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Current players are the future of Eagles despite AFCON loss –Pascal

It’s been a challenging tournament that ended in qualification for the final, which the Eagles lost to the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. How are the players coping with the setback?

Honestly, these boys deserved to be commended; nobody gave us the chance, but out of the 24 countries that came into this tournament, we became one of the two that reached the final. And if you look at it, the last time we got to the final was about 11 years ago. We did what we couldn’t do for 11 years. The match has come and gone, but it has to be stated that the players gave their best; they consumed the pressure, were calm, and were tactically disciplined. You could see that despite everything, we were the ones that scored first, but it is a game of football; somebody must win, and the hosts were fortunate on Sunday.

The players were downcast after the loss, but the vice president, who was at the stadium, joined them in the locker room to give them words of encouragement. Did that work to lift the spirits of the players?

Just like many Nigerians, the vice president will be disappointed that we did not win the cup, but he understood that we gave our all to make sure we returned home with a trophy, and he came into the dressing room to encourage the players and sympathise with us. Honestly, that was so encouraging. The government has led by example, and the players are consoled, which means they will be willing to do more.

We had thousands of Ivorians at the stadium on Sunday, and the atmosphere was extraordinary. Would you say this affected the players?

I don’t think so. These are professionals who have played in big stadiums before, and many of them have played in big competitions, including the Champions League. So, I don’t think they could be frightened by the crowd. Our boys gave their best by reaching the final. We couldn’t win this time, but we can do so at the next AFCON in Morocco. This competition has ended; we have to look to the future. The World Cup qualifiers are coming, and the AFCON qualifiers will soon start. The template is there already. And again, we Nigerians have to learn from the Ivoirians in the way we support our team. On Sunday, I saw supporters differently. Everywhere you go you will see orange colour. The whole of the stadium was orange in colour, and the fans supported their team passionately. Even when they were losing, they kept on shouting and supporting them; they didn’t abandon them because the result was not in their favour. Players will want to give their best when they know that you will stand by them even in the moments when they are not doing so well. We didn’t see anyone booing the Ivoirians yesterday, even when we were leading. That is what we need going forward.

Nobody expected the team to go far, but they reached the final. How did you manage to reach that point?

We started with a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea, and we came back the next game to win it from there. We have been going from strength to strength, and before the final match, it was only two goals that entered our net and one of their penalties; we were the only team with those statistics.That is to tell you the boys have tried. We didn’t underrate Cote d’Ivoire, and then they were playing at home. Our players wanted to win this tournament for themselves, their families, and Nigeria.

The Super Eagles are known for scoring goals, but in this competition, they were not that prolific because of the tactics deployed by the coach….. What if you score and your opponents outscore you?

You should get the maximum three points and move rather than for you to score three goals and they score four against you. In modern football, all you need is to survive; one goal can make you win the competition, and that is what you need. In this competition, at what stage did Angola crash out? They were scoring goals; how many goals did we score against them to move on to the next round? only a goal, and they are out with all the goals they think they were scoring. So, in modern football, nobody thinks about scoring loads of goals because you can’t underrate any side now. It is not like in the past when you could slap a team with four or five goals; every team is now picking up. Besides, Osimhen, for instance, had about four of his goals cancelled; he is not happy about it and if those goals had stood, I am sure nobody would be talking about the fact that we are not scoring goals. Now, look at South Africa. Almost all of their players are playing at home, but they reached the semifinals of the AFCON. That is to tell you that the level of football in Africa has gone far. And again, more than 30 players who played in the AFCON came from the South African league. That is to show you that their league is very strong, and that is why we want to see our league move from one direction to another. The backbone of every national team is the league, so we need to do something.

This competition was so different, with many smaller teams eliminating big ones; in fact, no team from numbers 1–5 made it to the quarterfinal of the competition. As an ex-international, what do you think could have influenced that?

That showed that African football is evolving; it is growing, and you can’t run over any team anymore. Again, this also showed that rankings no longer work in football; the only ranking you have is your players going out there and playing well. Nobody believed Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, or Tunisia would go home early because of their ranking.

You have worked with many coaches and different generations of Super Eagles; what do you think makes this current squad thick?

I think the coach is doing a great job, but we also have a young team with players who are experienced. We have Victor Osimhen, who is one of the best strikers in the world, sharing comparisons with the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Riyad Mahrez, but the truth is that in the next five years, all of these players may not be playing at the top level again, but Osimhen still has many years ahead of him. That is when these young players will take the mantle of leadership of African football. I can tell you that with this team, the future of the Super Eagles is very bright.

Among all the coaches you have worked with in the national team, how would you rate Jose Peseiro?

All the coaches, both local and foreign, did well, and they have different stories to tell about their experiences. Peseiro didn’t start very well because of the friendly matches that he lost, but again, he rallied back and played in the final of an AFCON. Every one of them that we have worked with had their luck; they contributed to the success of the team; some of them discovered many of these players; and now Peseiro has been able to make the team reach the final of the AFCON in his first attempt.

Can you share some of the challenges you have faced on this job?

The job is not easy. It is a job in which you have to give your best 100 percent; you need to coordinate the team, and you will be the first person to wake up and the last person to go to bed. For me, it has become relatively easy because I played in the past in football and the players respected me; I took them as my brothers, and I usually give them advice even beyond football.

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