the forces to be reckoned with in South Africa. And they got off to the perfect start in their first game against the USA, skipper Steven Gerrard slotting them into the lead after less than 10 minutes. But that was as good as it got for Fabio Capello and his side, as five minutes before halftime, a seemingly straightforward Clint Dempsey shot was horribly spilled by Three Lions goalkeeper Rob Green and into the net; England’s swagger was deflated, and the game would end one-all. That was Green’s only game in the tournament, as he was benched for game two against Algeria. But in Cape Town, England barely troubled the Algerian defence, as things petered out to a goalless stalemate. They did manage to save face in their final game, securing a 1-0 win over Slovenia to progress to the next round.

It was a particularly tough outcome for the brave Slovenians, Matjaz Kek’s side had begun by beating Algeria thanks to skipper Robert Koren, before giving the USA a battle in a 2-2 draw. The USA also merited credit for their display against Slovenia in Johannesburg, having gone down to goals from Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljublijankic, Landon Donovan’s goal four minutes after the start of the second half, and Michael Bradley’s eight minutes before the end of it, salvaged a point. It did seem like they had won it, but Maurice Edu had his attempt ruled out. They did manage to win the group, Donovan’s late goal against Algeria in the last game secured a 1-0 win, and top spot over the English by virtue of more goals scored. Algeria finished scoreless and bottom.

Another side that finished the tournament without a goal was Honduras, who were bottom of Group H, the group where the highlight was Switzerland beating Spain in Durban. Spain did recover from that opening game setback to top the group, while the Swiss had only that win to boast of, as they exited in the first round. Chile were the other side to go through the Spaniards. They would face Brazil in the next round, who topped the Group of Death, with Portugal coming in second, above the Ivory Coast, and North Korea, who finished bottom and concede 11 goals, seven of them against Portugal. The Ivory Coast were one of five African sides to go home early, alongside Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa, and completing that set was Cameroon, who finished bottom of Group E. That meant the only side from the host continent in the second round were Ghana, like four years earlier, second in a tough group that housed Germany, Serbia and Australia.

The Ghanaians would face the USA in the second round, a game where they got to the perfect start, Kevin Prince-Boateng giving them the lead after five minutes. Donovan equalised for the Americans just past the hour mark, but in Rustenburg, it was Ghana and Africa that would be celebrating, as Asamoah Gyan’s extra time winner sent The Black Stars to the last eight. Ghana’s fellow Group D qualifiers, Germany, also made it to the last eight, after thrashing England in Bloemfontein. Die Mannschaft were favourites, and raced into a two-goal lead after 32 minutes, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski with the goals. England pulled one back before halftime through Matthew Upson, and then it looked like they had levelled matters when Frank Lampard’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced over the goal-line, but referee Jorge Larrionda said no goal. Lampard did hit the bar again in the second half, but Germany sealed the win thanks to a Thomas Muller double in the space of three minutes.

It was a particularly brilliant World Cup tournament for Muller, who was coming off the back off a breakthrough season at Bayern Munich. His brace against England took his tally to three goals in South Africa, and in the next round, he scored again, as Germany thrashed Argentina 4-0- beating La Celeste in a second straight World Cup quarter-final, with Klose also bagging a brace. But Muller would receive a booking in that game in Cape Town, which ruled him out for the semi-final against Spain. Germany, without Muller, looked a bit short upfront, and suffered another semi-final exit, as Carles Puyol’s header sent Spain into their first ever World Cup final. Spain had begun with that loss to the Swiss, but only conceded one more goal since, against Chile in the group stage. They had negotiated the last 16 and the quarters with 1-0 wins, David Villa with both goals as Portugal and Paraguay were respectively beaten. Their triumph over the Germans set them up with a final against Holland.

