Brazilian legend Pelé famously predicted in 1977 that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000. It probably seemed like a safe bet given the continent’s passion for soccer. But that wasn’t to be. The farthest African teams have gotten in the tournament is to the quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010.
Asked what he based his now infamous prediction on, Pele talked about great African talent. He was especially taken up with Nigeria. He also pointed out the increasingly significant contribution of Africans to the European game. “If Africans continued playing such a vital role to the success of European clubs they were playing for, it was only a matter of time before they did the same to their national teams back home,” he said.
I believe in football, the best teams always win the games. However, I’ve come to realize that those with an intimidating pedigree always seem to have the upper hand in a tournament. If you don’t believe it, then ask yourself, why does Super Eagles always have a loosing world cup record against Argentina even with their best performance? Why does South find it so difficult to defeat even the worst Nigerian teams? Why is it that Super Falcons always win the AWCON by just playing their football? HISTORY!
If history has a hand in football, I think Africa has had enough to earn themselves a World Cup title. In my opinion, Super Eagles of Nigeria are better placed historically to become the very first African team to do so. Below are reasons why:
THE FIRST AFRICAN COUNTRY TO WIN A WORLD TROPHY
Nigeria made history by becoming the first African, non-European and South American team to win a World’s International Oympic gold medal. It remains one of the most enduring and unlikely moments in football history.
Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996 – Men
The Nigerians, whom many observers predicted would be the first African side to win a World Cup, showed so much promise in the tournament that had one of the best Brazilian teams and a massively talented Argentine team.
The highlight of the tournament was a remarkable 4-3 comeback win against a favourite Brazilian side that boasted the likes of Juninho, Roberto Carlos, Bebeto, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. They went ahead to round off the fairy tale with a 3-2 win over free-scoring Argentine team.
The feat chalked by Nigeria in the 1996 Olympics paved way for close African neighbours, Cameroon to retain the title four years later in Sydney 2000 Olympic games.
Africa waited so long for a redemption from Nigeria, could it possibly be what they need to break the World Cup jinx?
THE AFRICAN COUNTRY WITH MOST WORLD CUP WINS
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have recorded more wins in World Cup games than any other African country. Since making their debut in 1994, the African powerhouse have won six games in five World Cup appearances.
They won two in USA 1994 (3-0 against Bulgaria, 2-0 against Greece) two in France 1998 (3-2 against Spain, 1-0 against Bulgaria) one in Brazil 2014 (1-0 against Bosnia Herzegovina) and one in Russia 2018 (2-0 against Iceland).
The closest countries to Nigeria are Cameroon and Ghana who have four wins each.
THE COUNTRY WITH MOST WINS AGAINST EUROPEAN TEAMS
Africans are known to struggle against European teams in the World cup, but that is not the case with Nigeria.
Nigeria have recorded the highest number of victories against European countries more than any other African side. Super Eagles have recorded six wins against European opposition. Bulgaria (twice), Greece, Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina and Iceland (once).
Closest to Nigeria are Morocco, Senegal and Ghana (with two wins each against European opponents).
Aside from victories against European countries, Nigeria have never beaten any other countries from other continents. But if they are able to maintain an upper hand against Europe with the highest number of teams in a World cup, surely they’ll likely be the first hit the jackpot someday.
THE COUNTRY WITH THE MOST SUCCESSFUL YOUTH TEAMS IN AFRICA
Without any doubts, Nigeria has the best crop of young talented players in Africa at all grades. Nigerian U-17 is the most successful youth team in the World with five U-17 world cup titles.
Nigerian U-20 is the most successful team in Africa with an intimidating seven African Nations Cup titles, the only nation that came close is Egypt with four.
Ghana, must have struck gold by becoming the first and only African nation to win U-20 world cup title, but their remarkable feat is nothing compared to a dominant Nigerian U-20 side.
If Nigeria could get it right at the youth set up, don’t be supprised to see them produce another team that would intimidate the world.
THE FIRST AND ONLY AFRICAN COUNTRY TO TOP THEIR WORLD CUP GROUP
The Super Eagles made their world cup debut in the USA 1994 edition. Despite their lack of experience, the team finished top of their group that had Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria.
They thrashed Bulgaria 3-0, lost 2-1 to Argentina before seeing off Greece 2-0 in their final group game to finish the preliminary round on six points, becoming the first and only African country to achieve that feat.
In summary, I don’t belong to the school of thought which says an African team can never win the world cup. They in fact, have done so indirectly, remember? Nevermind!
The fact is Africa has all it takes to be champions of the world, if they get things right. And when I think of Africa, I think of Nigeria.