The Super Eagles team that went, saw and partially conquered at the just concluded Africa Nations Cup (AFCON) in Egypt, finally landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to the warm embrace of fans and well-wishers.
Although they are nowhere close to super or golden in their performance and award, finishing a distance first runners-up, was enough to attract hundreds that assembled at the airport to receive and celebrate the team with golden bronze.
The Federal Government chartered an aircraft to bring the team to Abuja as earlier promised by the government delegation led by Senate President Ahmed Lawan. Those who received them included, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), represented by Permanent Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Chinyeka Oha, dance troupe and relatives.
As early as 5.00am that Friday, pockets of Super Eagles fans that defiled that early morning rain, were entertained by the dance troupe as they waited for the arrival of the team. The atmosphere became electrifying when the fans caught a glimpse of one player after the other inside the arrival lobby through the transparent glasses. The players were greeted with cheers and hugs by the crowd stumbling.
Though a beautiful scene to behold, the incident lasted for just less than five minutes as the players swiftly escaped into their waiting private cars or the official luxurious vehicle waiting to convey them to the team’s hotel camp in zone 7 area of Abuja.
Players, officials missing in action
The ecstatic fans might have enjoyed themselves documenting the event in (selfie) pictures, but many of them were disappointed that the like of team’s captain, Mikel Obi, the tournament golden boot winner, Odion Ighalo, Arsenal forward, Alex Iwobi, Udinese FC of Italy defender, William Troost-Ekong, defender Leon Balogun and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Pinnick Amaju, were conspicuously missing in action.
However, the players on ground that received the admiration of the hundreds of fans to eclipse the absence of others included Super Eagles assistant captain, Ahmed Musa, defender Kenneth Omeruo, only home-based player and goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and dependable Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi.
Others are Caykur Rizespor of Turkey defender, Chidozie Awaziem, Royal Charleroi SC of Belgium striker, Victor Oshimen, Levante FC of Spain slippery winger, Moses Simon, Galatasaray SK of Turkey forward, Henry Onyekuru, Girondins Bordeaux of France rugged attacker, Samuel Kalu and Bursaspor FC of Turkey defender, Shehu Abdullahi.
Also part of the contingent include Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi, Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus safe hand, Francis Uzoho, FC Midtjyland of Denmark forward, Paul Onuachu, Stoke City FC of England playmaker, Oghenekaro Etebo, Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel midfielder, John Ogu and Villarreal FC of Spain entertaining forward, Samuel Chukwueze.
The team was led by federation officials like first vice president, Seyi Akinwunmi, second vice president, Shehu Dikko, General Secretary, Sanusi Mohammed and Board members, Ahmed Yusuf Fresh, spokesperson and Suleiman Yahaya Kwande among others. Other dignitaries included the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Adesola Olusola, Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) president and Habu Gumel.
The arrival glamour
Watching the players reunite with their families, relatives and girlfriends was a beautiful sight to behold. While Omeruo, who had been with his family throughout the tournament in Egypt, was seen clutching his about two-year-old child, few others reunited with their girlfriends and fiancées with passionate hugs.
However, the highpoint of their arrival was the mobbing of the Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr and dribbling striker Chukwueze. If it was easy for Chukwueze to escape from the mobbing fans, Rohr found it extremely difficult to do so as every fan struggled to take private or collective pictures with him. He looked so unruffled and smiled in admiration all through the incident.
No security lapses
Contrary to the ugly incident of 2013 when the members of the AFCON trophy-winning continents especially the players were disposed of their personal belongings by robbers that disguised as celebrating fans, on arrival, there was commendable improved security.
In fact, it was even easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the few Sports Writers on ground to cover the arrival to gain entrance into the arrival hall. Everybody was thoroughly screened before being allowed entry. The security arrangement was top-notch so much so that those denied entry into the arrival hall were not equally allowed to get close to the players.
Conscious of the 2013 incident, many of the players had equally perfected safety strategy by arranging for their easy escape from the airport with their standby private cars or the team’s official vehicle. In a twinkle of an eye, the players and officials had disappeared from the airport.
However, the only security concern was the panic created by an abandoned bag, which was promptly screened by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) department of a security formation and taken into the departure hall perhaps for further investigations.
Reactions to the team’s performance
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, spoke on the team’s performance: “Yes, the desire of every participating team in continental competition of this magnitude is to play in the final and perhaps win the trophy, but the fact remains that only one team must win. In modern day competition, there are no underdogs and this was clearly underscored in the just concluded AFCON.
“Madagascar made debut and played in the quarterfinals. The host nation, Egypt, approached the game with so much energy and zeal, but fell by the way side in the round of 16. These show the dynamics of football. Out of the 54 nations that participated, Nigeria came third. It is not a bad result.
“It is just question of understanding and we will address that gap that exists between the administrators and the athletes or players very soon. If there is understanding they ought to know that government has always paid. They also know that resources to any nation are never unlimited.
“The competing demand for one naira is so huge in a country like ours. We have to balance all activities to ensure that no side suffers extremely because of taking care of the other need.”
For a Super Eagles fan, Mohammed Yusuf, he would have been happier if the team had played in the final: “Honestly, I did not expect much from the team but the good thing is that we went with the best legs in the country. There is no player who is supposed to be part of this team that was missing.
“I think we have a team we can describe as work in progress. They played well but the failure of the goalkeeper to build a perfect wall during that free-kick cost us the semi-final ticket against Algeria. I am happy to see the players especially Chukwueze who I consider the most valuable player among them. But, I was disappointed that Mikel, Iwobi, Ighalo and Pinnick did not come with them.”