The Dutch were unnoticed high-flyers in the tournament; they went past Group E unnoticed, winning all three games and conceding once, before seeing off Slovakia, Italy’s conquerors, in the last 16, and that set up a meeting with Brazil. In Port Elizabeth, it was La Selacao who began in full throttle mode, and by the 10th minute, they had seen a goal disallowed, and had also taken the lead, both courtesy of Robinho. The football was mouth-watering and the Dutch were labouring, until eight minutes after halftime, when a mix-up between Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar allowed Wesley Sneijder’s cross to go all the way in. Sneijder was the Dutch’s undoubted star of the tournament, coming off the back of treble-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy. He ended this World Cup with five goals, two of which were against Brazil, the second an unmarked header from a corner midway through the second period. Brazil would never recover from that deflation, and matters were made worse when Felipe Melo got sent off. For the second World Cup in a row, it was elimination at the last eight, and Dunga was no longer deemed fit to continue.

As for the Oranje, their trip to the final also included a 3-2 win over Uruguay in the semis, Sneijder scoring again as they navigated a close and entertaining encounter in Cape Town. It was nevertheless an impressive tournament from Uruguay, who served up entertainment in South Africa, and were involved in the match of the tournament in the last eight with Ghana. In a closely-fought game in Johannesburg, it was Ghana who struck, thanks to a thunderbolt from Sulley Muntari on the stroke of halftime, but 10 minutes after the break Uruguay would restore with a brilliant free-kick from their talisman Forlan, who had a superb tournament after a superb season at Atletico Madrid. Chances came and went in the game in Soccer City, but a stalemate meant extra-time, where the real drama would unfold. In stoppage time in extra-time, Ghana had a free-kick sent towards goal, and were denied a goal thanks to a handball on the goal-line by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez. Suarez was duly sent off and Ghana had a penalty, and a chance to make history. From the spot, Gyan had the chance to make his country the first African side to appear in a World Cup semi-final, but his spot-kick flew over off the crossbar, and referee Olegario Benquerenca signalled for a penalty shootout. Gyan did take and score one then, but misses from his teammates Dominic Adiyiah and John Mensah meant it would be Uruguay who advanced to the last four.

Uruguay would end up finishing fourth in the tournament, losing to Germany in the third place game, but that would take nothing away from their wonderful showing, epitomised by Forlan. The veteran playmaker grabbed five goals in South Africa, including a superb volley against the Germans in Port Elizabeth. He- like Muller, Sneijder, and Villa- ended the tournament topping the scoring charts, but Muller was given the golden boot by virtue of assists, but Forlan did walk off with the best player award.

All of which left us with the D-day in Soccer City, as Spain and the Netherlands, after the closing ceremony that is, walked into the pitch for the 19th FIFA World Cup final. The pairing meant no matter what happened, there would be a new name in the World Cup winners list. The 90 minutes of regulation time were goalless, but certainly not lacking in action, from acrobatic attempts to take out an opponent’s chest, to misses at either end, Arjen Robben most notably guilty of letting two big chances go untaken. Extra-time was required, and still it didn’t look like a goal would come, then in the second half of it the Dutch were reduced to 10 men, referee Howard Webb giving Johnny Heitinga a second yellow card. Then came the moment, in the 116th minute. Spain broke forward, Fernando Torres’ pass was blocked, then Cesc Fabregas picked up the pieces and played in Andres Iniesta, who made no mistake in finding the bottom corner. Cue mayhem, and unbridled tears of joy in the Spanish corner, from goalkeeper and captain, to fanatic and commoner. There wasn’t enough time for Holland to recover, and Spain, winners of the Euros two years earlier, became the first European side to win the tournament outside Europe.

Published in International Watch


It’s the time for another International Break, the final one before the football season ends. And by extension, it’s the final International discourse before the FIFA World Cup in Russia in some three months’ time. The tournament that rolls around only once in four years, making it all the more special, and prone to reminiscence of its previous editions, and edition that we’ want to remember here is of 16 years earlier, when the Mundial came to Asia.

