7 minutes with China: Nigeria must beware of the French curse

After Match Day 3 of the Africa World Cup Qualifiers, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were five points clear at the top of their group table with 9 points, “closely” followed by Zambia who had 4 points.

A lot of previously pessimistic Nigerian football fans, journalists and Football Federation officials suddenly shook away their doubt and began to sound as if qualifying for the World Cup was a given.

Why won’t we qualify?” one asked when I tried to engage him in a discussion.
Is it not Cameroon we are playing in Yaounde? We will beat them and then seal it in Uyo with a victory against Zambia”

Nigerians who were not so sure of the Eagles being good enough to get a point against Cameroon at home in Uyo were now certain we would win in Yaounde and probably win the group with maximum points from six games.

I was amazed but anytime I have been faced with situations like these, I pray the players are not thinking like the fans or it would certainly spell disaster.

The optimism was so great that the NFF communications department blundered after our “disappointing” draw against Cameroon by saying in a press release that Nigeria needed just a point from the remaining two games against Zambia and Algeria to be at the World Cup, but I digress.

I mentioned to a few people in Uyo that I was bothered that if Nigerians continued the way they were going, we may not qualify for the World Cup and these 7 minutes you are about to spend with me is to make sure we do not make the mistakes of France in 1994.

But what really is the French Curse, and why is it important that the Super Eagles avoid it?

Let’s go back 24 years in time

In 1993, I was still at the University of Port Harcourt suffering from the effects of Nigerian football.

I had watched Nigeria fail to qualify (for the World Cup) in 1981, 1985 and 1989 while I read about the Godwin Odiye own-goal that knocked us out in 1977. So, at a young age, I was already a veteran heart-broken Nigerian football fan.

I was just a little over my teen-age years and had already watched my country fail to qualify for 3 World Cups.

As a university student, I also saw how the team struggled to qualify for the one in 1994.

We were on the verge of qualifying from a group that had Algeria and Cote D’Ivoire but I also had my eyes on the rest of the World since I was already a free lance writer with the Nigerian Tide and Sunray Newspapers.

In the European zone, it seemed France had qualified for the World Cup with 2 games to go. The French would never have had an easier qualifying last two games.
France were 4 points clear at the top of the group ahead of Sweden in 2nd place and 5 points clear of Bulgaria in 3rd place.
Hristo Stoichkov and Marcel Dessaily tango in 1993

The French team had super star players like Bernard Lama, Marcel Dessailly, Eric Cantona, Jean Pierre Papin, David Ginola, Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc, Youri Djorkaeff, Bixente Lizarazu and most of all they need just 2 points from their remaining two games… wait for it, at home against Israel and Bulgaria. Now there was no way the French would not qualify, even if as we say in Nigeria, Village people dey wait for them, dem go still qualify.

Just like the current Super Eagles team, France would qualify to play at the World Cup in USA 94 as Nigeria would be in Russia, right?

Think again.

On October 13, 1993, France played at home to Israel in a game they should have won convincingly but shockingly lost 3-2.

The French actually led 2-1 with 7 minutes left to play but Israel scored 2 late goals to win 3-2.

With the Bulgarians winning their own game, a 5 point lead was cut to 2 ahead of the last game, but no problem as there seemed no way, the French would fail to garner 2 points from 2 home games.

Now France was set to play their final World Cup Qualifier at home against Bulgaria, needing just a point to qualify while the away side needed to win.

Again in local parlance, here in Nigeria we would say, “Our players go die for field na. There is no way we won’t qualify.”

In added time, the game was 1-1 and it seemed France were through to the World Cup but David Ginola who had come on as a late sub for Jean Pierre Papin had the ball at the corner flank of the Bulgarians.

Rather than hug the flag and kill time, he crossed into the box, but it was over hit.
Bulgaria’s left back, Emil Kremenliev worked the ball up the pitch, and passed to Lubo Penev, who then lobbed the ball over the French defenders onto the path of Emil Kostadinov who controlled well with his first touch and then blasted behind a stranded Bernard Lama in goal for the French.

France lost the game, and missed qualification to the World Cup that had seemed a certainty just 2 match days ago.

It was so bad that a team that was 5 points clear at the top with 2 games to play at home, finished in 3rd place, not even good enough for the play-offs.

The silence at the Parc De Prince was so loud, even the deaf would have heard it. How was this possible? But it had happened and that is football for you, especially when you get over confident and then complacent.

My message for Nigeria, Nigerians and everyone around the Super Eagles is simply that we should not start celebrating because we are not at the World Cup.

After Match Day 3, we were 5 points clear at the top; after Match Day 4, we are 3 points clear.

Hello?

Does anyone remember the French team of 1993?

We could be 2nd on the table by the end of Match Day 6 if we do not stop celebrating and focus on the actual football.

Just one minute more

The Nigeria Professional Football League eventually ends today as Gombe United take on Wikki Tourists in a game that has more intrigues than is clear to the human eyes.

First, Gombe United are relegated and do not need the game for anything, except play for pride which they do not really have right now.

But a Gombe United win ensures there would be free Amala for all in Ibadan, far away South West as Shooting Stars need Wikki Tourist to lose so they stay up in lieu of Wikki.

Now, a lot of people think Gombe would just throw the game to their brothers to save them, but you need to know the history between these two.

I never understood why two states that used to be one, until a few years ago would have such a bitter football rivalry, but here we are.

Little wonder, the home fans went on rampage, as much as setting fire to their own stadium last weekend when it seemed like their players had thrown the game to bitter rivals, Wikki Tourists.

Can you imagine that? They set their own stadium on fire.

We will just watch as this one plays out, but if you ask me, the club that will join Remo Stars, Gombe United and ABS in the lower division next season will be the one from the region that plans to give out free Amala next week.


Cheers and have a great weekend ahead.
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