The Divine Intervention That Makes World Cup 2018, The Story of Our Lives
Nigeria will always be the agonizing cliffhanger
I remember quite well when Nigeria blasted through FIFA U-16 World Cup China 1985 and became world champions after defeating West Germany. I was twelve at the time and our valiant players weren’t that much older than me since you had to be under sixteen to compete.
The victory was a celebration that overtook our housing estate, with everyone hitting the streets, as choruses of cheers and music provided the soundtrack.
It was the first time in my young life that I witnessed the joyousness of Nigerians who didn’t have much to be proud of considering the gangster climate of the eighties — thanks to our diseased governmental structure.
But, on August 11, 1985, it felt awfully good to be the envy of the world instead of the consistent example of what progressive nations deem as the temple of doom.
Since then, I’ve vaguely followed the antics of the adult version of the World Cup, mostly because of the frustration of being woefully disappointed with the predictable eliminations. It’s weirdly fascinating how our performances at the FIFA U-17, has proven to be an epic ride that has resulted in the official tile of the “most successful team” of in the history of the tournament.
For whatever reason, the good luck streak of the much younger players hasn’t translated to the big leagues, even though the Nigeria men’s soccer team did have stand out performances in the 1996 Olympics (Gold medal ), 2008 (Silver medal) and 2016 (Bronze medal).
The FIFA World Cup, on the other hand, is the global tradition that everyone obsesses over during the month-long exhibition of the best of the best vying for the ultimate coronation.
There’s every reason to believe that Nigeria’s less than desirable track record (even though we have managed to reach the finals on six occasions), has everything to do with the crippling mechanics of representing a country that has just surpassed India in extreme poverty ranking. The resources needed to train and provide ample support to a promising team is just not there, and absolutely can’t be fostered under punishing circumstances.
However, even under the regime of a feckless relic who is presently using his presidency as a winding road to his pebbled legacy — the Nigerian men who showed up for World Cup Russia 2018 — heroically played their hearts out — and looked really good doing it with the bonus of their stylized jerseys charming fans across the globe.
The cheering squad for Nigeria didn’t take up much space in the stadium, in fact, compared to other participating countries, it was blatantly obvious that we were embarrassingly lacking in numbers. Another sore indication of how inept our government is when it comes to global representation, on a level that adequately registers.
But, those who were able to attend the event, did their utter best to make their presence known in ways that delightfully highlights how the spirit of Nigerians never diminishes, even when the rising tide produces tumultuous currents that aren’t survivable.
Somehow we show up and pridefully defy the royally unimpressive reputation that precedes us. We find the strength to twirl atop the decades-old wreckage, that is only getting more dangerous as the years go by.
When the Nigerian team faced off with Croatia and lost, it wasn’t necessarily a bummer since I didn’t expect them to win. And the only reason why the game was on had everything to with the enthusiasm of my mother who has always harbored an unfailing love for soccer.
She was the one who loudly cheered our team and transformed our living room into an extension of the chanting stadium. Our loss didn’t faze her because she expertly described how remarkably well our players held up against their formidable foe.
My mother’s ceaseless support was encouraged by the next match, that saw Nigeria defeat Iceland in a game that was stunningly gratifying. The footwork on display was almost flawless, and the united front of our players was the dance of champions. They might as well have won the top prize because that victory felt very personal in a primally embracing way.
Numerous videos uploaded online — depicting Nigerians in Nigeria, expressing the beauty of a fleeting moment that unequivocally belonged to us.
It’s also worth noting that African countries weren’t feted with the same honor as their counterparts, of having the waiting cameras panning across the gathered crowd back at home, who are out of their minds with glee.
But, even that glaring insult didn’t diminish the gloriousness of a win that once again uplifted the tattered prestige of a country, that is still weathering the ruins from colonial interference, that rendered us ill-equipped to cover the pot holes of self-hate and general fatigue, that breeds normalized dysfunction.
