The exit of the Super Eagles from AFCON 2021 has surely been a painful one. But the pain is definitely not deep enough to justify Ayo Odumade’s reaction in a text message she sent me: “Still very raw and hard to accept. That was a Black Sunday.” Ayo is a journalist-friend who lives in the UK. I was surprised by his reaction and particularly his choice of the word ‘Black’ to describe the day the Super Eagles lost to Tunisia. It’s a racial slur. It doesn’t fit comfortably into my spirit. So, I immediately express my total exception and send my own response: ‘It is a decisive Sunday.’ In fact, it is. It is the day that Nigeria turned its back on a failed past that must be quickly forgotten, and began a new future based on the glimmers of hope that all Nigerians saw and celebrated in the first three games the Super Eagles played at AFCON, Matches that have become reminders of previous great moments in Nigerian history and pointers to a brighter and better future to come. Right, last Sunday, the Super Eagles stumbled. They needed to trip. To stumble is to wake up from premature celebrations, from the complacency that would have settled in and from forgetting where the country’s soccer came from in recent years that would have stopped the country in the biggest challenge that lay ahead: qualifying for the World Cup. The truth may be hurtful to colleagues and friends in charge of Nigerian football, but the evidence is very clear that Nigerian football has been in a downward spiral in recent years and it shows in the national team. You do not recover from such depths without passing through the crucible of fire. You don’t wake up one day and everything goes back to the way it was before. Nothing in life happens that way. There must be a price to pay for the decline of the past. I chose to see the entirety of AFCON 2021 as that price that must be paid and that hurdle that must be crossed without which a brighter future cannot be achieved. This is my current understanding that brings me comfort and dissolves the pain of my AFCON 2021 experience. This is also a balm for the raw pain of Ayo Odumade. With the ‘flop’ at AFCON 2021, the future of the Super Eagles has never been more certain than it is now. Nigeria has stepped back from the precipice of disaster. Two days ago, I read a report that the Minister for Sport, Chief Sunday Dare, entertained the Super Eagles to a sumptuous working breakfast where he delivered a speech that lifted the dejected spirits and pessimism of the players. It was the best news for me after the loss to Tunisia, a match that everyone but the Tunisians had taken for granted as a Nigeria win due to the Eagles’ transformation from hopeless to potential champions in three short weeks. The minister’s action and speech reminded me of some events and moments from my past. My team painfully lost the semifinals of the African Cup Winners’ Cup. To everyone’s amazement and surprise, the players were welcomed back home as heroes, feted by the state governor and rewarded with a car each. That was in appreciation of the team’s effort and the happiness they had brought to the people of the state until the game they lost. The government’s gesture was to lift our spirits to fight even more for a better future. It worked. That gesture created the most productive years in the history of the Shooting Stars International Football Club of Ibadan. I also remember another episode, a similar loss, but a different reaction from the government. My team had worked very hard and reached the final of the African Club Championship. We then lost the match painfully despite the elements not being in our favor and the opposition being better off on the night. Instead of being appreciated for the previous work already done and encouraged to do better next time, the team was criticized. The players were abandoned and the entire team fired. That act became the beginning of the end for one of the greatest clubs in Nigerian football history up to that point. Nearly 40 years later, the team has yet to fully recover from the government’s backlash. Those are experiences and lessons from the past that are not taught in the classroom or sold in the marketplace. However, they serve as invaluable guides on how to deal with seeming “failures” at critical moments in sports (as in life). I am therefore relieved by the action of Chief Sunday Dare, who continues to impress me with his handling of a number of difficult and sometimes seemingly intractable problems in Nigerian sports. I read the speech he gave during his breakfast with the players. It is a masterpiece on how to lift a waning spirit. I’m told that speech worked magic on the ‘new’ Super Eagles and their consortium of Nigerian coaches. I am reproducing a part here so that the Nigerians can also be reassured by their words and can confidently follow the new path that the Super Eagles have opened at a time when even their former German coach, who could not do much with the team, acknowledged their new form, praised them as Cameroon’s most complete team and predicted they would win AFCON 2021. Nigerians are on the right track now. This stumble must not derail them. Here are excerpts from his speech that speak for me and most Nigerians about what’s next for the Super Eagles: 1. The departure of the Super Eagles from AFCON was, indeed, painful. 2. Although we fell short of our goal, as a nation we have reason to be proud and optimistic about the future of our team. 3. Nigeria has every reason to be proud of this fine group of young people. I am immensely proud of how they performed as players and how they behaved as ambassadors for our nation. They have put Africa and the rest of the world on notice. Nigerian football will be characterized by greater teamwork, effort and cohesion. This team will improve and become a solid and fierce contender in any competition we enter. 4. Austin Eguavoen and the coaching staff gave a great performance. They met the challenge bravely and gave a good account of themselves. They did the best they could and that’s all we can ask of them. 5. We as a nation win together and lose together. Sport is a unifying factor. 6. We will lift the spirits of our guys and as professionals they will look beyond AFCON and continue to work with their technical team to ensure continuous improvement. The overall performance of the team during this tournament shows that we have regained our best position and are heading in the right direction. Our football, once again, was fluid, determined and beautiful to watch. We have a good team and Nigeria will help them improve. 7. The Super Eagles distinguished themselves with brilliant displays of football that led CAF coaches to vote Austin Eguavoen as the best coach in the first round. He and his team will receive all the support they need to ensure that nothing is overlooked in terms of capacity development. 8. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the football-loving Nigerians who followed the team’s participation in the competition. We will come out of this better, stronger, more aware of what we need to improve for this team to meet the aspirations of an eager and hopeful soccer-loving nation. 9. AFCON lessons remain. Our eyes are set on greater glory. The fighting spirit and the sense of what we can do are strong. As long as we remain committed to teamwork and a common goal, the Super Eagles will become more and more formidable. 10. They will be encouraged and supported to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Final later this year and the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations Tournament in Ivory Coast next year. This team of Super Eagles will show the world what great heights they can really fly to. Honorable Minister, Youth and Sports Development. Abuja. Nigeria. January 25, 2022. Read More Related Sport News Here What do you think about this; Super Eagles – What’s next? | Newslodge Nigeria News Let’s hear your opinion in the comment below!