If you were a betting man, who would you put your money on to win the 2014 World Cup? Or better still, would you put your money on any of the African teams to win it?
This is the million-dollar question that I needed to answer last week.
So, l went to London and met with some football gurus.
The first was Keir Radnedge. Keir has been, for decades, the Editor-in-Chief of World Soccer magazine and it’s most respected columnist. He is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on football in the world.
Then I spent some time with Peter Law. The New Zealander is an author, a sports journalist and probably the world’s foremost football statistician and authority on African football. He co-authored the book ‘The Secret Life of Football’.
Finally, I met with the pair of Martin Davis and Saker Satish. Martin was, for several years, the head of sports at the BBC working for the World Service and on Fast Track. A veteran of several World Cups and African Cup of Nations championships, he also headed the team that worked on the prestigious 1-Goal, Education for All 2010 World Cup campaign in Africa.
Sekar Satish is a sports journalist, member of the UK Sports Journalists Association and editor of an online magazine on world football.
I spent time with all four gentlemen this past week in London.
I asked each one of them the same two questions – Who do they predict will win the 2014 World Cup? And what are the chances of an African team winning the 2014 World Cup?
It was a revealing experience.
They were unanimous in their initial warning: ‘avoid every predictions by the great and legendary Pele, for he never gets it right’!
Keir Radnedge says the 2014 World Cup will likely go to Brazil because of Filipe Scolari, coach of the 2002-winning Brazil, and its current coach.
Scolari thinks the fans hold a critical place in football and has a way of connecting with them, feeding on the passion, and securing their support. He can take the pressures that will rain down from the terraces and convert them into adrenalin to drive Brazil to a memorable victory. He did it to win the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Keir does not think Argentina will go all the way.
He says that although Argentina need Messi, he has never really fitted into the Argentinian style of play the way he does at Barcelona FC. He left Argentina when he was only 13 years old. According to Keir, Argentina do not look anything like potential champions.
Saker Satish thinks radically differently. He wishes and believes that a totally new team from outside the traditional powerhouses will win the 2014 World Cup.
He thinks Brazil will crumble under the weight of the many competing social, economic and political pressures.
So, Satish picks Colombia to win the World Cup! I was stunned. Colombia?
Yes. But there is a proviso – Falcao must be in the team! Radamel Falcao is currently undoubtedly one of the best players in the world. Every World Cup-winning team needs an anchorperson, a talisman, to lead it. That’s what Falcao will give to Colombia – the psychological and physical dimension to play and win in a South American World Cup.
The bad news is that Falcao is still recuperating from injury. If he does recover in time Colombia will surprise the world, Satish predics. Otherwise, he says the trophy will go to Uruguay and not Brazil or Argentina!
‘But why not Argentina?’ I ask out of curiosity.
There will be crisis if Argentina win. Brazilians will never allow Argentina to win the World Cup in their country. People should understand the depth and acidity of the rivalry between them. Fifa know it and would surreptitiously ‘intervene’ to ensure it never happens. Those are Satish’s extreme thoughts.
What about Martin Davis’s thoughts?
This is Brazil’s year to fix their 1950 ‘disaster’. They are the only football superpower not to win the World Cup as host. The country has too much to lose should they fail to win. They will use the pressures as fuel to succeed, Davis says.
Finally, what does the expert on African football, Peter Law, think?
Peter’s greatest wish is that an African country win the World Cup. However, he does not see that on his 2014 radar.
In Peter’s calculations, the 2014 World Cup will be won by Argentina or Uruguay, not Brazil, and definitely not any country from Africa!
Brazil will implode under political pressure, he predicts.
Argentina have a great mature squad and they have Lionel Messi who has only one thing left to prove to the world in order to be crowned the greatest player in history – winning the World Cup with Argentina! This is going to be Lionel Messi’s World Cup, Peter insists.
So, where does that leave the African teams?
The four gentlemen presented an almost identical opinion.
Algeria can’t and won’t win it…
That leaves Ghana and Nigeria.
Ghana had their chance in 2010 and were unlucky not to have gone farther. But, lightening does not strike twice on the same spot.
So, what about Nigeria?
Nigeria is in a permanent mode of ‘self-destruct’ during every World Cup. The signs are there again already, with the needless distractions over inconsequential issues – old players, foreign coach, unpaid wages, intruding administrators and any number of other issues that would never allow Nigeria to achieve its full potential at World Cup level.
So, where would I place my bet?
A friend hit the nail on the head for me. He told me: If you want to place a bet, never go with the obvious and most likely thing to happen. You never win much that way. But go against the grain of expectations. That way, your chances may be very slim, but just in case the unexpected happens (as it often does in football), you will win really big!
That’s why even as I left the UK in deep contemplation, I made up my mind recklessly where my bet would go – Nigeria to win the World Cup!