With less than 87 days to the opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, football fans, followers and enthusiasts around the globe are already fine-tuning last minute preparations ahead of the kick-off.
The tournament which enters the 21st edition in Russia will see the Super Eagles fly Africa’s flag for the sixth time in the world’s greatest football fiesta.
Since making its debut at the15th edition, Nigeria has enjoyed both good, bad and ugly misfortunes in the previous tournament the Eagles had the privilege to represent the continent.
Interestingly, within the period under review, various Heads of State/Presidents have been in charge of the country’s leadership.
Therefore, NAIJ.com hereby examines the performances of the Super Eagles under various leaders since Nigeria’s debut at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in United States of America.
USA ‘94 and France 98 – Late Gen. Sani Abacha (November 17, 1993 – June 8, 1998)
If there is any record, the Eagles will be looking forward to break at Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, it has to do with Nigeria’s best record at the Mundial achieved in 1994 when late Gen. Sani Abacha was the de facto president of Nigeria.
Despite leading a coup d’état which overthrew former Interim President, Ernest Shonekan and his government on November 17, 1993, Abacha showed his other side that aside from leading the most successful strings of operations in previous coups in the country, his love for the round-leather game was never in doubt. Former Eagles Dutch coach, Clems Westerhof at a point enjoyed direct access to the late General on matters concerning the Eagles. As Head of the military government at the time, Abacha ensured that the Eagles were adequately prepared going into the Mundial.
Nigeria finished 9th and the Eagles’ as Africa’s champs before the world cup, were also adjudged the Most Entertaining Team by world’s football governing body, FIFA.
However, four years later in France, the Eagles’ could not rise to the level attained at USA ’94. Although they managed to get to the Round of 16, their performance on the field of play to a large extent was suspicious and internal crisis within the squad did not help matters.
Sadly, at the end of the tournament, Bosnia coach, Bora Milutinovic failed to return to Nigeria and possibly explain to Gen. Abacha, his employers and Nigerians what really went wrong in France?
Findings: In two World Cup tournaments (USA 1994 and FRANCE 98) under the leadership of Gen. Abacha , Nigeria finished 9th overall at USA ’94 despite losing to Italy 1-2 in the Round of 16 tie.
The Eagles’ were also ranked as the 5th Best National Team in the world moments after the 1994 Mundial in the monthly ranking released by FIFA.
In addition, at France ’98 despite the 4-0 bashing by the Danes in the Round of 16 tie, the Eagles finished 12th overall; a performance that see the Late Gen. emerged tops as Nigeria’s ‘Luckiest’ President during a FIFA World Cup .
KOREA/JAPAN 2002 – Olusegun Obasanjo (May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007)
Former Military Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo ushered in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic as the first civilian president of the fourth republic on May 29, 1999. Obasanjo was elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for a four-year term but three years into his reign, the Eagles qualified for the 2002 FIFA World Cup staged by two Asian giants, Korea and Japan.
At the tournament proper, the Eagles failed to win a single game losing all-three group opponents – Argentina 0–1, Sweden 1–2 and a barren draw against England. Nigeria thus exited the tournament in the Group Stage on 27th spot.
Findings: Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup remains the only tournament to date that was hosted by two countries, remains the only edition that Nigeria had former President Obasanjo in the corridors of power.
However, it remains one of the worst in terms of performance as the Festus Onigbinde-tutored side remains one of two Eagles’ squad that have failed to progress beyond the group stage.
It will also interest readers to know that after 270 minutes of football, Nigeria only account for a solitary goal courtesy of Julius Aghahowa’s in the 1-2 defeat by Sweden.
South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 – Goodluck Jonathan (May 6, 2010 – May 28, 2015)
After failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the coming of President Goodluck Jonathan between May 5 – May 29, 2015, following the demise of former president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, brought back some element of ‘luck’ to the team.
The Eagles’ aside from returning to winning ways, encountered less permutations that usually characterize Nigeria’s qualifications campaign for major football competitions.
At the tournament proper in South Africa, the Eagles fought hard but when they need ‘luck’ most, it was nowhere to be found and just like the last time out in Korea/Japan, the Eagles failed to fly with just a draw and two losses after three matches to finish 27th overall.
However, with President Goodluck still at the helms of affairs at Aso Rock four year later, the Eagles against all odds qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
And at the world stage, the late Stephen Keshi side showed so many promises and would count themselves unlucky not to have progressed to the quarterfinals rounds after going down 0-2 to France in a Round of 16 fixtures at Brasília; No thanks to the ‘bonus row’ that affected the team’s morale during the tourney.
To state the facts, squad members unprofessionally sat out training sessions while demanding for their bonuses before the match against the French. Nigeria thus finished on the 16TH spot after four games; 1 win, 1 draw and 2 losses.
Findings: While South Africa 2010 World Cup is the only tournament till date that was staged in Africa, President Goodluck’s tenure is one of the two privileged Nigerian leaders that witnessed two world cups (2010 and 2014) as the number 1 citizen.
Furthermore, during period under review, the Eagles finished their two campaigns (2010 and 2014) in the 27th (Group stage) and 16th (Round of 16) spots respectively. Therefore, during President Goodluck’s regime the Eagles blew cold and hot to equal Nigeria’s highest finish in Brazil 2014 after a disappointing 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Russia 2018 – President Muhammadu Buhari (May 29, 2015 till date)
President Muhammadu Buhari is the incumbent president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Russia 2018 will be the first FIFA World Cup that the former military ruler who was sworn into office as a democratically elected president on the on May 29, 2015 will take charge of affairs as the Supremo Uno at Aso Rock.
Surprisingly, the Eagles sealed qualification for Russia 2018 with a match to spare, and they will be expected to better their previous performance on the world stage when action commences in June.
However, the question that will be answered after July 15, 2018, will be how far did the team go in Russia 2018?
To this end, eggheads of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) have put all hands on deck to ensure the Eagles’ campaign is rancour free when compared with previous outings.
President Muhammdu Buhari on his part has assured that the Eagles will not lack anything during the global football fiesta later in the year.
Speaking while receiving the FIFA World Cup Trophy at the new Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, in Abuja recently, the president hinted that all will be put in place to ensure the team is in good competition mood before the global football fiesta in June.
“I am proud to note that Nigeria is the first African country to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
“The federal government will ensure that necessary support is given to facilitate preparations for successful participation of the Super-Eagles at the World Cup in Russia,” Buhari told the FIFA delegation led by Peter Njonjo, president Coca-Cola West Africa as well as members of the Federal Executive council.
Indeed, the die is cast and Nigerians alongside other football buffs will be watching with keen interest to known if Buhari’s Presidency will brings Eagles’ good luck like USA ‘94 under Gen. Abacha when hostilities commence in the eastern European nation in June.
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