Coach Stephen Keshi with his players celebrating AFCON 2013 victory
By Tunde Sulaiman
Seventeen years ago the nation was basking in the euphoria of a football triumph of epic proportions; our U23 team had just become the first nation from the continent of Africa to clinch an Olympic gold medal.
And our Dream Team did it in style beating such notable footballing nations like Brazil and Argentina in the process of collecting the top prize for football at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Predictably, the epoch-making feat was well celebrated by a very appreciative nation, which not only gave them national honours but also showered monetary gifts on the players and officials who had brought so much joy to their fatherland.
Ironically, when they were leaving not many would have expected that they would return as “kings of the world”, especially after struggling to beat Kenya in the final qualifier and losing to Togo in their last tune up match before their departure.
Let’s now jump to the present day and just like 17 years ago we are currently basking in the euphoria of another football triumph following the Super Eagles’ victory at the just-concluded African Cup of Nations in South Africa.
And just like what happened then, a very appreciative nation has showered cash gifts and national honours on the players and officials, who helped end a long 19-year wait to once again be crowned African champions.
This is where I would love to point out that having mastered Africa the real work has just begun because we cannot rest on our oars forever celebrating AFCON 2013 forgetting that it will soon become history and there are more battles to be fought ahead.
Now as African champions, we can no longer hide under the radar of being “dark horses” we are now the team everyone wants to beat and as such we also have to continue to ensure that we are ready for whatever lies ahead.
One of the nation’s most respectable coaches, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde alluded to such when he warned in a recent interview that the country’s football authorities should institute a durable grassroots development programme to nurture budding talents to stardom.
Great nations and teams do not rest on current triumphs but are always looking for ways to improve their squads in order to stay ahead of the chasing pack.
For instance, Spain is not saying that because they are World and European champions they will not improve and have continued to inject a number of new faces into the squad in order to keep the team fresh.
Luckily, our football authorities appear to be aware of this and have been mouthing all the right words about building on the success of the AFCON 2013 triumph in order to ensure that the Eagles remain a formidable team.
“Now that we are champions of Africa, we know that every team will prepare much harder whenever they are to play Nigeria. We don’t want to leave ourselves open to any sucker punch. Getting to the top and staying there requires a lot of hard work,” said NFF General Secretary Musa Amadu early in the week.
With the Confederations Cup just around the corner, tune-up matches should be a regular feature of the team’s build-up towards the competition, while the coaching crew should continue to scout for players that can make the team better.
Let me once again dive down memory lane to point out what could happen should we fail to prepare properly for the future.
Nigeria’s won her first Nations Cup title on home soil in 1980 but two years later were a disgrace at the next tournament in Libya failing to progress beyond the group stage!
Let’s only hope that this will not be our portion in Morocco in two years time.