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WORLD CUP LESSONS FOR WINNERS

By NBF News

This is the season of World Cup and for a while, it appeared that everything was woven around the tournament. People navigate their appointments and events around the World Cup fixtures, making sure not to allow anything to interfere with the timing of crucial matches. For the first two weeks, willingly or not, our lives were ruled by the pulsating beats and rhythms of the World Cup matches.

Even if you are not watching, your neighbours hundreds meters away, made sure you catch the tensed flow with their screams, baying and whoops of excitement. Or curses, some screaming instructions from their homes to players thousands of miles away. It's soccer madness, remember?

Suddenly, Yakubu Ayegbeni, one of Nigeria's pregnant strikers, kicked the ball out of the Korean net to seal Nigeria's World Cup dreams.

The disaster waiting to happen for so long was finally confirmed. Once again, Nigeria took our disgraceful exit at a point we could have been winners. We gallantly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. An agonized sanity seems to return to the land and for many, the World Cup was over.

Some say we are haunted by Shuaibu Amodu's angry spirit. Could such spell be reason for the incredible blunders that saw us out—the Kaitastrophy and Yakubu's world record goal miss a couple of meters away from a yawning empty net? N900 million down the drain and Yakubu Ayegbeni was laughing at his fatal folly! We've obviously never had it so bad, so much so that even our usually cheerful President Jonathan decided it was time to bite Nigeria's soccer merchants with a ferocious fang. For us, it is two years of well-deserved rest from soccer, FIFA or no FIFA, he decreed.

Do I think the self-imposed ban would be sustained? Only if you think a drug addict can just wake up one day to kick the habit without suffering withdrawal syndrome. In a few months time, tempers would cool down and the shakara would be over. Then, it would be back to business as usual, mark my word.

Midway into the tournament, there are already many lessons to be learnt, especially by those of us who are mere outsiders. Start with Africa's last hope at the tournament, Ghana, which gallantly lost to Uruguay. Uruguayan player, Suarez, offered himself as a sacrificial lamb to save his nation from an obvious Ghanaian goal that would have sent his nation out of the World Cup. Desperate to stop the goal-bound ball at all costs, he used his hand and got a red card for it. Did Ayegbeni see that? It became another case of 'hand of God' like Maradona's tricky goal against England in 1986. He's a spontaneous cheat of course, but a cheat driven by patriotism. Ghana got a penalty for it but lost it to nervousness!

The same demon that took over Ayegbeni against South Korea also destroyed Ghana. This says something about poor psychological state of our players. Is it some form of complex, something that pulls us back from the brink of history? Consider that, if only Ayegbeni had kicked the ball into the open net of the South Koreans, Nigeria would have hit the quarter-finals, joining the ranks of African nations like Ghana, Cameroun and Senegal that had done so before. If only Ghana had scored that penalty awarded them, they would have made it to the semi-final—from there, who knows? Ghana could've hit the final of the World Cup!!

If they had scored that penalty, it would have been the first time an African nation was hitting the World Cup semi-final! Poor Ghana! Some people blame it on bad luck, but unless bad luck is an African, I would suggest we look for another excuse. Luck and opportunity, if you ask me, usually knock at the doors of those who prepared for them. Perhaps, this is why the so-called luck refused to visit the camp of the Super Eagles in South Africa, leaving them blundering and blaming everything else including Shuaibu Amodu's spirit!

Of course, note that the Ghanaian team is made up young boys, a clear shift from the tired old legs whose hunger for success had diminished. Unfortunately, in life, it is such demonic hunger for success that drives people to supreme achievements.

While a disorganized and demotivated soccer superpower, France, was sent packing by newcomers to the game, South Africa, drunk with Madiba spirit, England learnt from young German players that Britain may have the best and most aggressive media in the world, but football is not played on the pages of frenzied English tabloids. In the end, to win, you need more than mere training; you need energy and speed to drive success whether in the field of soccer or other spheres of life.

The all-conquering Germans that crushed Australia, England and now unbelievably Argentina have inaugurated a paradigm shift in the game. The name of the game is youths, those with driving force to win the battle of life whether in sports or politics. Sure, there is a place for experience but only in so far as experience is a guide in channeling and harnessing the energy and dynamism of the youths with all their excesses and translating them into positive force for good.

Last lesson is the Argentine tragedy. A great soccer nation with a great team that crushed everybody on its way with wide goal margins is humbled with a crushing 4-0 defeat by the German boys! What went wrong? The coach? He remains one of the best in the tournament, yet he lost. What went wrong? Look at the journey of the German team and you may learn the lesson of life. They started with a 1-0 loss to Serbia, a humbling reality check that kept them focused on winning, aware that failure is never too far away from victory. It always lurks around waiting for the unwary. Those who never tasted defeat may never know the value of success. Indeed, they may take success for granted, usually a fatal error. Winning all the time breeds hubris. In preparing for success in life, it is also good to reckon with failing. It seems obvious that because the Argentines with their mercurial coach and soccer idol, Maradona, never reckoned with the possibility of failure, when the German goals came, they simply came apart, totally unprepared for such eventuality.

But, life is not a bed of roses. It's up and down, but the winners are those who know how to keep rising after each fall. Only pray that like the Germans, your defeat comes early in your journey. Too late and the consequences can be fatal—ask the Argentines! Or the Brazilians!