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Let the dress rehearsal begin


We are hours away from the start of what will be a perfect dress rehearsal for the Brazil 2014 Fifa World Cup.

Brazil has been home for me since arriving here as a young player back in 1984.

This is a showdown for the winners of all the continents plus Brazil, as the host nation. Italy (vice champions in the last European tournament), African champions Nigeria and Asian champions Japan, make it a very strong field.

With teams like Italy, Spain, Mexico and Brazil around, we can expect soccer at its best. A few months ago a lack of enthusiasm was shown worldwide because some of the major infrastructures in Brazil were not in place, raising doubts about the success of this big tournament.

What excites me even more is the venue where our Super Eagles will play on 21 June against Uruguay. It is a rebuilt stadium, the Arena Fonte Nova, in my home city, Salvador.

It was only halfway done a few months ago but you must give the Brazilians credit. They love making last minute unbelievable things happen.

Here’s why I’m excited. Some of my greatest memories in football were made in this same stadium. Barely two months ago, the Bahia government honoured me as the best striker to have played here. I felt honoured and greatly appreciated.

Now, this is where my country of birth will dig it out against Uruguay in a fortnight. I may have been a goal king in Europe but Salvador, Bahia and Brazil is home.

Let’s look at the teams.

Italy

A natural contender always in all competitions, they are here in strength, including Balotelli, who we hope will maintain a cool head and come out as one of the best players of the competition. Pirlo is commanding the Italian midfield. Italy is always Italy. They will always compete and know how to win even when they do not play well.

Spain

Spain have been the best team in recent times, having won all the major tournaments they played. They are favourites, alongside Brazil. The squad is almost the same as in those games.

Nigeria

They are coming out stronger after the memorable Afcon victory. Coach Stephen Keshi is putting together fine players. He is doing a great job. I wonder about Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses and what difference their absence could make? Maybe this will help the team as it provides a platform for other youngsters to stake a claim.

They may have been destabilised by the drama about slashed bonuses but once they play their first game against Tahiti and get a win, all that will be forgotten and they will enjoy the magic of playing on Brazilian soil. That is the dream of many African players who, like me, are captivated by the spirit of samba and the Brazilian flair.

Stephen Keshi is my friend and former teammate and we used to be room-mates in the Super Eagles set-up. We still chat once in a while and it will be a good reunion and a chance to show Africa is ready to win the big prize.

Taiti, Uruguay,Mexico and Japan

The fact that they are here shows they are good and can never be written off. These days in football you don’t find weak teams.

Uruguay won the Copa America ahead of Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay denied Brazil the only time Brazil hosted the world cup in 1950.

Mexico have been there with the big Boys since the 1930 World cup and have won this tournament before. Japan have the samurai spirit and have continued to impress. The fact they have already qualified for Brazil 2014 shows their progress.

Brazil

Five-time world champions, they are still one of the best teams in the world and the only team that has played in all the World Cups. They live football. Everything is football for them. It’s unbelievable how easily you can find a good player in the bush, on the beach, in the street or in the jungle. It’s just in their blood.

Everything is set for this reminder of what is to come in the Brazil 2014 Fifa World Cup. All I can say is samba! Ola! Welcome to Brazil.


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