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Opinion

Nigerians Love Nigeria -By Zayd Ibn Isah

The 2023 AFCON has come and gone, but the memories have only just begun to linger like the faint scent of a perfume in an empty room. There is no doubt that this particular version of the tournament will become a classic in the future, the type that will evoke nostalgia for many, bringing back memories of the fond, the bad, and the painful moments.

The Super Eagles nearly brought home the trophy, but as the popular saying goes, “Nearly cannot kill a bird.” However, if there is anything the just-concluded African Cup of Nations in Côte d’Ivoire has revealed, it is the undying love Nigerians have for their country. From the fervent support of the Super Eagles to the enthusiastic celebrations across the nation as the team, under Coach José Peseiro, surmounted obstacle after obstacle to reach the final of the tournament, and even down to the atmosphere of gloom that enveloped the entire nation following the loss of the coveted golden trophy to the host nation, Ivory Coast, it is evident that Nigerian patriotism can run deep like roots firmly anchored in fertile soil. All it needs is constant nourishment, the sort which would serve to remind every citizen of Nigeria that their identity and heritage are things worth celebrating, any day, any time.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria more or less went into the 2023 African Cup of Nations as underdogs. Nobody believed they would go far in the competition because the team was supposedly not in good shape prior to the competition. And somehow, against all odds, the boys in green found a persistent rhythm in Côte d’Ivoire that surprised everybody by carrying them all up to the final.

The last time the Super Eagles of Nigeria won the AFCON was in 2013 with a 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso. History seemed poised to repeat itself in Ivory Coast, but like a resilient palm kernel, the host nation proved to be a tough nut to crack.

This time around, our boys ran a good race, although one could reprimand them for having ended it badly. Nevertheless, it was an AFCON tournament to remember despite the defeat. And although many Nigerians were highly disappointed in the performance of the Super Eagles, it was expected that the boys would have consolidated on the one-goal advantage and held their ground until the final whistle, just as they had done before. But alas, the Elephants of Ivory Coast came from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

On another note, the likes of Alex Iwobi and Ola Aina were not spared from the excessive vitriol of irate fans on social media. Of course, it is normal for football fans to throw tantrums after a disappointing performance from their team. Passions always run high and deep during the live action and intensity of competitive football games. In a way, such passions can be seen as undercurrents to the expression of patriotism and pride. There were also some who did not care whether the Super Eagles would win or lose. The current challenges facing the country, which I believe are surmountable, are enough to inspire nonchalance in the results of a far-away sporting event seemingly inconsequential to the problems being faced at home.

And yet, the number of Nigerians that came online to express anger, and even the universal silence that accompanied the defeat, is a solid testament to how much we love Nigeria to succeed. Personally, it rekindled my hope in the greater project called “Nigeria.” The defeat was a national tragedy to us, yes. However, the cyberbullying of Alex Iwobi to the point of the young midfielder deactivating his social media account was just a bit over the top and off the mark.

Patriotism means standing by your fellow citizens, believing in your country, in good or bad times. It’s worth remembering that the young man had the opportunity to represent another country but chose his fatherland instead. And if we are expecting more of these foreign-based players of Nigerian descent to tread the path of Iwobi, perhaps it would be wise not to establish a tendency to disparage their efforts and make anyone regret making the choice to wear and fly our iconic green-and-white colours?

Sure enough, football is a game of high emotions, but we shouldn’t allow those emotions to take a better part of us while in the process of expressing criticism at players’ performances. Criticism should be constructive and fairly targeted, not destructive and career-ending. It is necessary to always remember that these footballers are not infallible humans, just like us. Nobody is perfect. After all, Lionel Messi almost gave up on international football, after feeling like a failure for not being able to win international trophies for his country, Argentina. It took the love and encouragement of a nation (not to mention hundreds of millions of fans worldwide) for Messi to get back on track. And the rest, as they often say, is history.

With all that’s been said, the 2023 AFCON was unarguably one of the best AFCON tournaments. Our defeat aside, we can all agree that this AFCON in particular will be remembered as yet another testament to the passion and love Nigerians have for their country and football. And also, it allowed the world to be reminded of the talent, resilience and determination of the Super Eagles, even in the face of adversity. Additionally, while acknowledging the outstanding officiating and organization of the tournament, it is essential to address any perceived bias and ensure fairness and transparency in future competitions.

Moving forward, it’s our hope that the Super Eagles will learn from this experience and come back stronger in the next edition of the AFCON. Our heartfelt appreciation should go out to every member of the team for their dedication, hard work, and commitment to representing Nigeria on the international stage. Despite the challenges, they have made us proud, and we look forward to cheering them on in future tournaments.

Thank you, Super Eagles of Nigeria, for your unwavering patriotism and for always giving your all for a nation of resilient people. Onwards and upwards! As we celebrate this success and work together to improve where necessary, may African football continue to thrive and inspire generations to come.

Zayd Ibn Isah can be reached at lawcadet1@gmail.com

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