…Nigerian football should be upped in winning trophies and claiming individual awards
Nigeria is a footballing nation, which the African continent and the world at large cannot underrate in the game of soccer.
The country has prided itself as the three-time African Champions in 1980, 1994 and 2013. The U-23 Dream Team I, also known as the Olympic Eagles won the Gold Medals in the Men’s Football at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria had been in six editions of the FIFA World Cup from 1994 except in 2006.
With these remarkable records, Nigeria still stands an outstanding force to challenge for any trophy in soccer competitions.
Having realised this, the nation’s football governing agency and the whole country should be aware that Nigeria as a nation has dropped in the game of soccer. A reality we are shying away from, thus failing to address it, at our detriment. Notwithstanding the feats aforementioned achieved by the country, all stakeholders should accept that Nigeria’s national team has not progressed as far as football is concerned, rather we are stagnant or to bluntly affirm that we are deteriorating in quality.
The indicators are available for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to evaluate our score sheet and correct our anomalies.
When Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted by Tunisia in 1994, the squad proceeded to dazzle the world in the summer of that same year in their debut FIFA World Cup finals, where they were slightly edged out by Italy in a 2-1 loss in the second round of 16.
Nigeria glamorously emerged to be the fifth-best footballing country by the FIFA ranking that year which is the highest achieved by an African football team. Sadly, after that edition, Nigeria had always been eliminated either in the first or second round of the subsequent tournaments.
Similar occurrences are documented at the Olympic games, part of the squad that won AFCON and participated in the 1994 USA FIFA World Cup were mixed with the developing youngsters in 1996, and they won gold medals in the Men’s Football having eliminated the favourites – Brazil and Argentina in the semi-final and final respectively. Later, at 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Dream Team IV came second by winning the Silver, and retrogressively in 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games, the Dream Team VI fairly secured the Bronze as the third-best team of the tournament.
Another major dearth challenging the Nigerian football is the failure of our national players to win the African individual award. The most prestigious individual award of the African Footballer of the Year (AFOTY) had eluded the most populous African nation for two decades now. It would be a 21-year drought if the award holds again this year and no Super Eagles player wins it; something that is most likely to happen.
If then the assessment of the round-leather game should be thoroughly weighed, it should be quite recorded that Nigeria, and by extension, its national footballers who play football around the world are thriving in the old glory, which if not adequately checked can lead to total obscurity.
Like in the political and economic sectors of the country, there is hope for Nigeria if the leaders do the right thing. Also, the citizens know that they would play their roles in shaping the country. And in the case of the nation’s soccer, the case is the same. Nigerian football has to be urgently addressed if we should we claim and surpass our old glory. The management and the players should work together to achieve great feats. The ball is in our court!
Firstly, the NFF should not fail in funding football. The preparation for every game is critically important to the success or failure of our national football. While pointing to the success in the past, the football governing body in the country played a major role in preparing worthy facilities for players to lodge and train ahead of their encounters. Also, the federal government did not fail in disbursing their allowances and other financial and material promises as at when due. But woeful results began to accumulate when corruption had its way in that aspect and players began to grumble at unpaid allowances and poor preparation from the part of the government and its agency.
The second factor which contributed to the success of Nigerian soccer at the national level was the crop of players invited for matches. In those days when football was our national passion, zealous and aggressive players were always called up to deliver. The Super Eagles managers would go for players who plied their trades at top-flight European leagues, or those that played competitive leagues. The pride is that they worked as a team to earn victory when they wore green and white colours for national assignments. When big dormant names were given preferences above young, energetic players to play games, we began to find ourselves in messes.
Going forward, the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr has invited 25-player team for the national friendlies to play against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia on October 9 and 13 respective games in preparation for 2022 AFCON qualifiers. While the coach has done his part, the NFF and the players are expected to do theirs. It is also assumed that the efforts would be accompanied with further, greater efforts in the future as we proceed in our quest to secure our original branded ‘Giant of Africa.’ Quality results are earned when all concerned deliver nothing but the best.
Presently, Nigeria’s Super Eagles sit on top of the Group L table of the AFCON qualifiers with six points having won their first two matches. The team is also the 3rd best in Africa behind Senegal and Tunisia and 29th in the world according to the latest FIFA rankings. As Nigeria approaches the next decade of football with the collection of stars like Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and other undiscovered players playing in the midfield and forward roles; Nigeria should not only qualify for the next AFCON and FIFA World Cup in 2022 to be hosted by Cameroon and Qatar accordingly, but should set and achieve targets of winning AFCON and reaching semi-finals of the World Cup. If Nigeria gets to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup, it would set a new record that has not been attained by any African country. The farthest the African teams had gone in the World Cup competitions were quarter finals achieved by Cameroon in Italy 1990, Senegal in Korea/Japan 2002 and Ghana in South Africa 2010.
Also, it would be a magnificent accomplishment if Nigerian players are crowned African Footballer of the Year, if not starting this year, then 2021 won’t be too bad. The 1990s produced four of them from this country. Rashidi Yekini in 1993, Emmanuel Amuneke in 1994, Kanu Nwankwo in 1996, Victor Ikpeba in 1997 and Kanu Nwankwo again in 1999. These feats are achievable if we face our fears with courage and hardwork.
Nigeria is our pride and the game of soccer will continue to unite the Nigerian people irrespective of our political and economic maladies. Football has not only placed our country in the forefronts of the continental exploits, it has also purchased respect for us at the global pedestal. Nigeria’s national football should be reinforced with all financial and human resources required to yield greater results, and it is the hope of every football lover to see Nigeria being addressed as a true Giant of African football, again.