Carrying a winning record is generally seen as a good thing; a morale-booster and momentum to carry on winning. Popular sporting opinion is that winning breeds confidence, which in turn leads to more wins.
Nigeria have made a habit of not losing games recently, even when they play as poorly as they did last week.
Friday’s win against Poland took Nigeria’s unbeaten record since a 2-0 home defeat by South Africa last June to six games.
In that time, the Super Eagles have defeated Cameroon (twice), Zambia, Algeria, Argentina and last week’s victims, Poland.
Their record has been three wins and three draws. Officially of course, they lost to Algeria after irregularities with defender Shehu Abdullahi’s yellow card issues, but they weren’t defeated on the pitch.
As the Eagles prepare to take on Serbia on Tuesday in London, a win is the expectation of many of the fans.
But should it be?
Is there a case to be made that a loss might be the better result for the national side’s short-term health, with the World Cup just under three months away.
Now, this is not a prediction of doom for the Super Eagles, losing against Serbia is the flip side of the confidence coin.
History shows that Nigeria have lost big games when riding a crest of confidence and high expectations; against Italy at World Cup 1994, against Denmark at World Cup 1998, against Cameroon at home in 2000, against Guinea in 2011 and, more recently, that infamous home defeat by Bafana Bafana.
On the other side, bad results have spurred the Super Eagles to big achievements.
A 5-1 reverse to Algeria in Algiers in 1990 was the wake-up call a young team needed to cut a swathe all the way to the final, where they were defeated 1-0 against the Fennecs.
A 2-1 defeat by the Cote d’Ivoire in a 1993 World Cup qualifier led then-coach Clemens Westerhof to ring what many Nigerians consider one of Nigeria’s most significant personnel changes: Daniel Amokachi for Samson Siasia.
That change helped propel the Eagles to their first World Cup qualification, not to mention the small matter of the African Cup of Nations title. In 1996, a shock home loss to Togo in a friendly proved to be the catalyst for a national outcry which, in turn, led to a first Olympic gold.
While victory would certainly extend the Eagles’ feel-good factor, a defeat could bring Nigeria down to earth and help them focus on their many deficiencies.
Optimism is only a step away from over-confidence, and Nigeria need to leave the international break aware that there are many areas to improve.
Defeat against Serbia would ensure that the Eagles remain rooted in reality, as there are areas in the squad that need improving.
Mistakes are amplified in defeat when they would be glossed over in victory.
England present a formidable test in June; that is a game where a win would fuel the team’s gas tank ahead of Russia.
The Super Eagles are gradually emerging as a young, determined force on the pitch, but sometimes one step back is necessary to take two steps forward.
A loss against Serbia on Tuesday might just be that one step back that the Super Eagles need to bound forward to World Cup glory.
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