All of Nigeria’s national football teams except the senior team, the Super Eagles, have put up unimpressive performances and failed to live up to expectations in the various competitions they participated, thus denting our reputation as a continental football giant.
Despite being Africa’s most successful women’s football team, our senior women’s national team, the Super Falcons, was eliminated from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, after an aggregate loss to less fancied Cote d’Ivoire during the African zone qualifying series. Nigeria also performed unimpressively at the 2019 West African Football Union Cup of Nations as the Super Eagles Team B could not win a single game in Senegal. They were defeated by Togo and Cape Verde and were eliminated from the biennial competition, even though we played the 2017 final in Ghana.
The home-based Super Eagles also could not qualify for the African Nations Championship after losing to Togo by 4 goals to 1 in Lome, only to manage a 2-0 win in the return leg in Lagos. They failed to qualify for the tournament’s final even though they reached the previous edition’s final in Morocco. The cadet national team, Golden Eaglets, also broke supporters’ hearts. Though rated as the world’s most successful Under-17 team having won the World Cup in five previous competitions, the Eaglets put up their worst performance in the FIFA U-17 World Cup since 2003. They wobbled from behind to defeat Hungary and Ecuador after losing to Australia, only to crash out in the second stage by losing to the Netherlands.
Then came the turn of the nation’s U-23 team, the Dream Team, which also crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics. The Dream Team went to Egypt to participate in the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations that would have given Nigeria the Olympic ticket if the team had finished among the top three teams out of the eight countries that participated. The U-23 Cup of Nations is the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games but the Dream Team, bronze winners in the previous Olympics, could only manage a win in three games at the group stage.
Fortunately however, the Super Eagles are still in the race for a place in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after defeating Benin Republic and Lesotho. But those successes have not insulated the senior team itself from possible future lapses that could engender disappointment as complaints on players’ allowances had arisen at various points in the recent past. All these poor results came just when the new Sports Minister Sunday Dare was settling down in his new office.
The weakness of the home-based Super Eagles brings to mind the poor attention given to the local football league. Developing the domestic league is a task the nation’s football authorities should critically examine. If this league is on good footing, it can produce players that can blend with colleagues to perform creditably in international competitions. Nigeria’s football also needs sound coaching. Putting unsound and incompetent coaches to train footballers can only produce negative results and continued embarrassment for this country.
We must look back at these failures and quickly re-strategize to improve our football performance. Football is not just a game in Nigeria; it has become a strong unifying factor and a durable employer of labour. There is therefore the urgent need for a long-term plan for its development. Such efforts should not end in boardrooms, air-conditioned offices, workshops and seminars or fruitless foreign trips.
Frequent wrangling in Football House and failure to promptly pay players their allowances are other areas the minister should seriously look into. All hands should also be on deck to avoid the virus of failure from infecting the senior team, the Super Eagles, being the only team currently left to campaign for international honours for Nigeria. The Super Eagles’ coaching crew should be given ample encouragement and a conducive atmosphere to deliver acceptable results.