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On January 1, 1964, Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe in a New Year message analysed the state of sports in the country and urged the then young nation to brace up and protect its reputation.

In probably the only instance, a Nigerian leader used sports as theme of New Year message, Dr. Azikiwe urged citizens to develop the zeal to win always. He further offered some stop-gap measures for improvement of sports in Nigeria.

Even in 2020, the views expressed by Dr. Azikiwe, are still relevant.

Below is the full text of the message delivered on January 1, 1964.


Whilst we are on this topic of building a favourable image for Nigeria with African states, I would like to make few remarks on how our performance is helping to dwarf the stature of Nigeria among other nations.

In particular, I feel that our image has been distorted by the regular doses of defeats handed to some our teams by sides representing friendly nations.

The passing year has not been too bad especially in sports like athletics, boxing and lawn tennis. But in others like cricket, football, hockey and table tennis, we have been very much below form and did not come up to expectation.

Our standards in athletics are still under the international level. In football, we are still inferior to our African neighbours, relatively, not to speak of European sides.

Consequently, Nigeria has been unable to hold high its head among the sporting nations of the world in spite of our being the largest populated nation in Africa and the 13th among the 120 or more independent states of the earth.


Three factors are responsible for our short-coming. The first is our attitude to sports. The second is our general unwillingness to assimilate scientific techniques in training.

Lastly, we have not actively created the atmosphere on a national basis, where we can discover it to the glory of Nigeria.

Let it be clear to all concerned that gentility in sports is a by-product of the Victorian era with its aristocratic traditions. By the beginning of the 20th Century, the idea of not playing necessarily to win, but having the “honour” to participate formed the basis of British ethics of sportsmanship which, in our innocence, we have inherited.

Whilst this idea is still desirable from the point of view of pure amateurism in sports, the entry of the United States of America at the revived Olympic Games in Athens and the participation by the old nations, supported by the new nations who were born after the end of World War 1, has revolutionized international competition in sports.

Even the United Kingdom is now changing its former complacent attitude. Today, the emphasis is on winning and not merely participating, although the spirit of amateurism and scrupulous respect for the code regulating any particular sports still pervades the atmosphere of world sporting communities.


In other words, if the United States of America could engage the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in a football match, the players of both sides are made to realise that like true amateurs, they must respect the international football code, but in addition, they must play to win in order to safeguard the prestige and honour of their respective countries.

Nigerian sportsmen and women, who engage either in competitive or combative sports, must now understand that whilst an amateur sports man or woman is a person who cultivates sports as a pastime and contests for pleasure and not for monetary gain, the spirit of modern international sports has now transformed the athlete into a devotee of sports who loves his country more.

In the spheres of athletics, boxing, cricket, football, hockey, lawn-tennis, swimming and table tennis, we should now address ourselves seriously to teaching basic techniques to our athletes and encouraging them to be in peak physical condition the year round. This calls for state “intervention” in order to ensure efficiency of a high order.

The Federal and Regional Governments have already “intervened” on a moderate scale. The stars foretell that much more will be done in the future in view of the existence of advisory sports bodies to those Governments. This is definitely an admission that there is need to stem the tide of distortion to our national image.

As a stop-gap measure, our armed forces, including the Army, Navy and the Police (both Federal and Local), supported by our universities, teacher-training colleges and secondary schools, can be used in the immediate future for a crash programme in order to deploy our manpower resources and thereby select only the physically fit and technically prepared to be worthy wearers of our national colours for extramural competitions.


However, I hold the view that, in the long run, our future salvation will lie with the masses of our people who are able-bodied, both employed and unemployed. It is from their ranks that we should discover hidden talents.

The popularisation of sports throughout our motherland will be our saving grace from the present staccato of defeats and humiliations suffered by us at international sporting competitions.

I do not intend to be pessimistic but I hope that the New Year will give us a new lease of life and a fresh approach to the problems raised by our participation in international sports of a dual nature.

It is now incumbent on us to protect our reputation which is being badly mauled owing to many factors which we can overcome by short-range and long-range careful planning.

Who knows whether it would not be better to suspend bilateral sporting contests with our neighbours, in the meantime, and concentrate on training our athletes and seasoning them by intramural contests and international competitions of a multilateral nature?


A truce or moratorium of this nature should be of psychological value and should enable our sons and daughters to acquire proficiency in sports, imbibe skill in their specialities, and cultivate higher love for their country.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigeria’s AFCON 2025 fixtures almost in same pattern with World Cup qualifiers



Confederation of African Football (CAF)  has now released the full fixtures of the qualifying series for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations.

The fixtures for the Nigerian team is almost in the same pattern with that of the 2026 World Cup qualification which has seen the Super Eagles wobbling.

Like that of the World Cup, the Super Eagles will begin their quest for qualifcation for AFCON with a home game in Uyo as they will host Benin Republic.

