#Editorial

Super Eagles’ AFCON Outing

THE Super Eagles of Nigeria’s recent participation in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) held in Cote d’Ivoire deserves commendation from sports enthusiasts, especially football aficionados. While the ultimate victory eluded Nigeria, securing the runners-up position among the 24 participating nations, with the host country clinching the title, underscores a commendable performance for the country.

SINCE its inception in 1957 in Sudan, the AFCON has served as a platform to foster unity and exhibit African football talent. The widespread attention, fervour, and support witnessed among Nigerians and other African nationalities attest to the prestige of this continental competition. The Super Eagles merit praise for their relentless effort and commendable performance throughout the tournament.

THE dedication, motivation, and energy exhibited by the players are praiseworthy. Troost Ekong’s recognition as the Player of the Tournament, and his selection alongside Ola Aina and Haruna Lookman for the AFCON Team of the Year, exemplifies the team’s commitment and performance. Notably, Nigeria ascended 14 places in the latest FIFA ranking, now standing as the 24th best footballing nation globally and 3rd in Africa, trailing only behind Morocco and Senegal.

WE extend commendation to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for honouring the players with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), one of the country’s highest honours. Additionally, providing the players with housing and financial support showcases the government’s commitment to sports development. Notably, unlike past international competitions, the absence of controversies regarding allowances, kits, and welfare packages underscores the robust support extended by the federal government to ensure the team’s success. Notably is the approval of the sum of N12 billion to clear outstanding payments the federal government owed the Super Eagles and Nigeria’s other national teams of various sports.

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HOWEVER, notwithstanding the commendable performance, the disappointment stemming from the loss in the final match to the host country lingers among many Nigerians. The team’s performance, falling short of expectations, has been acknowledged by both fans and the coach, Jose Peseiro.

FURTHERMORE, concerns regarding the dominance of foreign-based players, with minimal representation from the Nigeria Professional Football League, raise pertinent questions about the exclusivity of local talent in the national squad. Enyimba’s Olorunleke Ojo was the only player from the Nigeria Professional Football League in the AFCON 2023 squad and he did not get a single minute playing time throughout the competition. The overwhelming preference for foreign-based players risks diluting the sense of national identity within the squad and stifling the development of domestic talents.

REFLECTING on Nigeria’s victory in the 1980 AFCON, where the squad comprised mainly homegrown talents, underscores the potential of nurturing local players. The resurgence of domestic players’ inclusion in the national squad in 2013, under Coach Stephen Keshi, culminating in winning the AFCON trophy, highlights the significance of fostering local talents.

THE neglect of local league players partly stems from the inadequate development of the Nigerian league. Hindered by financial constraints, mismanagement, and officiating issues, the local league struggles to flourish compared to counterparts in South Africa and Egypt. Prioritizing the development of the local league not only nurtures home-grown talent but also fosters economic benefits for players and the country.

FURTHERMORE, addressing systemic corruption within the national team’s management is imperative. Allegations of bribery among officials undermine the integrity of player selection processes and perpetuate undeserving inclusions in the national squad. In addition to structural reforms, fostering a culture of teamwork is essential for the Super Eagles’ success.

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DESPITE boasting a formidable squad, the reliance on individual brilliance over collective teamwork impedes cohesive performance. Strengthening the midfield creativity, akin to the era of legendary players like Austin Jay Jay Okocha and John Mikel Obi, is crucial for overcoming opposing teams with strong midfield presence.

WHILE the Super Eagles’ AFCON 2023 campaign showcased promise and resilience, addressing systemic challenges, including the neglect of local talent, corruption, and lack of teamwork, is paramount for sustained success. Investing in grassroots development, fostering integrity, and prioritizing teamwork are crucial steps towards reclaiming Nigeria’s dominance in African football.

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