P.S: The above statement could also (or could also not) be read as: it’s the time for another International Break, which leaves this writer a bit short on talk-abouts to talk about, and then, LIGHTBULB, the obvious!! Why not talk about the World Cup, well everyone is. In the end though it matters little how we got here, than we did. But we digress.

So, the FIFA World Cup in 2002, the first- and only so far- to be co-hosted, as South Korea and Japan came together to take the beautiful game to the Far East. This World Cup wasn’t lacking for shocks, and from the first game the tone was set. France v Senegal was the first fixture on the docket, it seemed a no-brainer, Senegal were in the World Cup for the first time, while France were World and European champions, alongside being holders of the Confederations Cup. In fact, right before the UEFA Champions League final of 2002, French defender Bixente Lizarazu was, at the same time, a holder of the World Cup, European Championship, Confederations Cup, Champions League, Club World Cup and even a domestic title.

But all that mattered little in Seoul, as a goal from Papa Bouba Diop on the half-hour mark gave the Teranga Lions a famous win over their previous colonial masters; the image of Diop and his Senegalese teammates dancing around the corner flag was as bizarre as it will always be memorable. France, meanwhile, never recovered from that early setback. After that opening day loss, they played out a goalless draw with Uruguay, where Thierry Henry was sent off, and by the 11th of June, with the World Cup only 12 days old, a 2-0 loss to Denmark in their last group game meant Les Bleus were going home early, without so much as a goal. Denmark progressed past Group A, alongside surprise packages Senegal, who followed up their win over the French with two draws, the most notable a 3-3 stalemate with Uruguay in Suwon.

The shocks didn’t end with France’s elimination, not by any stretch, and in Group D, we witnessed a stunner in its second game, as the United States took three points from Portugal in Suwon, racing into a three-goal lead before holding on for a 3-2 win. Portugal came into this tournament with a supposed Golden Generation, the most potent of all poisoned chalices, and coach Antonio Oliveira, before the tournament, said the squad had every right to dream. La Selaccao did recover from that USA defeat to trounce Poland, thanks to a Pauleta hatrick, but in the last group game fell to co-hosts South Korea, and the semi-finalists of the previous European championship were heading home. It would be the Koreans who would be progressing to the knockout phase, following two wins and a draw, along with the USA.

And, of course, virtually every World Cup has one group that gets slapped with the cliché of ‘Group of Death’. 2002’s was Group F, which comprised Argentina, England, Nigeria and Sweden. By the end of the first round of games, Argentina were top, after Gabriel Batistuta’s header saw them past Nigeria in Ibaraki, while old foes England and Sweden could only draw in Saitama. But the tables turned after the second round of games, David Beckham exorcising his ghost of 1998, as his penalty was enough for the Three Lions to beat Argentina in Sapporo, and Sweden came from behind to beat Nigeria in Kobe, and send the Super Eagles crashing out. Argentina needed a win against Sweden in Miyagi to go through, but fell behind to Anders Svensson’s free-kick. Hernan Crespo equalised for the Albiceleste, but no winner was forthcoming, and for the first time since 1982, Argentina wouldn’t make the knockout phase of a World Cup. England, meanwhile, got a needed point in a drab goalless affair with Nigeria in Osaka.

There were other highlights of the group phase, not least Turkey’s progress past Group C at the expense of Costa Rica. Group E took the spotlight for Germany’s 8-0 walloping of Saudi Arabia on their opening game, Miroslav Klose scoring a hatrick of headers. Germany progressed, as expected, despite their team being dubbed as one of the worst ever back home. They were joined by the Republic of Ireland, who recovered from Roy Keane’s expulsion following a bust-up with coach Mick McCarthy to finish second in Group E. In Group H lay co-hosts Japan, who, thanks to the exploits of Junichi Inamoto, finished top of their group. Belgium took second place, pipping a rather disappointing Russian team, while Group B and Group C saw the two teams that finished with 100% records, Spain beating all before them in Group B, while Brazil topped Group C with 11 goals in three games.

