This will be my third world cup in England. 2002 was my first. And that was when my hatred for the English football team began. And this year, I may forgive them, but right now, there is a very thin line.
You see I have experienced 3 World Cups outside England. In 1990, I watched the final, as Maradona's Argentina failed to stop the mighty Germany. And I watched England lose the 3rd place match to Italy.
1994 was the first world cup where I watched almost every single match. It was also Nigeria's first World Cup. We trounced Bulgaria 3-0 in our opening match. We topped our group and qualified for the second round. And in the second round, we were 2 minutes away from defeating Italy who eventually were the runners-up.
In 1998, we shocked the world when we beat Spain 3-2 in our first match. Again, we made the second round and again, we won our group. The team was largely based on the Olympic winning team of 1996, and we felt we were unstoppable. But we made a fatal mistake. We underestimated our opponents in the knock out round, Denmark. And they made us pay, beating us 4-1.
During a world cup in Nigeria, I feel we have a healthy respect for our opponents. If any Nigerian team makes the quarterfinals of the World Cup, it will be regarded as a success, as this is the best any African team has ever achieved. But we never expect to win the whole thing. Maybe with a bit of luck here and there, we will do well.
Cue the 2002 World cup. I was in Liverpool for my masters. Nigeria and England were drawn in the same group. When the build up to the World cup started, I suddenly realised I was in a very different country.
You see "England Expects". England Expects. They expect to win the World Cup each and every time. Nothing less will do. The media and the fans get whipped up into an almighty frenzy when the World Cup comes around. And if like me, you're not English, the arrogance that begins to seep through can be....sickening....
Nigeria, Argentina, England and Sweden were drawn in the group of death. In my mind, I knew it would be a tough call for Nigeria to come out of the group. But you see the English media began to analyse every team. And that was when it started. They started to belittle my beloved Nigeria.
"We are lucky to be playing Nigeria last, as they usually descend into infighting in every international tournament they play, so by the time we play them, they would have lost to Argentina and Sweden, and they will be in disarray, and we will be able to beat them well".
When I first heard these words on the TV, I could not believe it. Then they started saying the normal stereotypical things about African teams. Physically strong, but defensively naive. One by one, media pundits, former players, former managers, everyone came on the TV and on the radio and basically chalked up the Nigeria match as a win. You would have had to be here to understand it. You would have thought that the Nigerian team would lose to any pub team in the country.
All this, and then they started to talk about how the English team needed to top the group to avoid Brazil in the quarter finals. How England were going to win the whole thing.
The tournament started and Nigeria lost to Argentina and Sweden as predicted. (Although if you watched the matches, those were very tight matches and we lost by one goal in each match).
So it was time to play England.
All you could hear on the TV and radio was that England needed to beat Nigeria by 2 clear goals to win the group. For 24 hours, the arrogant English Media made up their minds that there was no way this wouldn't happen.
The day of the match. I was in the kitchen of my hostel in Liverpool. Every cleaner for our hall, and all the security guards were there for the match (I think it was a 7am kick off). I sat there, and declared I was Nigerian. They all laughed, and asked if I was ready to watch my team lose.
I have watched Nigeria win some key matches in my life, but I have never been prouder of the Super Eagles than that match. England was hoping to beat us, but we were dogged, Rio Ferdinand had to be at his very best to control Okocha and the strikers, and England could not get anything past our defence. The best chance of the match was a long range shot by Paul Scholes saved by Vincent Enyeama, who was making his debut. All thorugh the match, the commentator was going on and on saying "Remember England need to win this match by two clear goals". At the end of the 90 minutes, that phrase sounded really, really hollow.
England did not win the group. They met Brazil in the quarter finals. And they lost.
2006, the same story, only this time, Nigeria was not involved. But the fans and the media frenzy was just as crazy. This is our 'golden generation', our best chance to win the World Cup.
They didn't get past the quarterfinals. Again.
Cue 2010. The England flags are everywhere. The media are whipping up the usual frenzy. The day after the world cup draw, the Sun headline was :
and in my mind, I was like "Here we go again". Don't they understand that this is just plain arrogance?
Apparently, Algeria is a rubbish team. The USA are rubbish too. And Slovenia? Forget them. England is definitely going to top their group. They are definitely going to win the world cup.
The build up has been crazy. The media were showing us the English team on Safari the other day. I'm almost sick of this.
So I am declaring now. I will be supporting my beloved Nigeria, Land of my birth. When Nigeria get knocked out, I will be supporting the team that beats England out of this World Cup.
Yes, I said it. England is NOT going to win the World Cup. Deal with it.