The Matt Holland Column: Thanks Nigeria, now we're really ready for the world

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The Independent Online

It may seem a little trite to describe Thursday's defeat to Nigeria as a "good" loss, but I think that is what it really was. This is not one of the players trying to put a positive spin on a poor result prior to the world's biggest tournament in order to bolster confidence, but a realistic assessment of the match itself and what the Republic gained from it.

It may seem a little trite to describe Thursday's defeat to Nigeria as a "good" loss, but I think that is what it really was. This is not one of the players trying to put a positive spin on a poor result prior to the world's biggest tournament in order to bolster confidence, but a realistic assessment of the match itself and what the Republic gained from it.

The first and possibly most important thing we learned is to beware of complacency. For two years we had remained undefeated at home, and although all records are eventually broken, it was itself developing into hype. No longer, and with no damage done. The loss duly came, as we all knew it must one day, and it had the decency to arrive in a friendly.

Also we were warned about playing against African sides. Most are skilful attackers, frequently disorganised, difficult to oppose and somewhat haphazard at the back. A manager's nightmare, I should imagine but there can be no denying their flair. The Nigerians were representative of what we expect Cameroon to be like in Japan. They will create chances but so will we. Four or five superb opportunities were wasted on Thursday and we now know that such profligacy will be punished in the tournament proper.

Steven Reid scored and demonstrated why he is a perfect replacement for the unfortunate Mark Kennedy, and the core of the squad emerged relatively unscathed from a hard and competitive work-out.

The send-off we received from the crowd at Lansdowne Road was fantastic and continued on Friday morning at the airport. The crowd were really excited and if I had taken a straw poll of the players, I am sure most would have admitted to being so as well. I know I was. And am.

How could I not be? I keep reminding myself that I am off to play in the World Cup, and when I finally manage to change topics in my mind, a friend phones up to remind me.

One mate, Swampy, not the hardest of workers it must be said, has swept the diary clean for all England and Republic games. How many of you have done the same? Somehow I doubt that the month of June will be the most productive in business.

As for the tournament itself, I fully intend to absorb as much of the atmosphere as I possibly can. I am aware that this could well be my only World Cup and I intend to enjoy every second of it, from the preparation, to the pageantry and the matches themselves. The clan Holland is of the same mind and my wife, Paula, never one to shirk foreign travel, has selflessly insisted on coming to the first two games, Cameroon and Germany, as have my dad and a cousin. In fact the children, Jacob and Sam, are coming out as well. The different culture will be a bit of a shock to those two but it will all be a phenomenal experience for them.

So what else do I have to keep me occupied other than the impending arrival of the family? Initially, a day or two of rest and recuperation after the flight. We are camped on the island of Saipan off the Japanese coast for the first week and to my confusion have been told that the US dollar is its currency.

Golf and sleep will be my priorities and I have greater hopes for the latter because I have a swing that was once described as resembling "a man being attacked by a swarm of wasps".

Along with the official suit I have also taken three bags of stuff with me. One is full of boots, studs, trainers and all the connected footballing paraphernalia. Another is full of clothes and the final one is my box of tricks, otherwise known as a DVD player, DVDs and one book.

I am not sure just how much time we will spend confined to the hotels but as in most professional football, the players will spend a lot of time in their rooms watching films. To entertain me I have Road Trip, American Pie, Gladiator, The Shawshank Redemption and Saving Private Ryan. Within one week these will be spread among the rest of the squad and unless I am stupid, I will be in possession of a decent though different collection of my own. Two discs that I will not lend are Only Fools and Horses. Grandad and Uncle Albert will amuse me on the rare occasions that Jason McAteer fails to.

One of the first questions I will be asking out there is if any channel that will be showing highlights of the Test matches. If not then I will have to rely on telephonic updates and newspapers for my cricket fix.

The book is Chickenhawk by Robert Mason. He was a Huey pilot during the Vietnam war and while we are surrounded by all the hoopla and attendant razzmatazz, it will help me remember that what we are experiencing is not actually reality but part of a giant show.

Still, it is a giant show that I am part of and I cannot wait. Chasing Patrick Kluivert around Lansdowne Road, screaming for joy when I equalised against Portugal in Lisbon, and standing terrified as more than 100,000 Iranians started chanting a prayer. This is what it was all for – to play in the World Cup. Does it justify its billing as the biggest show on earth? I don't know. Decide for yourselves over the next seven weeks but I will say that it looks pretty big from where I am standing.

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