Nigerian football [soccer] fans have high hopes for their Super Eagles in this month's World Cup. Africa's most populous nation is grouped with Greece, South Korea and two-time champion Argentina.
Nigeria's Super Eagles are hoping to build on the two draws and a win they gained in preparing for this World Cup in South Africa.
President Goodluck Jonathan says it is an especially important year because Nigeria marks its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
"The Super Eagles have every reason to play their heart[s] out in South Africa, especially as this year marks the golden jubilee [of our independence] as a nation. Your brilliant performance will in no small measure gladden the heart[s] of soccer-loving Nigerians and set the stage for a glamorous, exciting and memorable golden jubilee celebration. My dear Super Eagles, I charge you to bring home the golden cup as a birthday gift for our country at the golden age of 50," Mr. Jonathan said.
It is a tall order for a team that is without its leading playmaker, John Mikel Obi, due to injury. The Super Eagle's new technical advisor, Swedish coach Lars Largerback, has made no major changes to the 23-man squad that qualified for the cup, even though he has been criticized at home for lackluster play.
This will be Nigeria's fourth World Cup, after the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the tournament in Germany four years ago.
Sun newspaper sports reporter Juliana Taiwo says she is realistic about Nigeria's chances in South Africa. "My expectation is not high at all. As far as I am concerned, whatever progress the Super Eagles make will be a surprise to me because, I mean, they started late. They got the technical adviser late. And all these things showed in their first two friendly matches. But the last match, it was okay but I wasn't impressed. As far as I am concerned, I was not expecting anything. If they progress, it will be a pleasant surprise," she said.
Super Eagles fan Anthony Aiyelemen says that despite poor preparation, he believes the team will do well.
"Just like we have always been having, I expect an improved performance as we go along. If you were at their friendlies, the first one against Saudi Arabia was a lackluster kind of a match. That was because Lars Largerback, the new coach, was trying to get used to the boys. And the second one, you could see that there was improvement over the first one when they played Columbia. And the third one against North Korea, it was a good match. It exposed certain potentials that Nigeria has always made up. And it has sent signals to other countries. And don't forget we have Argentina in that group. We have South Korea and we have Greece. Of all these teams, the only team that is likely to give us headache is Argentina. And I don't see any team over running Nigeria successfully," Aiyelemen said.
Nigeria opens play against Argentina in Johannesburg on Saturday.