Nigeria's Ahmed Musa, second from left, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal against Iceland. Photo: AP Photo
What about the outrageous backward flick from Neymar on Friday? There are the usual myopic critics panning the Brazil superstar by labelling the move as showboating. Nonsense. Showboating is when a player deliberately sets out to use trickery to please the crowd and invariably it’s a stunt that goes nowhere 
 it doesn’t take the game forward in any way.

Neymar’s flick late on against Costa Rica had a definite intention: to beat the opponent; he had nowhere to go, stuck in the corner of the field, and he used an audacious piece of skill to manoeuvre his way out of a tight situation. I prefer to laud Neymar for his sheer pluck in pulling off such a complicated, adroit move.

I don’t know how far back your memory goes, but I remember the late Sam 'Ewie' Kambule doing that very same flick against Cape Town Spurs in the mid-1990s  and what’s more, the Mamelodi Sundowns right-back scored a quite spectacular goal at the end of performing the trick. I’m sure André Arendse will remember: he was in goal for Spurs that day.

In football, an open mind is always an asset. Any coach or player rigid in thinking with regard to tactics, selection or position is doomed to defeat. It was evident after Nigeria’s opening round loss to Croatia that the team needed change; the way things were set up just wasn’t working.

Head coach Gernot Rohr, instead of banging his head stubbornly against the wall, was determined to do things differently against Iceland - and more importantly, senior players John Obi-Mikel and Victor Moses bought into the strategy: such is the admirable solidarity and spirit in this Nigeria side.

Obi-Mikel dropped deeper into midfield, Moses played in his usual right wing-back position rather than the traditional right-wing he was deployed to in the opening game.

Above all, Ahmed Musa was given a starting berth - a clear indication that Nigeria intended to use his blistering pace on the flanks to unsettle and terrorise the Icelanders. Boy, did it work a charm.

The new set-up gave the west Africans a more balanced look; they played with better structure and even more significantly, with Musa’s pace they had a target to aim at on the counter. And Musa produced two fantastic moments of brilliance to net Nigeria’s two goals for a victory in which the celebrations, no doubt, reverberated across the entire African continent.

So, football and politics don’t mix? Yeah, right. Of course they do. Like Friday’s encounter between Serbia and Switzerland, if you hadn’t heard about the Balkan Wars of Independence before, now you certainly do. The tension and conflict in the region, which boiled over in 1991, eventually led to the break-up of Yugoslavia into separate countries like Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia. Discord in the region, though, is still ongoing, especially with the independence of Kosovo not recognised by Serbia. And it was this that was at the root of the Albanian flag celebrations of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri as the Swiss came from behind to beat Serbia 2-1.

Both Xhaka and Shaqiri are from Kosovo, of Albanian heritage (both players’ families fled their home country during the war to seek refuge in Switzerland). Xhaka’s father, in fact, spent time in jail for his political work in fighting for the independence for Kosovo.

Footballers aren’t robots, they are people, with emotions, feelings, and a history they regard as important to their character and worldview - and with this as background, it’s more than evident that whether we like it or not, politics and sport cannot be divorced.


Weekend Argus

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