A football initiation from '94

HARARE - The World Cup floods back too many wonderful memories for a lot of us, and depending on the eras we belong to, the recollections vary from individual to individual.

At my age, my first World Cup as a reasonably informed football fan was probably US94’, a tiny grade six schoolboy still learning the intricacies of the world’s most beautiful game.

This is the prime age of innocence, when being loyal to a football team is not negotiable, when emotional attachment is in its most unadulterated form.

Years later, seeing those little British boys on TV weep uncontrollably in the comforting arms of their mums and dads after their adored teams get relegated or miss out on promotion, you can’t help but remind yourself of the familiarity of the tears.

Not that when we get older we become less loyal. No, we don’t. We simply get toughened up by that great teacher called life, so we learn to cope better with our emotions and disappointments.

As boys growing up in Zimbabwe, most of us were probably raised, sports-wise, on a plastic football on the streets of the neighbourhood.

For me, US94 was the initiation, the real introduction to this global phenomenon called football, and with icons of the time like Romario, Baggio, Maradona, Stoichkov and Matthäus part of the cast, a lifelong love develops.

At such a relatively tender age, you needed something special to catch your attention and make you fall in love with the sport.

For me, one such was Nigeria.

The Super Eagles played with swagger and unique flair in their first World Cup, a feature that would sadly desert future Nigerian teams.

Watching them hammer Stoichkov’s Bulgaria 3-0 on their way to top their group and qualify for the round of 16 are some the precious memories that will not fade even with the passage of time.

The quality in that side; Yekini, Amokachi, Siasia, Amunike and a young Okocha is ample proof that talent of that nature comes once in a generation and we can see it now. 

My fragile heart broke into thousand pieces when Italy’s Roberto Baggio sent them crashing out of the tournament, but for a youngster, that experienced only made the bond stronger.

Since then, Nigeria have not been the same for me, that flair, that attacking prowess, that ability to match and beat the best in the world replaced by an average continental side which hardly instil fear in its regional rivals. 

Winning the African Nations Cup in 2012 in South Africa heralded some kind of revival, but for the sceptics among us, that was a soft trophy for a less-than-convincing winner of a mediocre tournament. 

But reaching the second round for the first time in 16 years, as they have done in Brazil, is the best way to answer your critics.

Red-hot France stands in the way of one Africa’s best quarter-finals chance, or maybe the only chance.

What a blockbuster tie it promises to be against Les Bleus at the weekend. 

The French will come in this one as hot favourites, but a Nigeria win holds sentimental value for a lot of folk.

Let the Eagles fly.

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