Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday, charged the national football team, the Super Eagles, to play fair and clean football and make Nigeria proud at the 2018 World Cup billed to start in Russia on the 14th of June, 2018.
While noting that as the youngest team going to the World Cup, the Super Eagles might be seen as inexperienced by their opponents.
President Buhari urged the players to take advantage of the age and leave lasting impression, bearing in mind they have the support of over 180 million Nigerians.
The President spoke at a session to formally bid the Russia 2018 World Cup bound Super Eagles farewell at the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja.
According to President Buhari, “You are going to represent us in Russia, you must bear in mind that you are not just going for a tournament, with each game you must remember that you are carrying the passions, emotions and feelings of over 180 million people. Play fair and clean but demonstrate the gallant spirit which Nigerians are known for.
“Nothing unites Nigerians more than football and nothing will gladden the people of Nigeria more than for you to acquit yourself honourably by winning in Russia.
“You are the youngest team in the tournament which means you are likely the most inexperienced team, a fact that will not be lost on your opponents. But it is also something that you can use to your advantage.
“You have the full support and the blessings of all Nigerians who will look up to you for as long as the tournament last.
“I commend the Nigerian Football Federation for drawing up the right programme that is helping to refine the team to the powerful force which it’s meant to be.
“This is our time, we look up to you to make us proud. All Nigerians join me in saying to you, best of luck. Thank you and God be with you all.”
Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who noted that the team had qualified for the World Cup six times and had advanced to the round of 16 before, said this current team would exceed the record of previous outings.
In the words of Dalung, “As the present set of Super Eagles make sure that Nigeria’s flag is hoisted once more at the tournament, they will do so conscious of the glorious outing of their predecessors while determined to make history themselves.
“This Super Eagles have already started on a very positive note by qualifying in style for Russia 2018. You will recall that when the super eagles were drawn in the so-called group of dead for the African qualifiers, not many gave them chance of qualification from the group that had African football giant like Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia.
“However, the Super Eagles shocked all doubting Thomas by not only qualifying for 2018 but doing so remarkably with a match to spare. Furthermore, they became the first team in Africa to qualify for the tournament.
“All these were made possible because of your support and frequent intervention Your Excellency, to ensure welfare of the team through the timely release of funds for the prosecution of the qualifier. This did not come as a surprise because since 1985 when the Nigerian Golden Eaglets won the FIFA World Cup under your administration then, your support for all the national team has not been in doubt.
“You sir are unquestionably the number one fan of the Super Eagles and for that we are grateful.
“It is against this background, I present the team for your fatherly Blessing. Once again Nigeria is drawn in difficult group along our perennial opponents Argentina, Croatia and Island.
“It is difficult but by no means a mission impossible. The team and the technical crew are in high spirit and are highly motivated to soar above their opponents at the World Cup.”
To the team, Dalung said, “You carry with you the hopes of over 180 million Nigerians who want to see you equal if not surpass our previous best outing at then tournament.
“However, this can only be possible if you put Nigeria first and seek for collective glory and not individual glory at the tournament. That is the secret of teamwork. If you adhere to this principle, then the sky is your limit as we all know that the sky is not only the play ground of eagles but their natural area of dominance.”
“I charge you to soar higher and do the nation proud.
President of the Nigeria Foosball Federation, Amaju Pinnick, in his remarks, attributed the successes recorded by the team to massive support of President Buhari.
According to Pinnick, the enabling environment provided by the current administration in the country has for the first time ensured the federation did not face the usual challenge of lack of funds. This, he said has led to them not owing allowances and bonuses of the players, the technical crew.
Pinnick’s words, “I want to thank you for your massive support your have given to the NFF and for creating the enabling environment for the prosperity and stability we are enjoying in football today.
“Our dream is to create a culture of football sustainable development and that has been one of the plans in which we took when we came into existence.
“In truth, you have done what no other president in the history of Nigeria has done. Thirty two years ago with your magic wand, Nigeria won the U17 World Cup.
“Our dream beyond enabling all these things is to create a self sustaining football federation and within the next two years I can assure you the NFF will be running on its own without any funds from government. That has been the dream of the NFF.
“Today, football is being played in Maiduguri, it was reported on the BBC because of the peace you have been able to achieve in that area. Our dream also is to create a football federation that people will look at and say we are very proud to be Nigerians.
“Today, we have so many Nigerians working in international global committees. The only female member of FIFA Ethics six-member committee which is FIFA’s own EFCC, the only African, is a Nigerian, Justice Ayotunde Philips.
“Today, we also have a Nigerian as the President of CAF Appeals Board, we have 10 Nigerians serving in 10 major committees because you made this possible for football to grow in Nigeria.
“I also want to thank the Vice President for inviting the NFF to the Economic Management Team to present a paper. Today the British Government makes £2.6 billion as taxes from the EPL alone, that we can also do in Nigeria.
“We also have to thank some Nigerian companies that have been very supportive, it is because of their support that we know that in the next two years, we will be 100 percent self sustaining.
“One of such companies is ITO, every year this company commits N1.2 billion annually to the funding of specific activities and it is on that basis you did not hear that coaches are being owed, players are being owed. Nobody is being owed.
“For the first time in the history of this country we have a team that nobody is talking about being owed a kobo because of the environment you created for us to thrive.
“This Super Eagle’s you are seeing today is the most disciplined, the most united in the historiographic literature of the annals of football in the country.
“And, I am happy to tell you that according to FIFA statistics, this team is the youngest going to the World Cup, which means this team will serve you for long, this team will serve you in the next five years.
“We have a team that will prosecute this World Cup and a team that will go for the next World Cup in 2022 and we have a team that will also go for the World Cup in 2026, because you have created that environment for us to thrive.
“I can assure you that this team you are seeing today will make Nigeria very proud. It is a team that is very disciplined and discipline is the bedrock of any success.
“We thank you for providing that fatherly love at all times and we know when we go to Russia, with your Magic wand, by the Special grace of God we will come back to this sample chamber with the trophy.”
Captain of the team, John Mikel Obi, on his part, collaborated that they have all been paid their allowances and that it was now their turn to do their best at their Mundial.
Mikel’s words, “Your Excellency Sir, on behalf of the team, players, coaches, the staff, we will like to say a massive thank you for what you have been doing for Nigerian football.
“Like the NFF President said, this is the first time we will be going to a tournament like this without any issues on money, bonuses or anything like that. I think everything is sorted now for us and all we have to do is to go out there as players and make this country proud.
“And with your support as the father and leader of this country, we will go out there, give our best and come back with the trophy.”
Coach of the team, Gernot Rohr, said the biggest task was to survive the group stage.
He said, “Your Excellency, to come out of this difficult group with Argentina, Croatia, Island is the first step but I think the players are able to do it.”