Yesterday marked the end of Nigerias World Cup journey in Russia after their 2 -1 loss to Argentina. It was always going to be a tough ask of that Nigerian team to beat an opposition in a do-or-die match, especially when Lionel Messi is that opposition. For many Nigerians though, crashing out of the World Cup wouldnt come as a surprise, but as the saying goes: Its the hope that kills you.
Asking that Nigerian team to get out of a group that has a talented Croatian team with technically gifted players, a relentless Icelandic team, and an Argentinian team that arguably has one of the greatest soccer players ever, was always going to be an up hill battle. What makes yesterdays match even more difficult was that it was more than just a game. Having grown up in Nigeria, I understand what winning that match would have meant, especially to Nigerians living inside of Nigeria.
This is not just a match. I know there are kids going to bed tonight sad and depressed. This game was their escape. Nigeria may not win the World Cup but dammit, just getting past the group stage would have been massive for the continued togetherness of the country
Once every four years, Nigerians, regardless of ethnicity or class, put aside our differences to come together to cheer for a team that often under-performs in the World Cup. Soccer has always been our escape from lifes daily hustle and Im certain there were kids going to bed sad and depressed yesterday. I know because I used to be one of those kids. Without a doubt, yesterdays loss would have put a dent on the the collective togetherness of the country.
On the bright side, the Nigerian national team has a solid foundation. Nigerias starting goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, who plays with Deportivo La Corua in Spain is only 19 years old. Wilfred Ndidi, one of the best defensive midfielders in the English Premier League is only 21. Ahmed Musa, whose goals sunk Iceland in the second match is just 25 years old. And Kelechi Iheanacho, poised to be Leicester Citys starter striker once Jamie Vardy moves on is 22 years old. Talent, combined with experience could give this Nigerian team an upper hand come Qatar 2022.
But all hope isnt lost. There is still an abundance of black talents playing in the World Cup. Senegal, a Francophone nation, with an entirely black squad with a black coach, are still in it. France, Belgium and England all have an abundance of black talented soccer players. But now that Nigeria isnt in it anymore, Im all aboard the Senegalese hype train.