THERE will be a lot fewer Nigerian eyes in the stadium when the Super Eagles take on Bosnia Herzegovina in their second game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Saturday, June the 26th at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
Following the sacrifices made by supporters and journalists to be in Curitiba last Monday only to be disappointed by the team’s lackluster performance against Iran, many of them have decided to siddon look like the late Chief Bola Ige, carry their shin in one palm like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and see whether the Eagles will redeem themselves.
You can’t blame the doubters. Most Nigerian visitors here, particularly the supporters club led by Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, are based in São Paulo from where they commuted to Curitiba by road for the first game. Kunle Solaja and I had originally bought a return flight ticket for the trip at a travel agent, P1 Travel (www.P1travel .com.br. I promised, Pablo, the agent this free advertisement in my column). But we then decided not to split from our media corp neighbors at Santana Gold hotel, so we cancelled the Curitiba flight mticket and joined the group on a chartered 13-seater bus.
I looked forward to the adventure of seeing the Brazilian countryside on the six- hour road trip, but it nearly turned into a nightmare. The road was excellent and we hardly encountered a single pothole throughout the 408 kilometers journey. But the topography of this part of the Brazilian countryside was full of steep slopes and deep valleys and we seemed to be diving underground every step of the way. It was like driving to the end of the world, literally.
The saving grace was the well-tarred road (the smallest pothole could send a vehicle tumbling into a valley!) and the strict road signs forbidding simultaneous overtaking at sharp corners by vehicles coming in opposite directions. There were clearly marked yellow lines indicating which side of the road was permitted to overtake at any point and, thankfully, Brazilian drivers adhere strictly to these road signs.
In fact, our bus driver was simply excellent. We had warned him beforehand that we didn’t want him to speed, so we took off very early (at 4am) in order to have enough time on our hands. We shouldn’t have worried. For him to act otherwise and speed recklessly will be suicidal anyway on this tricky highway which will test the driving skills even of a Formula One driver.
I was looking for adventure and, well, I really got a handful on that trip to Curitiba. But I’m not looking to see any more countryside, so I am flying to Cuiaba for the Eagles game against Bosnia and to Porto Alegre for the match against Argentina.
I have little choice anyway. Cuiaba is 1,539 kilometers (about 20 hours 30 minutes by road) from São Paulo while Porto Alegre is 1,136 kilometers (about 14 hours, 41 minutes) away. Now you know the second reason why many Nigerian fans in São Paulo have opted to siddon look. Apart from the flight tickets being expensive and unaffordable for many, few are ready to make the long journey to the Brazilian flora and fauna-rich hinterland at the risk of being greeted with another disappointing Eagles performance.
Nigerians are not the only ones hoping for an Eagles redemption against Bosnia. Most Brazilian fans were equally disappointed by the showing against Iran and they were asking questions after the game. The Atlanta ’96 Olympics football event when Nigeria beat Brazil and Argentina in the semi-final and final on the way to winning the gold medal is still fresh on their minds. In spite of the language barrier, they are able to communicate their thoughts to you with their thumbs pointing down: “Nigeria, poor; Nigeria, poor.”
Some of them did not even bother whether you understood a word of their Portuguese and they just went on remonstrating. But when you started hearing the names “Jay-Jay Okocha” and “Kanu” in their monologue, you do your own interpretation of what they’re saying: “Don’t you have the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Kanu in your country anymore?”
Indeed, the song on my lips during playful bragging with my new Brazilian friends before now had been Lagbaja’s “Ask Brasilia, ask Argentina; when it comes to soccer, na we be the Master.” But after our tepid display against Iran, the song on my mind as we head for the Bosnia game is the supporters club’s prayerful lyrics: “It’s a miracle working God.”
Of course, Okocha and Kanu who inspired Lagbaja’s song have since retired from the Eagles and the stars of the present team are Victor Moses and Obi Mikel.
When the Eagles file out against Bosnia Herzegovina, Nigerians and Brazilian lovers of Nigerian football will be hoping that the present stars of the team will redeem themselves. If they do and come out victorious, they will have more people back cheering them in the next game against Argentina in Port Alegre. And, more importantly, they will have four points in the bag which should be good enough to guarantee them a place in the second round of the World Cup.
“Obrigado,” Super Eagles, Or “Adios?”
I HAVE been trying to pick up a few words of Portuguese since my arrival in Brazil. If the Super Eagles manage to come out victorious against Bosnia Herzegovina, what I will say to them at the final whistle is “Obrigado” (Thank you). Otherwise, it’s “Adios” (Goodbye) from the World Cup like tiki-taka champions Spain.
My present Portuguese vocabulary also includes Holla (Hello), Ben Vindo (Welcome), Amigo (Friend, masculine), Amiga (Friend, feminine), Bon (Good) and Mao (Bad). But the word mostly in my face everywhere I go at the stadium, at train and bus stations, at the hotel and in the restaurants and shops here in Brazil is Saida (Exit).
Saida also happens to the spelling of a popular Muslim name in Nigeria and whenever I see it here, I am reminded of all the Saidas that I know back home. In fact, one of my in-laws in Ibadan has a daughter by that name and I’m sure he’s reading this: Daddy Saida, Salamun alaykum, sir!
Obviously, one other Portuguese word in my repertoire is Comida (Food), otherwise, I would have starved in this land. My favourite meal has been rice, beans and chicken. Before learning the Portuguese word for chicken (which is Gacinha or Frango), Kunle Solaja and I had to flap our arms to tell waiters and waitresses that we wanted to be served chicken. It was always a comical session inducing a lot of laughter.
The TAN Team Is Here
FORMER Super Eagles coach Samson Siasia arrived here at the head of the TAN Delegation just before Nigeria’s opener against Iran. TAN, for the uninitiated, stands for Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, the 2014 World Cup project of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda political campaign.
The 15 lucky “ambassadors” are staying with us at the Santana Gold hotel here in São Paulo. One of them is Ronke Oyebanji, daughter of NTA veteran sports journalist Akinloye Oyebanji who, ironically, is also at Santana Gold where father and daughter have been reunited. Ronke had requested her father to bring her to Brazil to which the dad said he couldn’t afford the cost.
The girl then entered for the TAN competition only to emerge winner of one of the free all-expense paid trip to the World Cup.
Siasia will not be drawn to speak on the Eagles performance against Iran because “Keshi is my colleague and I don’t want any comments I make to be misconstrued,” he said to me when we had breakfast together on Thursday, June the 19th. “But I agree with the general observation that we didn’t play our best against Iran and we need to improve against Bosnia Herzegovina. Our players need to show more character.”
Siasia is assisted on the TAN project by Waidi Akanni, his former teammate at Flash Flamingoes and the national team. The ambassadors are due back in Nigeria on June the 27th.
“The TAN project is our own little way of giving average Nigerians the opportunity of supporting the Super Eagles at the World Cup. Thankfully, President Jonathan approved of the idea and we believe it has been impactful,” said Siasia.
Mumini Alao flapping his arms to a Brazilian waitress in Sao Paulo to indicate that he wanted to be served with chicken!