By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday in Abuja told the Super Eagles to put in their best as they proceed to Russia for 2018 World Cup, saying failing to live up to expectation would amount to toying with the feelings and emotions of 180 million Nigerians.
Buhari gave this charge in the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa when he received the Super Eagles along with their handlers as well as the officials of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and National Sports Commission (NSC).
Tasking them to play gallantly because nothing unites Nigerians more than football, Buhari told the Eagles that going to the tournament as the youngest team might imply that they were the most inexperienced, but added that it could also be to their own advantage if they opt to make the best use of it.
He emphasised that Nigerians look up to them to do them proud and hence, they do not only have the blessings of the entire citizenry but also their best wishes.
“It is great to be part of the 2018 World Cup. You are going to represent Nigeria in Russia but bear in mind that you are not just going for the tournament.
With each game, you must remember that you are carrying the passions, emotions and feelings of over 180 million Nigerians. Play fair and clean but demonstrate gallant spirit which Nigerians are known for.
“Nothing unites Nigerians more than football and nothing will gladden the people of Nigeria than to acquit yourself honourably by winning in Russia.
You are the youngest team in the tournament which means you are likely to be 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 support and blessings of all Nigerians who will look up to you for as long as the tournament lasts…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,” Buhari said.
In his own speech, the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Solomon Dalung, recalled that since Nigeria qualified for the World Cup in 1994, the country had also qualified for the tournament five other times, saying Nigeria is at the threshold of history again as the world event takes-off on June 14.
Expressing confidence in the team to perform creditably in Russia, Dalung said when Nigeria was drawn in “the group of death” ahead of the World Cup qualifying series, nobody gave the team any chance but Super Eagles shocked all when they became the first African team to qualify for the World Cup.
Dalung who said he had come to present the Eagles to Buhari for his blessings, also argued that the president had demonstrated his passion for football so far by ensuring the timely release of funds for the tournament, adding that the president is also the number one fan of the Eagles.
According to the minister, Nigeria has again been drawn in a difficult group involving Croatia, Iceland and its regular rival, Argentina but expressed hope that despite the huge skills of their competitors, Eagles could come up victorious.
Tasking the Eagles to exceed the previous records of Nigeria at the World Cup, Dalung said they could make Nigeria proud in the tournament if they put the country first and seek its glory as against the pursuit of their personal glory.
Also speaking, the President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, thanked the president for what he described as his massive support for football, recalling that since he came on board as Nigeria’s president, relative peace and stability have prevailed in the football sector.
According to him, it is the first time in the history of Nigerian football that the country is going to the World Cup without any financial challenge, saying both the Technical Adviser, Genot Rohr, and the players have been duly settled.
Pinnick disclosed that NFF had a dream to make Nigerian football self-financing beginning from 2020, and subsequently grow football in Nigeria as an integral part of the economy like Britain which he said earns $2.6 million as tax from the English Premier League.
He described the current crop of Super Eagles as the most disciplined, organised and youngest in the history of Nigerian football, noting that as the youngest team, it will serve Nigeria for so long.
The NFF boss disclosed that the federation already had the team that would serve the country in 2022 and 2026.
He thanked the minister whom he said had been very supportive, assuring that the team would make Nigeria proud because it is an epitome of discipline which he described as the bedrock of success.
In his submission, Rohr said how Nigeria would come out victorious in the group match was his major concern but expressed hope however, that the team had the ability to attain that feat.
In the same vein, captain of the team, Mikel Obi, thanked the president for his financial support, echoing Pinnick that it is the first time they are going for an international tournament without any financial challenge, saying with the financial obstacle overcome, they will make Nigeria proud at the tournament.