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Reprieve for Super Eagles after AFCON failure, cyber-bullying

Without a doubt, the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Cote d’ Ivoire will go down in history as one of the…

Without a doubt, the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Cote d’ Ivoire will go down in history as one of the best editions of the continental showpiece. The tournament which kicked off on January 13 and ended on February 11 at the Stade Alassane Quattra in Ebimpe, Abidjan surpassed expectations in terms of organisation and high quality of football displayed by the 24 teams.

Although the Super Eagles didn’t feature among pre-tournament favourites, the three-time African champions recovered from a nervous start to their 2023 campaign to advance to the final where they lost narrowly to rejuvenated hosts, the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire.

In group A where they were paired along with hosts Cote d’ Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau, the Super Eagles finished in second position with seven points after two victories and a draw in the opening match against eventual quarter-finalists, Equatorial Guinea.

The hope of most Nigerian football fans was revived by the commanding performance of the Super Eagles in the 2-0 defeat of arch rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the Round of 16. The Eagles moved on to the quarter-finals where they eliminated the Palancas Negras of Angola and by the time they edged out the Bafana Bafana of South Africa on penalties in the semi-finals, the Super Eagles became clear favourites to win the 34th edition of the AFCON even as they were pitched against Cote d’ Ivoire, the team that returned from the death to reach the final.

Unfortunately, the Super Eagles who were targeting a fourth AFCON title failed to sustain the momentum as they were outclassed 2-1 by the host at the fully packed Alassane Quattara stadium in Abidjan. A first half goal by William Ekong looked to set up the Super Eagles on their way to another AFCON triumph before a leveler by Franck Kessie and late strike by dangerman, Sebastian Haller secured Africa’s most coveted title for Cote d’Ivoire who had emerged champions twice in 1992 and 2015.

Cyber-bullying of Alex Iwobi

The 2023 AFCON final loss to the Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire didn’t go down well with some Nigerians who decided to vent their anger and frustration on Fulham star Alex Iwobi whom they said was responsible for the painful defeat. They, therefore, resorted to unwarranted social media attacks on the youngster and some of his team mates. Iwobi, on his part, reacted angrily to the social media attacks by deleting the national team pictures on his social media pages.

Expectedly, the cyberspace bullying made his team mates to come to his defence to urge Nigerians to halt the attacks as they believe it could lead to depression, if sustained.

Led by the Captain Ahmed Musa who asked for an end to the trolling of the Fulham midfielder, other team mates joined and took to social media to throw their support for him.

“Dear fans, I want to please urge you to halt the cyber-bullying directed towards Alex Iwobi,” he posted on X.

“Cyber bullying is not just a violation of decency but also a serious crime. It’s hypocritical to claim that football unites us while engaging in such behavior.

“Losing a game is undoubtedly tough, but targeting a single player for the team’s shortcomings is unfair and unjust. We win as a team, and we lose as a team.

“Alex gave his all on the field, just like every member of our squad.

“Instead of spreading negativity, let’s show genuine love and support to our players. They need our encouragement now more than ever. Let’s uplift each other and stand united, both in victory and defeat. Thanks.”

“We’re with you Skippo!”, AFCON MVP William Ekong reposted on X.

“We win together. We lose together. We are all one. Some of our fans should do better,” added Kenneth Omeruo.

“@alexiwobi, stay strong bro.. You are a baller.”

Despite the intervention of his teammates, Iwobi’s international future is not clear again as some reports had suggested that he would quit the Super Eagles. However, Iwobi is yet to make an official statement concerning his national team future.

Presidential reception for the Super Eagles

Despite the botched AFCON bid and the hullabaloo over cyber-bullying of one of the star players in the team, the Super Eagles returned home to sumptuous reception at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu personally attended the reception and showered the players and their officials with national honours (Member of the Order of the Niger, MON), flats and plots of land in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Before then, Tinubu in a statement said the Super Eagles had proved that the country’s diversity is a source of strength while praising the team for the exemplary display of unity, determination, team spirit, and resilience on the field.

”It is a great honour for me to receive you, our Super Eagles. As a team, you taught us lessons on resilience, togetherness, diversity, and excitement in competitive games,” the president said.

”You started the tournament as if Nigeria would not assert itself, but you progressed to the finals. Through all the challenges and dealing with great humidity in the host country, you left your clubs and honoured your country. You gave us great excitement.

”You were determined. We salute your resilience. You lifted our spirits, and you made us proud. You made us smile as Nigerians.

Massive leap in latest FIFA ranking

Regardless of the off-field issues that trailed the Super Eagles failure to win the 2023 AFCON in Cote d’ Ivoire, the world football governing body, FIFA still took note of Nigeria’s outstanding performances and in its latest rankings, the Super Eagles moved up 14 places from 42nd to 28th in the world.

According to the list released on Thursday the three-time African champions also moved three steps up from sixth to third on the continent behind Morocco and Senegal. Even Cote d’ Ivoire, the reigning champions of Africa moved only 10 places in the latest FIFA ranking as they are now 39th in the world from 49th position.

The latest FIFA ranking attained by the Super Eagles is the team’s highest globally since May 2013, when the Eagles were ranked 28th after their AFCON victory in South Africa.

Therefore, the massive leap in the FIFA world ranking can be attributed to the quality of football the Super Eagles played to finish in second position at the recently concluded African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire.

Although they failed to achieve their ambition of a fourth AFCON title, the Super Eagles have indeed soared high in the latest FIFA ranking and that would go a long way in ameliorating their pain and motivating them for the tasks ahead.

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