The next match was Nigeria versus Argentina, and our boys fought the good fight and this time it wasn’t just the shrieks from my mother that that overwhelmed our household. I was on my knees loudly asking God for another ego boost, and promising to give up Twitter for a day if my wishes were granted.
Argentina didn’t deserve to win that game as evident in their eventual swift exit when challenged by the more graceful and skilled French team. The goal that gave them the edge was pure luck, and it made Nigeria’s loss even more poetic.
It was gut-wrenching to watch our team bow out — just when they were starting to hit their stride with symphonic moves and the infectious determination to showcase all the reasons why we never give up — even when the odds against us are astronomically imposing.
We almost had it all before we were bitterly left with nothing.
Once Nigeria was out of the running — it initiated an unexpected mental cleansing as my emotional investment turned into a session of remembrance as I weighed the past era of magnificence.
Back in the seventies, Nigeria experienced a brief renaissance that saw us embracing our roots with heightened fervor, which spawned historical gems like the notable Festac ’77.
It was the spectacular month-long festival extravaganza, that featured a delicious and spicy brew of Black and African culture — combined in a wealthy concoction of music, art, literature, drama, dance and religion. Artists from all over the continent and the world were invited to participate in what was dubbed “the largest pan-African gathering to ever take place.”
The “Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture” made 1977 a vital year for Nigeria as the host country. The first country assigned inaugural duties was Dakar, Sengal.
The Federal Government of Nigeria had the indulgence to invest heavily in Festac Town, by ensuring that the massive influx of visitors, local volunteers and festival workers — would be feted accordingly by the culture-infused surroundings — that sported state-of-the-art amenities that held the forecast of supreme abundance by the oil boom.
It’s hard to believe that we were ever involved in something of that magnitude that was aimed “to ensure the revival, resurgence, propagation and promotion of Black and African culture and black and African cultural values and civilization.”
There was also the need “to promote black and African artists, performers and writers and facilitate their world acceptance and their access to world outlets.”
For those of us who are too young to fathom the reality of a time when Nigeria aptly utilized its ample resources as an incentive to enrich our narrative for the betterment of citizens, while embarking on the quest to elevate our presence on the world stage — it’s almost to painful to visualize such splendor.
Of course the good times came to a screeching halt once homegrown detractors allowed greed and the corruption that thrives under those conditions — to derail what was supposed to lay the foundation for future empowerment with the robustness of our ancestral ties.
The societal assault on our mere existence commenced with tragic urgency, and encapsulates the years of my youth, under the trappings of a country that I ran away from when I was ready for college.
And I’m still on the run.
I returned for a short time, when the World Cup held the life story of the tortured themes that almost propel us to greatness, before abruptly reverting back to the habitual stamina of active purgatory.
Nigeria will always be the agonizing cliffhanger that won’t re-surface with healed wounds until the blinders that stimulate the curse, are removed long enough for us to marinate in the truths of our systemized failures.
The bright light is that one of the remaining teams competing for the Cup has turned out be the blueprint of inspiration.
Croatia is now the glistening underdog that nobody predicted, which is the main reason why this global phenomenon goes beyond the grid of heated matches.
Shooting the winning goal pales in comparison to the improvisational pages of a script that features strong characters, who are written into the story of guts and glory, against the backdrop of heart-filled verses.
Belgium is another team that is driven by the quiet intensity of purpose that has led them down the path of glowing achievements that have unexpectedly shut out mightier contenders.
I fully intended to disengage once Nigeria was out of the running, but it was hard to downplay the riveting showmanship of two teams that I never associated with the game of soccer — until now.
Whatever the outcome — there’s no doubt that FIFA World Cup 2018 has restored my faith in the impossible becoming possible, as well as my appreciation for the powerful nerves of unpredictability.
I have changed nationalities multiple times since the festivities snatched my interest.
I was proudly Nigerian before switching to Senegalese. And now I’m flexible with my Belgian and Croatian roots.
And when it’s all over — I will be Nigerian again — until my life’s story says otherwise.