Several esteemed Nigerian personalities have turned up in Saint-Petersburg, Russia ahead of Nigeria’s potentially crunchy tie with Argentina on Tuesday, with a view towards giving the Super Eagles high-powered support towards victory.
With hours counting down toward the 7pm kick-off for the Eagles last yet most decisive group game, Nigeria’s senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki is billed to lead the cheers.
He will be joined by Ambassador Steve Davies Ugbah, sports minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung, who returned to Saint Petersburg on Monday, the permanent secretary, Olusade Adesola and other members of the Nigerian federal government delegation.
Also expected at the match are Senators and members of the House of Representatives as well as top shots of the NFF executive committee and congress, along with former NFF presidents and general-secretaries.
Those who will also cheer the Eagles live at the stadium also include former Eagles coach, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, directors in the Sports Ministry, Alhaji Abba Yola, Mainasara Illo, delegations from different states, NPFL club owners and other stakeholders.
Never in the history of Saint Petersburg has it seen such an unending influx of Nigerians and Argentines.
Large contingents of nationals of both countries have continued to pour into the city through Pulkovo Airport and by other entry points.
A fresh influx of Nigerians who have made their own private arrangements to watch the Argentina match started arriving in Saint Petersburg on Thursday last week.
Hotels in the city are bursting at the seams as football –loving Nigerians and Argentines from different parts of the world, as well as Nigerians and Argentines resident in Russia, have swooped on Russia’s second city.
It is doubtful whether the gulf in World Cup pedigree and accomplishments between the two teams (Argentina had won two FIFA World Cup titles and finished as runners-up on two occasions before Nigeria made her debut at the finals in 1994) would amount to much when Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir’s whistle goes for kick-off on Tuesday night.
Argentina are in a desperate situation following a score-draw in their first game against Iceland and comprehensive defeat by Croatia, and will throw everything at their disposal at the Super Eagles.
But the African flag bearers are not a team to be easily brow-beaten, and have adopted an ‘Argentina Must Fall’ motto since flaying Iceland in Volgograd.
The 0-3 reverse to Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday was the heaviest World Cup group stage defeat suffered by Argentina since they were annihilated 6-1 by then Czechoslovakia in Helsinborg (Sweden) 60 years ago.
Poor form and intense media hype about collapse of order in their camp notwithstanding, the two –time world champions are known to rise to the big occasion and Tuesday’s encounter is poised as the biggest occasion for their array of superstars in recent years.
The like of Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano could be making their last FIFA World Cup appearance, and Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala will kick themselves several times if the Albiceleste, reigning vice-champions, are kicked out of the World Cup at group stage.
For Nigeria, Captain Mikel Obi is also perhaps playing in his last World Cup. Like Messi, he would have been playing in his fourth World Cup, but he missed Germany 2006 by the whiskers (Nigeria thwarted by head-to-head voodoo) and South Africa 2010 as a result of injury.
In 2005, Messi won gold and Mikel silver at the FIFA U20 World Cup in The Netherlands, and while Messi was named Player of the Tournament, Mikel was named second best.
Three years later, when Messi led Argentina to defeat Nigeria by the odd goal in the Men’s Olympics Final in Beijing, Mikel was absent. Both men were involved when Argentina edged Nigeria 3-2 in Porto Alegre at the last World Cup.