As Russia 2018 Begins …

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The much-awaited Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup eventually kicked off with pomp inside the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, last Thursday. It is the 21st edition of the quadrennial football competition among the now 211 FIFA member nations, the 11th to be hosted in Europe and the first to be held in the Eastern Europe.
Already, 21 goals have been recorded in eight group matches from Group A to D.
The Tide is happy that the Mundial has commenced on a promising note with competitive but friendly ambience. Despite initial fears that the usual frosty relationship between the East and West, particularly, the recent diplomatic row involving Russia, Britain, United States and their allies, would negatively affect the football showpiece, everything seems to be in good shape so far.
Even the often portrayed racism and hooliganism traits of the hosts have proved to be a concern built on unfounded facts five days into the one month-long football fiesta. We, therefore, commend the organisers for their efforts and strategies put in place to ensure that the World Cup promises to be a hitch-free event.
Football all over the world has become a unifying factor and a powerful catalyst for integration and friendliness. It is not constrained by racial, language or cultural barriers or boundaries.
This is why The Tide thinks that the world should not only see Russia 2018 as an opportunity for friendly competition but seize it to provide a platform for integration and unity among the youth.
Indeed, FIFA has its slogan which preaches fair play and the vision to eliminate all forms of segregation or racism among the diverse people of the world. Therefore, unity, respect and friendliness should underline the mood of the competition.
It is time for world leaders to borrow a leaf from the spirit of the game and imbibe the fact that politics, just like football, and other sports, should not be a do or die affair. The famed spirit of sportsmanship should be the hallmark of every human contest.
For Africa, Russia 2018 presents a huge challenge and opportunity to raise the profile of the continent among world’s footballing nations. Thus, we call on the continent’s flagbearers, Egypt, who are returning to the world stage after a 28-year absence; Morocco, who returned to the party after a 20-year hiatus; Tunisia, Senegal and Nigeria to be worthy ambassadors of Africa.
After a disappointing opening outings for three of the continent’s flagbearers, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria, Tunisia takes to the pitch against the Three Lions of England today. The burden is now on Tunisia’s Desert Foxes and Senegal’s Lions of Teranga who do battle with Poland tomorrow, to give Africa hope with a positive first outing in Russia.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles, making their sixth appearance at the Mundial are in Russia with hope. In fact, football fans in Nigeria and diaspora expect the Super Eagles to make impact at the championships. Having raised expectations with an impressive run to qualify, much are being expected from the Nigerian team.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari, just before their departure for the World Cup, charged the Super Eagles to bring home the trophy. But after a vapid performance in a 2-0 loss to Croatia in their first Group D match last Saturday, that presidential task to the Eagles seems an uphill one.
More so, with the fact that the Super Eagles have never made it beyond the second round at the World Cup and no African team has reached the semi final stage in the competition’s 88 year-history, perhaps, bringing the coveted diadem in Russia to Africa may remain a dream.
But it is not yet over, particularly for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. There are still two group matches for them to redeem themselves and make progress. We, therefore, urge them to pick themselves up from the loss to Croatia and work for better results against Iceland and Argentina.
They must not be disillusioned or intimidated by the prospect of taking on the opponents, no matter their antecedents. It is never over until it is over. The remaining games provide them opportunities to prove themselves and further endear themselves to the world.
Interestingly, for the first time, there is no rancour in camp over bonuses or other entitlements. We are glad that the Nigeria Football Federation has played their part by providing the team all they needed to excel.
The onus, therefore, lies on the technical crew and players to do their own part by delivering the expected performance.
If the charge of bringing home the trophy appears too steep to achieve, perhaps, ensuring qualification to the next stage and targeting a quarter final appearance may not be too much of an expectation from the team.