The game was just a few minutes gone when Samuel Kalu waltzed into Ukraine’s goal area and laid a sublime pass for Alex Iwobi who was almost going wide. Iwobi’s low cross into the box was met by Joe Aribo who tucked home coolly for Nigeria’s first goal against Ukraine.
It was Joe Aribo’s debut for Nigeria and fans of the Super Eagles were still getting to know who he was before he scored.
Aribo played and still does for Glasgow Rangers. He went on to score again against Brazil and in Uyo, his third game for Nigeria; the 2-1 win against Benin Republic. He was also in the team what won at Maseru against Lesotho a few days later.
Against Brazil, goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho mistimed a cross and hurt his knee leading coach Gernot Rohr to throw in inexperienced goaltender, Maduka Okoye.
Okoye was in the firing line unexpectedly but he did not disappoint. Okoye was born in Germany and had only been to Nigeria once as an 8-year-old. His second visit was just in November 2019 as the Eagles prepared for and played against Benin Republic and Lesotho. He didn’t get to play though he was named in the Match Day Squad.
Before Maduka Okoye and Joe Aribo in the team were Ola Aina, Semi Ajayi, William Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun and Alex Iwobi.
Most of them were foreign-born players with a Nigerian heritage who chose to play for the Super Eagles, regardless of their different backgrounds.
A few of them had played at the youth level for the countries of their birth while others went straight to playing for Nigeria.
The Super Eagles have changed its appearance
There once was a time that a National Team squad was dominated by players of Rangers International and Shooting Stars. New Nigeria Bank FC once had ten players called up to the Eagles anytime they were in camp and at least 6 of them starting- Wilfred Agbonibare, Stephen Keshi, Sunday Eboigbe, Bright Omokaro, Henry Nwosu, and Humphrey Edobor, but those days are long gone.
No one club can dominate players named in a Super Eagles squad because they come from clubs scattered across the world.
Then again there was a time that the National team camp had only players born in Nigeria, but these days all of that has changed too.
While some will cry about it, they are all Nigerians playing for the Eagles.
We are Nigeria
Joe Aribo visited Nigeria for the first time when he came for the games in November and tried his hands on a Nigerian delicacy. He enjoyed eba and stew. He also loved jollof rice and had taken it for lunch more than a few times.
Maduka Okoye told me he was in love with fried plantains and jollof rice while for Semi Ajayi, he didn’t know whether to call “suya” a meal but it was his favourite and he had been going for it on a regular.
Aribo told me that he didn’t have to make a choice between Nigeria and any other country. He wanted to play for Nigeria and his mind was made up on it.
Some may have had to make a choice between two or three nations, while others did not.
Every player who chose to play for Nigeria had a reason for doing so and it is not about the fried plantains, jollof rice or suya, no! It is much deeper than that.
These players chose to play for the motherland.
It could have been due to the stories they were told by their parents or grandparents and it could have also been because of what they had previously seen, heard or studied on their own about Nigeria.
Nigeria on its part may not have much to offer in terms of organization and the right planning, but the passion the fans here have for the game will certainly be key in making this new breed of Super Eagles feel wanted every time they strut their stuff for the country.
Nigerian football has changed at international level. There are lots of foreign-born players on the team. Hopefully, the different backgrounds will bring about a change in the mentality of the unit and with the right coaching, infusion of players with different backgrounds, the results may begin to change on the pitch.
The race to another AFCON started with a 2-1 win over Benin. Hopefully, it will not end in tears. Whether it is the fried plantains, jollof rice or suya, each one of them has a reason to choose Nigeria and keep accepting call up. We are Nigeria and together we grow as a team.