President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday received the Super Eagles at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, and challenged them to play fair and clean football at the FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia.
The president, who gave the challenge at a farewell reception in honour of the Super Eagles and the team officials, enjoined the players to work hard and win the tournament for Nigeria.
He urged them to be good ambassadors and carrying the passions, emotions and feelings of over 180 million Nigerians in each of their games.
“Nothing unites Nigerians more than football and nothing will gladden the people of Nigeria than for you to acquit yourselves honourably by winning in Russia.
“You are the youngest team in the tournament which means you are likely the most inexperienced team, a fact that will not be lost on your opponents. But it is also something that you can use to your advantage.
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“You have the full support and the blessings of all Nigerians who will look up to you for as long as the tournament lasts,’’ he said.
He commended the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for drawing up the right programme that was helping to refine the team into a powerful force to be reckoned with.
According to him, Nigerians look forward to the Super Eagles to make them proud.
In his remarks, the President of NFF, Mr Amaju Pinnick, thanked President Buhari for his support and for creating the enabling environment for the prosperity and stability being enjoyed in football house.
“You have done what no other president in the history of Nigeria has done. 32 years ago with your magic wand, Nigeria won the U17 World Cup.
“Our dream beyond enabling all these things is to create a self-sustaining football federation and within the next two years I can assure you the NFF will be running on its own without any funds from government. That has been the dream of the NFF.
“Today, football is being played in Maiduguri, it was reported in BBC because of the peace you have been able to achieve in that area. Our dream also is to create a football federation that people will look at and say we are very proud to be Nigerians.
“Today, we have so many Nigerians working in international global committees, the only female member of FIFA Ethics six-member committee which is FIFA’s own EFCC, the only African, is a Nigerian, Justice Ayotunde Philips.
“Today, we also have a Nigerian as the President of CAF Appeals Board, we have 10 Nigerians serving in 10 major committees because you made this possible for football to grow in Nigeria,’’ he said.
The NFF boss also lauded Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo for inviting the NFF to the Economic Management Team to present a paper.
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He said: “Today the British Government makes £2.6 billion as taxes from the EPL alone, that we can also do in Nigeria.
“We also have to thank some Nigerian companies that have been very very supportive, it is because of their support that we know that in the next two years, we will be 100 per cent self -sustaining.
“One of such companies is ITO, every year this company commits N1.2 billion annually to the funding of specific activities and it is on that basis you did not hear that coaches are being owed, players are being owed. Nobody is being owed.
“For the first time in the history of this country we have a team that nobody is been talking about being owed a kobo because of the environment you created for us to thrive.”
Pinnick described the Super Eagles as the “most disciplined and the most united in the historiographical literature of the annals of football’’ in the country.
He added: “I am happy to tell you that according to FIFA statistics, this team is the youngest going to the World Cup, which means this team will serve you for long, this team will serve you in the next five years.
“We have a team that will prosecute this World Cup, and a team that will go for the next World Cup in 2022 and we have a team that will also go for the World Cup in 2026, because you have created that environment for us to thrive.
“We thank you for providing that fatherly love at all times and we know when we go to Russia, with your Magic wand, by the Special grace of God we will come back to this same chamber with the trophy.’’
The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Solomon Dalung, who presented the Super Eagles to the President, narrated the history of Super Eagles’ participation in the FIFA World Cup tournaments.
He said: “Since that memorable time that Nigeria qualified for the World Cup, the Super Eagles has qualified five more times for the global football tournament.
“France ‘98, Korea/Japan ‘02, South Africa 2010; Brazil 2014 where they reached the round of 16 and the current campaign Russia 2018, which is due to kick off in a couple of weeks.’’
He said the Super Eagles had already started on a very positive note by qualifying in style for Russia 2018.
The Coach and Captain of the team, Gernot Rohr and Mikel Obi respectively, who spoke briefly at the event promised to do their best to win the cup.
NAN reports that Super Eagles who played a 1-1 draw with Democratic Republic of Congo at a pre-World Cup friendly, will today fly to London aboard a chartered aircraft for another pre-World Cup friendly against England’s Three Lions at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening.
The team will leave London for Bad Tatzmannsdorf, a city in Austria, to spend eight days at the world–renowned Avita Resort before flying to Russia.