In proof of its dwindling fortunes, the world football governing body, FIFA, on April 6, said the national senior football team, the Super Eagles placed 40th on its ranking, a five-place drop from its ranking in December 2022.
The latest ranking is the worst since June 2019, when the Super Eagles ranked 45th in the world.
Nigeria was also the sixth-best team in Africa, trailing World Cup semi-finalists, Morocco, African champions, Senegal and Egypt, which displaced Nigeria, in the fifth position at the last FIFA ranking.
This did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians, following the string of disappointing results recorded by our once-dreaded team. Since the disappointing loss to Ghana on March 29, 2022, at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja, in the 2022 World Cup qualifying match, the Super Eagles have continued to struggle from one match to another.
In the 2022 African Cup tournament in Cameroon, the Super Eagles were ousted in the group of 16 rounds by Tunisia, another dismal showing for a team that won the cup three times.
Perhaps Nigerians are yet to witness the further decline of their darling team following the recent dismal showing. Just two weeks ago the team lost to Guinea Bissau 0-1 in Abuja and struggled to win their second match 1-0 in a return leg. To many Nigerian football lovers, the performance of the Super Eagles of recent could only be imagined a few years back.
However, Nigeria’s football decline is not limited to the performance of the senior national team. Others are also struggling. Just on March 29, Nigeria’s Under 23 team lost to Guinea in an Olympic qualifier. The team lost 0-2 after earlier drawing 0-0 in Abuja. Nigeria will, therefore, not feature in the 2024 Olympics football competition which will hold in France. Nigeria once took the gold medal in Atlanta, USA in 1996.
The Under 20 national team, the Flying Eagles, just managed the third position and qualified for the World Cup tournament due later this year. This was a team that won the African championship a record seven times.
Even the Home Eagles made worse the nation’s image as they failed to even qualify for the final of the CHAN tournament.
For us at the Daily Trust, it is very disappointing that the nation, whose citizens, so much love football and have been using it as a unifier, are being subjected to this series of self-inflicted misfortunes. Many Nigerians were welcomed in foreign lands because of the exploits of our footballers. Sadly, those in charge of putting things right both at the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development and the Nigeria Football Federation seem to have run out of ideas. What makes it worse is the fact that they do not seem to care about the deteriorating situation.
Over the years, we have seen the decline of our local leagues and youth competitions which should be the major sources of talent hunting. Our football administrators simply rely on our foreign players who are hardly used by their clubs, or play for low-division clubs.
The newly elected executives of the Nigeria Football Federation seem to have gone to sleep soon after their election given the fact that the nation has not seen any change in the administration of its football.
Daily Trust believes that it is time drastic action is taken to reverse this negative trend. Football has become so important in international politics, thus we need to brace up to be among the key players in the game.
For a start, we believe there is a need for a total overhaul of all aspects of football in the country. Priority should be given to the development of our local talents through the rejuvenation of our local league and the reintroduction of age-grade competitions to bring out local talents. Our local coaches must be trained and exposed to modern management of the game. We should no longer continue to rely on foreign coaches, who over the years have proven to be a drain on our scarce foreign exchange.
The current NFF board, under Ibrahim Gusau, as well as the sports ministry, must wake up to redeem the nation’s image. Nigerians believe so much in their football talents and football has done so much for Nigeria and Nigerians over the years. It is sad that this is slipping while we are watching helplessly. Action must be taken, and urgently too.