As it was in the World Cup, they will then head to Rwanda. Last November, their second match was played in Rwanda which hosted Zimbabwe home match. This time the Super Eagles will be facing Rwanda, the same team they will meet when the World Cup qualification series resume in March next year.

On Match Day 3, the Super Eagles will host Libya and will have the reverse fixture immediately after that of Match Day 3.


Later they travel to Benin for Match Day 5 before hosting Rwanda on the last match day.

The Fixtures

  • September 2 – Nigeria vs Benin Republic; Libya vs Rwanda
  • September 6 – Rwanda vs Nigeria; Benin Republic vs Libya
  • October 11 – Nigeria vs Libya; Benin Republic vs Rwanda
  • October 16 – Libya vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Benin Republic
  • November 11 – Benin Republic vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Libya
  • November 15 – Nigeria vs Rwanda; Libya vs Benin Republic

The top two teams qualify for AFCON 2025

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Rohr roars warning to Benin; Nigeria, Rwanda will not be easy




Former Nigeria manager, Gernot Rohr now handling Benin Republic has warned The Cheetahs of Benin not to expect an easy match when the team meet Rwanda and Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later this month.

 Last month, he led his team to defeat both Rwanda and Nigeria in World Cup qualifying duels in Abidjan, where Benin Republic are compelled to play their home matches following inadequate facilities at home.

 Benin’s 1-0 defeat of Rwanda was Rohr’s first victory with the team. Days later, he followed up with a 2-1 defeat of Nigeria, the first Benin Republic victory in over 65 years.

 Those wins have put Benin in the frame of possible qualification for the World Cup. They are now to meet Nigeria and Rwanda again in World Cup qualifiers.


 It won’t be easy, remarked Rohr.  Hear the Franco-German as he spoke in French but translated into English for the Sports Village Square: “From September we will play against Nigeria before facing Libya and Rwanda.  

“These are three difficult opponents.  We had already played Rwanda and Nigeria but be careful, it’s not because we won Rwanda and Nigeria that it will be easy matches.

“ We know that it is possible to achieve good performances again.  We know that Nigeria with its great players will want to take revenge against us.

“ I think it will probably be an interesting match in Uyo before continuing against Libya.  I suppose in Abidjan because in September the Mathieu Kerekou friendship stadium  will not be ready.  

“Everything will be decided in three months in September, October and November.  It’s a difficult group but it’s playable.  


“You have to finish in the top two.  We had a team that is becoming solid, where the players are like brothers, accomplices.  I hope we will recover the players who were absent.  We are confident.”

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Coaches react after intriguing Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers Draw



The journey towards qualification to the  Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2025 shifted a gear higher on Thursday, after CAF officially conducted the draw of the qualifiers in Johannesburg South Africa.

A total of 48 nations will vie for the 24 places that will contests the 35th edition of Africa’s most prestigious competition.

This is what some of the coaches has to say in reaction to the draw outcomes.

Emerse Fae, Cote d’Ivoire coach

“I am satisfied because we are going to play against Zambia, a team that we know very well. In our last qualifying campaign, we lost against them. We know what mistakes to avoid.


“I am also satisfied because I did not want to have countries geographically far from Cote d’Ivoire which will lessen the travel load. That said, in Africa, there are no longer small teams. All the teams will want to challenge us because we are the reigning champions”

Leslie Notši

“The draw is very interesting because when you have the host in your group, it means they qualify automatically for the tournament, and you have to double your efforts to secure the remaining qualification spot which will be contested by the three other teams in the group.

“We will work very hard to see to it that we are competitive side and try as much as we can to get maximum points in matches against countries that are with us in our group. It will be very important to do well in our home games and I know all eyes will be on “Morocco as the hosts and a powerhouse in our group. We will draw inspiration from recent games where we played the likes of Nigeria as well as Cote d’voire and were able to frustrate them”

Amir Abdou, Mauritania Coach


“Quite a complicated draw. Egypt will be the big contender for qualification. They have a good track record that speaks volumes.

“Seven times African champions – that’s no small thing. We also have Cape Verde who eliminated us during the last AFCON.

“This team is made up of many quality players. We have Botswana, they are having a good qualifying campaign for the World Cup. We have a pretty strong group. It’s up to us to believe in ourselves. We will do everything we can to achieve our fourth participation in the AFCON”.

Kévin Nicaise, Chad coach

 “We are already having the reigning African champions facing the last qualified team in the FIFA rankings. These will definitely be very difficult matches played at high intensity. We will fight to defend our nation’s pride. The group remains relatively open, and we will approach these qualifications with humility and ambition”.


 Badou Zaki, Niger coach

“We have every chance of qualifying. For me, Ghana is a football country with a team that is blessed with great professionals. But this is not the team of 5 or 6 years ago. Even at home, they can lose.

“Angola had a good showing at the last AFCON with their beautiful, modern and fast football. It’s a team that shook up the big teams in Cote d’Ivoire.

“I know Sudan very well. They are first in their World Cup qualifying group. They are going to be dangerous, but we know our strengths and we know we can go far”


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