So, to the knockout phase, where Senegal lined up against Sweden in Oita. Bruno Metsu’s side fell behind to Henrik Larsson’s goal after 11 minutes, but in the Big Eye Stadium, Henri Camara levelled things up before halftime. The game was level after 90 minutes, which meant extra-time and the prospect of a golden goal winner, and Senegal would get it, Camara’s shot trickling in off the base of the post to make the Teranga Lions only the second African side to make the last eight.

Victims of the golden goal were also the Italians, who suffered defeat to South Korea, in a game which the Azzurri cried of conspiracy. Christian Vieri gave Italy the lead after 18 minutes, but the co-hosts responded with two minutes of normal time left through Seol Ki-hyeon. Then Italy had two penalty appeals turned down, one of which resulted in a sending off for Francesco Totti, before Ahn Jung-Hwan headed home a golden goal winner in the 117th minute. Ahn was on loan at Italian side Perugia at the time, and he was duly sacked by his club after his match-winning moment. Not petty at all.

By the end of the first knockout round, USA had also gone through to the next phase, ousting neighbours Mexico. England saw off Denmark, a game remembered for Rio Ferdinand’s goal celebration (whatever you do, don’t look it up), while Turkey knocked out Japan in Miyagi. Spain knocked out the Irish on penalties, Brazil saw off a brave Belgium side in Kobe, and Germany needed Oliver Neuville to score in the 88th minute to beat Paraguay.

The Germans hadn’t come into this tournament in any good light, their last two tournaments had seen elimination in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1998, while in EURO 2000 they finished bottom of their group. They had gotten to the quarter finals again, but that was mostly down to goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. But they were here anyways, and though they would ride their luck against the USA in the last eight, Kahn making a few saves, and Torsten Frings lucky not to be penalised for handball on the goal-line, Michael Ballack’s goal was enough for a first semi-final appearance since 1990. Germany would meet South Korea in the last four, as the Koreans saw off Spain, who had two goals disallowed in the game in Gwangju, on penalties.

The other semi-finalists would be Brazil, who knocked out England, thanks to Ronaldinho’s 50th-minute free-kick which caught out David Seaman (again, don’t look it up), and Turkey, who benefitted from the golden goal to knock out Ilhan Mansiz. Turkey would meet Brazil in the semis in Saitama, in a repeat of their meeting in Group C, where the Turks lost 2-1 and were reduced to nine men. But there would be no revenge for Senol Gunes’ side, as a Ronaldo toe-poke, four minutes into the second half was enough to send Brazil into a third successive World Cup final. A day earlier, Ballack was at it again for Germany, as his goal 15 minutes from time was enough to beat the Koreans in the first semi. But a yellow card for the midfielder meant he’d sit out Die Mannschaft’s final with Brazil.

South Korea finished the World Cup in fourth place, Guus Hiddink’s side losing the third-place play-off to Turkey, a game that saw a piece of history, Hakan Sukur scoring the fastest ever goal in the World Cup’s history, after 11 seconds. But the date with destiny was on the last day of June, as Germany and Brazil walked into the Yokohama turf with the prize of a World Cup trophy on offer. After a goalless first half, the game came to life in the 67th minute, when the previously impeccable Kahn made his first gaffe of the tournament, spilling Rivaldo’s shot into the path of Ronaldo, who made no mistake. This had been Ronaldo’s tournament without a doubt, after his mishap in the final in 1998, the forward had lit up the World Cup, and it was his second of the game, his eighth of the tournament, with 11 minutes left, that sealed Brazil’s fifth global success.

For the Brazilians, it cemented their place as the World Cup’s dominant force, while for Germany, their luck had finally run out. The Germans were due to host the World Cup in 2006, not that many fans were optimistic. But that would change in four years’ time, and things haven’t quite been the same, on the International stage, for them, or Brazil, ever since.

Published in International Watch

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