Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Melvin Amaju Pinnick has admitted that he and all top shots in the soccer body were downcast by the Super Eagles’ loss to Argentina on Tuesday, but says attention has to shift immediately to preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in September.
Pinnick also expressed optimism that disappointment over the Eagles’ elimination from the World Cup in Russia will give way to fresh determination that would help the team return to the Nations Cup next year in Cameroon, after missing the past two editions.
The NFF supremo said it was depressing that the Eagles lost 2-1 to their perennial bogey team in Saint Petersburg, even when it appeared they were cruising to the round of 16 with five minutes left in the encounter.
Pinnick said the depression was more about getting so close to a place in the knockout stage, only to end up going home early from football’s biggest showpiece; but stressed that now is the time to rise again and seek a return to AFCON action next year.
However, Pinnick went on to enthuse that the Eagles’ early 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.
He said: “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.
“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.
“We have to start preparations for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, which is only 12 months away, as well as intensify preparation of the Falconets and Super Falcons for major championships coming up soon.”