A cross-section of Nigerian football enthusiasts on Monday hailed the home-based Super Eagles for their performance at the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN), saying the players surpassed their expectations.
The hosts Morocco defeated Nigeria 4-0 in the competition’s final match at the Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca on Sunday.
However, a cross section of Nigerian enthusiasts, who spoke to NAN in separate interviews, said while the Eagles were defeated convincingly in the match, they deserved commendation for their overall performance.
Tunde Popoola, the Secretary-General of Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), said the Super Eagles surpassed his expectations and against all odds, adding that they were already “winners’’ even before Sunday’s match.
“These CHAN Eagles have truly exemplified the Nigerian spirit — never acknowledging defeat even in the face of it.
“The equaliser against Angola, which came in the second minute of added time in the quarter-finals, showed this.
Their resilience with 10 men against Sudan in the semi-finals magnified this and it had to take something special to defeat the Sudanese.
“They had lost key players like their inspirational goalkeeper and captain Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Sunday Faleye, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, among others, coming into the final and so it was always going to be a difficult game for the Eagles.
“To be honest, even though I would have been happier if they had won the tournament, I didn’t expect anything much from the team in the final because I was already satisfied with what they had achieved so far,” he said.
The Chairman, FCT Football Association, Musa Talle, said so many factors militated against the Super Eagles, but their courage and passion to succeed against all odds were highly commendable.
“Their preparation before the tournament was below par compared to their counterparts and so much was not expected of them.
“But they defied all odds to reach Nigeria’s first-ever final at the championship and this to me is highly commendable,” he said.
Talle, however, said the final match against the hosts was a “no-contest’’, noting that everything went in favour of the Atlas Lions.
He said the Moroccans were better prepared and more familiar with the pitch where they had played all their matches.
“Coming against the hosts was never going to be easy, especially with the 12th man (the crowd) who were raucous as the stadium was painted red. That is North African football passion for you.
“There were lasers being flashed from different corners into the eyes of the players, and the referee as well as our boys were under pressure.
“Even the weather didn’t help our cause as it was entirely different from what our boys were used to. The rain kept pouring down and made it difficult for the Eagles to play their game on a soaked and slippery pitch.
“It, however, fitted well with the Atlas Lions’ style of play who were more familiar with the terrain as they punished every defensive error made by the Eagles.
“Also, the loss of Peter Moses in the early part of the second half made the matter worse as the hosts made the most of their numerical advantage,” Talle said.
An ex-international, Emmanuel Babayaro, said the overall performance of the team was commendable, adding that some of the home-based players showed that they deserve a place in the World Cup squad.
“I celebrate the lads. I’m not happy with the final scoreline, but I understand misfortune played a part, and ineptitude too.
“But, then, there are a lot of positives to take out from the championship. It was our best ever CHAN outing and we can build on this achievement.’’
Babayaro, who was a former national goalkeeper, also noted that the two goalkeepers at the tournament performed relatively well.
He said they should therefore be considered by coach Gernot Rohr for a place in the Russia 2018 World Cup squad.
“Ezenwa and Dele Ajiboye have been good, and if they continue to improve, we will love that because the World Cup is a big stage,” Babayaro said.