Every member of the FC Dallas roster is dialed in to the World Cup. However, for three FCD players, what goes on in Group B has added interest. That’s because Ugo Ihemelu (Nigeria), George John (Greece) and Dario Sala (Argentina) have vested interests in how things play out.
Ihemelu was born in Nigeria before his family came to North America when he was young. Now in his sixth MLS season, it was hard for the veteran center back to hide his disappointment following the Super Eagles’ 1-0 loss in their first match to Argentina.
“It didn’t seem like they really came out to play,” the FCD defender said. “From the start, and all the way to the end, when they were down a goal, it seemed like they weren’t really fighting too hard. ... Hopefully they’ll pull it together."
In fact, when FCD returned to training last week after a five-day break, Sala couldn’t resist taking a jab at his teammate after the loss.
“As soon as I walked into the locker room, he was the first person to say something to me,” Ihemelu said.
John is from the Seattle area, but his parents are Greek immigrants. Since he was back in the Emerald City for their 2-0 loss to South Korea, he and his family watched the game together at home.
“It was a letdown," he said. "There were high hopes for Greece."
He decided to watch the event at home even after getting several invites to catch Greece’s Cup opener in Seattle’s sizeable Greek community.
“It was at 4:30 AM in Seattle," he said.
"My dad, my mom and brother [watched it with me]. It was a fun time despite the loss. It was actually kind of sad.”
And now that Greece faces Nigeria next, the banter between him and his good friend Ihemelu has already commenced.
“Who are they playing? That’s not even a game, to be honest,” Ihemelu said. “I think after playing Argentina, I think they’re going to come out, play their game and have more firepower than Greece. They’ll definitely win.”
John quickly returned fire.
“I think if we beat Nigeria, Argentina is most likely going to beat South Korea," he said. "And I think Argentina might rest their starters against Greece in the third game, so we might have a chance.”
The two starting defenders also went back and forth about a side bet on the match.
“I definitely think Greece has a big hole to climb out of," John said. "It’s going to be an uphill battle. I’ll make a bet with Ugo, though, on who’s going to win.”
Despite the loss to Argentina, Ihemelu feels Nigeria still has a good chance of advancing out of the group stage.
“Usually, when they play well, they have a fun, attacking style of play," Ihemelu said. "But they didn’t show that in this last game. I hope they show this in this next game. I hope they spank them, 5-0.”
Sala admits he was pleased with Argentina’s 1-0 win over Nigeria, but he was a little surprised with how well they played.
“Nobody expected [Lionel] Messi to come up and play for the national team like that because he didn’t do that before,” he said. “He didn’t do it in qualifying or in international games. So we were kind of scared of what Messi was going to do. [Diego] Maradona talked to him and told him this was his team and that he was the star. Now that he has this comfort zone, I think we are watching the best Messi on the national team.”
Sala did take a jab at Ihemelu before practice on Tuesday but also sees Argentina making a few changes before they face South Korea.
“I just said hello to him today and I said, 'Sorry for the loss.' He has to be glad it was 1-0—it should have been at least 3-0,” the FCD goalkeeper said. “Maradona is probably going to make some changes.
"It’s [Diego] Milito’s time. I’m a Milito fan. I played against him and with his brother, the one who plays with Barcelona. I played with him at Independiente. They’re such good people and I wish the best for them. He’s having such a great moment.”
And like many who watched him as a player, Sala admits Maradona is equally entertaining to watch as a head coach.
“I played against Maradona. He’s still a player,” he said. “It’s fun. The world is watching him and thinking how unprofessional this guy can be. He said if they win the World Cup, he’ll go around the city naked. That’s not going to be fun to watch.”
He expects an even better performance against the South Koreans.
“Collectively, I think if we keep the ball, move the ball and score early, it will be tough," he said. "If Argentina scores early, you’re more or less done.”
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