Nigeria looking to lift spirits ahead of Bosnia clash
CUIABA, Brazil -- So far, African teams have suffered at this World Cup. Ivory Coast's opening-match defeat of Japan has been the continent's only victory of seven matches played to date, and that triumph was somewhat wiped out by Thursday's defeat to Colombia.
Nigeria's draw with Iran, a goalless grind of a match that was an undoubted lowlight so far of Brazil 2014, was actually the second-best African result of the tournament; out of a total 21 potential points available to African teams, they have so far earned just four. Even so, it was greeted with dismay back home in the West African republic, though the result's importance faded utterly after news of a suicide bomb at a World Cup viewing site in northeast Nigeria.
There were 14 people killed and at least 26 wounded in Tuesday in Damaturu, as fans watched Brazil play Mexico.
News of the atrocity greeted a team already downcast by their performance in Curitiba. "It is not a pleasant thing to see people to die for no reason," Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said on Friday ahead of his team's second match against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiaba. "It was double jeopardy after our game. Most Nigerians were not happy to see that we had a tie against Iran and then after a bomb blast. It was not pleasant at all."
"We are very sad about the news," captain Joseph Yobo said. "We understand the situation. Our heart goes out to the people."
The Nigerian team are playing with the pressure of trying to lift the spirits of a country where civil war looms as a very real prospect. Boko Haram, the armed Islamic group that wants to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state and has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of more 250 schoolgirls, has been blamed for the suicide attack.
"We will do everything in our power to put a smile on Nigerian faces tomorrow," Keshi said.
Yobo added: "I think that without the fans, football would not be enjoyable. All we can do is do well for our country, win games and hopefully everybody is going to be happy."
A troubled campaign so far has been further disrupted by Nigerian media reports of a rift in the squad's training camp in Sao Paulo State. Both Keshi and Yobo were unhappy about the rumours. "The atmosphere is great," Keshi said. "I don't know where they get the information."
"After this tournament I will have something to say about people trying to create distractions," Yobo said, with no little menace.
There is little doubt that Nigeria require a huge improvement to get a result against a Bosnian team that caused genuine trouble for Argentina in the Maracana on Sunday. The hope is that Keshi's team will play significantly better than they did against Iran.
"Tomorrow's a different ball game," the coach said. "Bosnia is a different team with a different style of play and I think we are ready for tomorrow."
Keshi sought little comfort in the troubles of England and Spain; the two countries with the world's most high-profile domestic leagues are already booked on return flights. In his opinion, the fall of the holders will do little to lessen the Nigerian public's expectations
"Nigeria is a different place," he said. "Nigerians want to win at all costs. After what happened against Iran, they felt that wasn't our ability. The performance of the team was the problem that they have. We did not perform highly. But we don't look at that -- we came here for business."
The suggestions are that Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel might be pushed further forward in an attempt to increase a creativity lacking against Iran. Not that Keshi wanted to give too much away.
"Mikel is not the only player in the team," he said. "We don't carry our gameplan on one player. We know he's one of our key players and we demand that he produces and gives us what we want."
Part of Nigeria's business at Arena Pantanal is to improve the standing of the African teams in Brazil.
"It is not so great for our African continent, though we have one or two teams that are on course and can do something for the continent," Keshi said. "If you look around it's not just Africa. Look at the champions of the world. Two games and they are out. There are no more little teams in the world. You get yourself prepared or you will get kicked out. We will try as hard as we can to do our continent proud."