By Gabriele Marcotti
Three quick thoughts from Nigeria’s 6-1 rout of Tahiti:
1. Tahiti came to play and in doing so made history. When you have just one professional on your team and you are taking on a nation with a proud footballing heritage — one in which the sport is a religion for a population nearly 100 times yours — you will, barring divine intervention, get beaten up. The trick is doing so while holding your head high, and Tahiti did just that. They didn’t raise the barricades, and they didn’t turn nasty (the way we’ve seen other small nations do). Rather, they went out and tried to execute as best they could. And they did themselves proud.
Nobody wants to be patronized, but the imbalance of resources here is a matter of fact. Tahiti were rewarded with a goal that will stand in the history books forever. But more than that, the enduring memory will be the way they played, taking the game to the Super Eagles without fear. For the 20,000 or so in Belo Horizonte — most of them neutrals who became honorary Tahitians for the day — and the millions more watching on TV, that will be what they take home from this game.
2. Give Stephen Keshi and Nigeria a pass on this one. You couldn’t expect them to be themselves when they arrived in Belo Horizonte only some 37 hours before kickoff. So what if the opening goal came from a deflection and at least three of the others were the result of craven defensive errors by the opposition, rather than anything special the Super Eagles put together? Goal difference could be crucial in this group, and what mattered was winning by a wide margin and getting this out of the way. Nigeria’s real test will come Thursday against Uruguay.
3. In games such as these, the main difference isn’t just technique, it’s stamina as well. Amateur players simply aren’t athletically equal to professionals. That’s why in these types of games, you will see the minnow get sloppy toward the end, when the legs tire and the mind gets cloudy. Hence, why Nigeria scored three times in the final 25 minutes.
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