By Fred Kaweesi in Belo Horizonte
France v Nigeria
SOUTH America has produced some of the most iconic players in the history of world football.
From Pele to Ronaldo and Maradona to Lionel Messi, the continent has assembled a number of celebrated stars over several generations.
And the rewards have been nine World Cup titles shared between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
The only continent that beats South America in World Cup silverware is Europe with 10.
But certainly not Africa, who despite producing stars such as Roger Milla, Abedi Pele or George Weah, continues to be dwarfed by the two continents.
Nigeria's midfielder John Obi Mikel addresses a press conference at Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on the eve of the match against France. AFP Photo
Of course, various reasons, will be presented for this. But the simplest has been the lack of pride by African footballers.
In Brazil, for example, football runs through players’ veins and the pride of representing their nation pumps straight from their hearts.
In Africa, football runs through bank accounts and the pride of representing the nation is non-existent –at least from the impressions left behind by Cameroon, Ghana and now Nigeria, who face France in a prestigious World Cup quarterfinal fixture today.
At first, Cameroon threatened not to travel to the tournament if their £61,000 that was due to be paid to them for figuring in the World Cup was not improved.
An expensively chartered jet from Angolan airline TAAG waited almost 24 hours before departing with the team for Brazil.
Then days later, the Ghanaian government was forced to send more than $3m (£1.8m) in cash by plane here to pay the appearance fees owed to the national team to avert a player strike. Brazilian television then showed pictures of defender John Boye kissing a wad of dollars.
Last Thursday, Nigeria missed a scheduled training session in Campinas to resolve a row over bonus money.
The players felt the $15,000 (£8,800) offered to each was short of what they were expecting for reaching the last 16.
Although an understanding was reached, neutrals have been left speechless by Africa’s priorities at the tournament.
“It’s the same problem for African team always. You cannot win the World Cup with this always happening,” former Chelsea manager Avram Grant told New Vision last week.
Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi insists that the bonus row will not affect his team’s performance against the 1998 World Cup champions.
France will be looking to Karim Benzema, (L) seen here in training with leftback Patrice Evra, once again for goals. AFP Photo
But few will believe him looking at what befell Cameroon and Ghana.
“We don’t play for Nigeria because of money. But when you work somewhere, you are entitled to certain things. You can’t deprive players from asking for their rights, this is normal. We are not demanding for anything that we are not used to,” Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo told reporters.
Nigeria’s campaign didn’t start well when they were held 0-0 by Iran. But, they won the key match against Bosnia 1-0 and those four points proved sufficient in the end.
Although the Super Eagles lost their last group game 3-2 to Argentina, they put in a decent shift with Ahmed Musa scoring two fine goals.
Musa will be challenged to shoulder Nigeria’s attacking burdens against Didier Deschamps’ revamped French side.
The French will be at full strength and fresh for this match, as Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Valbuena all rested in the last group match against Ecuador.
But although France have proved solid defensively, their expansive attacking approach normally exposes them, especially in the wide full back positions.
Nigeria are a very good counter-attacking side that thrives on Musa, Peter Odemwinge and Emmanuel Emenike’s pace going forward. All the Super Eagles will need to do is to keep patient and wait for their moments.