Christian Sunny hopes that if his home country, Nigeria, qualifies for the next World Cup, he and the compatriots he trains with in Dubai will be participating in it rather than watching it on television. The 24-year-old footballer moved to Dubai last year with several others in the hope of playing for a club in the UAE. Although he played football at home, competition was fierce and the pay was low.
"I was playing a lot, but sometimes I didn't have the opportunity to play, that is why some of the guys came here to try," he said. "To move on you must work hard and go far to look for something." This summer's World Cup will be the first that Sunny has watched away from home. "It is a big thing in Nigeria, of course," he said, smiling as he mopped away beads of perspiration after a hard training session. "I believe we have a chance to do it, they have been playing very well."
Sunny, who has played football almost daily since he was four, still remembers his country's first taste of the World Cup - in 1994, when the host nation was the United States. Nigeria topped their group, which included Argentina, Greece and Bulgaria, and qualified for the second round, beating Bulgaria 3-0 and Greece 2-0, and losing 1-2 to Argentina. They were within a minute of qualifying for the quarter-finals but Italy came back and beat them in the dying seconds.
Sunny was watching his team's progression from the family home in Anabra, Nigeria, with his brothers, who are also footballers. "Everyone was so excited," he said. "They did very well for their first time in the World Cup. It was very important to the country." He also remembers the presence of his footballing hero, Diego Maradona, who played in only two games for Argentina before being sent home for failing a drug test.
"Maradona and [Luis] Figo are my favourite players," he said. "These players made me want to play football. "If you look around the world, playing football is almost the best thing anyone can do. Once you are a footballer you are a star and everybody will watch you." Sunny is now busy training for an upcoming amateur tournament. He is counting down the days until the tournament starts. He would watch anxiously with other Nigerian expatriate footballers at their home, he said.
"We are hoping Nigeria will win, of course," he said. "Nobody is hoping to lose." But if they do not do as well as he hopes, he has a few back-up teams to follow - namely Spain, Brazil and Argentina. "Football is a gamble," he said. "You may have a good team but, unfortunately, sometimes they make mistakes."