By Chijindu Itoroh
President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Mr. Amaju Melvin Pinnick was still somewhat downcast on Wednesday, but he assured Super Eagles fans that heartfelt disappointment over elimination from the FIFA World Cup finals has given way to fresh determination of ensuring qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
The Super Eagles lost narrowly 1-2 to perennial bogey team Argentina in Saint Petersburg, even when it appeared they were cruising with five minutes left in the encounter. Pinnick said the depression was more about getting so close to a place in the knockout rounds and yet having to go home early from football’s biggest house party.
“It was sad losing out when it appeared easier to progress from the group stage. I believe the players did their utmost and wanted to get the better of Argentina for the first time at the World Cup. Losing that way, with few minutes to go, really dampened the spirit.
“We apologize to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari and all Nigerians from far and near, those who came to Russia to support the team and those who watched on television. Our expectation was for a place in the knockout rounds but that didn’t happen. We will go home and prepare harder for the next finals. In truth, ours is a young and vibrant team capable of learning and getting better, and these attributes hold that the future is bright.”
Pinnick insisted that elimination from the World Cup would do nothing to unhinge the vision of the present NFF administration to build a sustainable football culture for Nigeria.
“We have a population that is truly passionate about the game. It is that wonderful equity that we are happy to engage and build on for the good of the Nigeria game. Development of the game at the grassroots will proceed apace and our focus on the Future Eagles (U13/U15) competition will become even more painstaking.
“For the moment, we have to start preparations for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, which is only 12 months away, as well as intensify the preparation of the Falconets (U20 Women Team) and the Super Falcons (Senior Women Team) for major championships coming up soon.”
The U20 girls will participate in the 9th FIFA U20 Women World Cup taking place in France 7th – 26th August, while eight-time African champions Super Falcons have qualified for the 11th Women Africa Cup of Nations taking place later this year.
Pinnick said the Super Eagles deserve commendation despite defeat in the hands of Argentina, their fourth loss to the South American giants at the World Cup in as many confrontations.
“Different people would naturally hold different opinion. But I think the technical crew, just like the players, gave their all. They wanted to stay much longer at the FIFA World Cup but it just did not happen.”