The men have been separated from the boys as the knockout stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup resumes on Saturday.
The panel comprising Sunday Omeike, Remi Sulola, and Kayode Tijani are here to review the group stage and their expectations in the round of 16.
Remi and Kayode you guys are in Russia. Do you think they have been a good host?
Remi: Russia has surpassed my expectation in terms of being a good host. I did not expect Russians to be so warm to us the visitors and the standard of their facilities have been second to none.
Kayode: Russia shocked the world, to say the least. A great host in almost all ramifications though the travel distance from venue to venue is far and wide but that definitely cannot be counted against them. They have put up a great show and are very friendly, accommodating, and spot on.
Sunday, you are several kilometres away but from what you have seen and read, what’s your view?
Sunday: Violence has not erupted, while no case of racism has been reported. Those were the two major concerns coming into Russia 2018. Aside from the sleeping driver’s case, it has been a party all around. Also, protests have not been recorded, and even the English contingent has not had a bad report to give, while their violent gangs of fans have shown exemplary behaviour. Russia 2018 has delivered a pleasant surprise so far.
So guys, what happened to the Super Eagles of Nigeria?
Kayode: The team’s failure was very predictable. Months before the FIFA World Cup, close watchers of the team were unanimous in their assertion that the Super Eagles lack the quality to succeed at the World Cup. The Super Eagles actually lacked the desire to excel especially against Argentina whom Nigeria are yet to defeat from their first meeting in 1994. There also could be no excuse for lack of motivation as the NFF had paid the team in advance – the first time it was happening. The Super Eagles, however, missed the plot. Lackadaisical attitude plus inability to shut down games; strikers who lacked the finishing attribute; and the coaching crew got things all wrong in the selection. Gernot Rohr froze in the last five minutes against Argentina when he should have shut the game down.
Sunday: Simple, we did not take our chances. I did not expect the Super Eagles to defeat Croatia but they approached the Iceland and Argentina games like I thought they should. However, we failed to do against Argentina, what we did expertly against Iceland: take our chances. If Odion Ighalo had converted one of those two glorious opportunities created at 1-1, we would be looking forward to a date with France on Saturday.
What’s your view, Remi?
Remi: The Super Eagles were a victim of the poor result recorded in the very first game. The Croatia match was supposed to end in a draw, at worst. The failure to get three points or at least one point proved too much of a disaster at the end of the day.
Sunday: The Brazil 2014 winners paid the price for overconfidence, poor tactical approach and nobody really took over leadership on the pitch. The overconfident Joachim Low left perhaps, Germany’s best player of the season, the high flying Leroy Sane of Manchester City, out of his squad and came to Russia with an air of invincibility following the Under-23s triumph in the Confederations Cup last year. Die Mannschaft’s arrogance was displayed in the way they approached games, using two centre-backs positioned close to the halfway line and their full-backs were virtual wingers, and the opposition took advantage. Finally, the older players including Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Jerome Boateng were not only atrocious, they did not bring the group together on the pitch. Even their saviour against Sweden, Toni Kroos, made mistakes which led to the oppositions’ goals in the first two games.
Kayode, do you agree with Sunday’s view about the defending champions?
Kayode: Yes, definitely! The best team in the world lost the plot and underrated their opponents. The world was watching out for them to repeat their 2014 feats but they departed home much too early.
Remi: For Germany, they are only following the trend of fate that has befallen past winners of the competition dating back to France 1998. All the nations that have won the competition since 1998 have all crashed out at the group stage as defending champions – except of course Brazil in 2006.
So, which has been your best match?
Remi: My best match without a doubt was the Spain v Portugal match. It was a free-scoring game and a very entertaining match at that.
Sunday, is that your choice too?
Sunday: Sure! The game was filled with entertainment, gaffe and wonderful goals in good measure. Cristiano Ronaldo did what he does best for his country which is to lead them from the front while seeing Isco and Iniesta glide through players like some elastic being was majestic. Nacho’s determination to atone for conceding a penalty with a great volleyed goal was lovely, and that Ronaldo free kick? A collector’s item. Match of the tournament so far.
Kayode: I will rather pick the game between Russia and Egypt. Lots of counter-attacks plus huge fighting spirit from end to end. Fantastic match!
In your words, Kayode, has the VAR been fantastic? An asset or liability?
Kayode: Definitely fantastic! It has been an asset because both sides can now rest assured that the right decisions will be taken.
Remi: The VAR has been an asset, absolutely because it has been able to provide answers to questionable calls or controversial situations. For example, a penalty would have been unfairly awarded to Senegal after the referee had awarded the spot kick to Sadio Mane in their game against Colombia.
What’s your take Sunday?
Sunday: Asset. The system has really made my tournament because I am not a fan of players who dive to earn penalties; it dents my love for football. Players now know that when they dive to win a penalty, the referees inside the VAR room can communicate with the referee to have another look. VAR has made my tournament, and the Super Eagles were also on both ends of it.
Remi, who in your assessment has been the most astounding player?
Remi: The most astounding player has been Eden Hazard.
And you, Kayode?
Kayode: I’ll opt for Eden Hazard as well. He gets better with each game and is as much a solo artist as he is a great team player.
The most disappointing?
Remi: Messi by a mile despite his heroics against Nigeria.
Sunday, do you agree?
Sunday: Not quite. Although too early to pick one David De Gea is leading in that department on my scorecard.
Kayode: Mesut Ozil! He was in the middle of the pack in two games and Germany lost but they won when he was on the substitute bench. He was not his usual exemplary self at this World Cup, unfortunately.
So, what’re your expectations for the round of 16?
Kayode: Firstly it’s tragic that there is no single African team in the round of 16. Shocking to say the least. Colombia showed impossible is nothing when you put your mind to it. Belgium and France are also not far away.
Remi: My expectation for the round of 16 is to see at least two pre-tournament favourites go home.
Remi: That will make my day!
Sunday: Firstly, France to knock out the lucky Argentines. I also hope the fans are treated to more surprises with the lesser teams knocking out the more established football nations.
Sunday: No. Argentina and Spain!
Thanks for your time and hope you enjoyed the show?
See you in the quarter-finals!