With 2026 World Cup qualification in the balance, the Super Eagles need a home now more than ever

One of the most respected teams in Africa and indeed across the world, the Super Eagles of Nigeria are clearly without a home turf of their own. Super Eagles have played in virtually every major city in Nigeria in nearly two decades as they do not have anything in the manner of Wembley Stadium for England's Three Lions.

Lagos used to be the fortress of the Eagles and it was basically their superb performance here and elsewhere that made them the 6th best team on the FIFA monthly ladder prior to the 1994 World Cup in the USA. This was the period Nigeria first qualified for the World Cup and then followed that success immediately with the African Nations trophy they won in Tunis. The list of towns and cities the Eagles have played since the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos became useable can be classified as being endless.

They have played major qualifying matches against top teams in Kano, Kaduna, Asaba, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Abuja, Benin City and Ibadan.

Failed Kano mission

The Eagles mission to Kano will be remembered from generations to generations. It was on the road to the 2006 World Cup and Kano was one of the hottest places in the world at that period. Just as it is now, most of the Nigerian players were based in Europe with a lot cooler weather. It was more of a political correctness decision than tactical or tourism to host the Angolans in Kano.

With 2026 World Cup qualification in the balance, the Super Eagles need a home now more than ever

Worse still the match was not played in the night but in the afternoon which left our “European Eagles” panting more for water than the Angolans. The game ended in a draw to the huge advantage of the visitors who were in good form that period.

The pain of not going to the World Cup out of our own error was too much too much to bear for Nigerians that the disenchanted groups in the Nigerian football system found a quick way to change the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation. They had always wanted to but there was hardly any justification until that disaster of a match that singularly cost the country a place in Germany.

Infrastructure, politics and maintenance

The Super Eagles were always very well at home in Lagos beating opponents almost effortlessly. The highly populated city has one of the best set of supporters in the world. They can motivate any good team to scoring more goals but be sure they play well because when you upset them with a lacklustre performance they can easily turn on you. And this is to chiefly wake you up from the sloppy play.

The Eagles loved Lagos too but ironically none of the present crop of players has ever played on the hallowed Lagos National Stadium turf. The majority of the current generation of the Super Eagles fans never watched them play in that arena built in 1972 for the 1973 African Games. The Eagles would have loved to host their opponents here but the very poor condition of the stadium which was the centre for the most celebrated Challenge Cup finals of the country’s domestic football were played.

In spite of the great games that the arena had hosted and given the wonderful location in the heart of the city, the neglect grew by the day such that a lot of rehabilitation had to be done for the centre to co-host the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations alongside Ghana. The final match of that competition between Nigeria and Cameroon remains the last major event at that national edifice.

With 2026 World Cup qualification in the balance, the Super Eagles need a home now more than ever

Soon after this competition deterioration began to set in. The authorities managed to keep the arena going and it was able to host some games of the 2009 FIFA U17 World Cup with the final match played in Abuja. And after that it could not host any major event anymore. It was bad for football and the tartan tracks were too bad also for athletics. After the tartan tracks got completely damaged, parts of the roof were lost to windstorms and the place became quite impossible. Every sports minister since 1999 have visited the Lagos stadium to assess the situation but it has been a case of one step forward and another step backwards.

The state of the National Stadium meant the Super Eagles had to start the search for a new home. The search for a new arena has meant moving around the country. At a point it looked like Calabar was it and then it became Port Harcourt and then Uyo and later Asaba. At a point the Nigerian political matters crept in: all the centres where the Eagles were playing incidentally were governed by the PDP and it became an underground issue when APC took over governance at federal level.

Abuja National Stadium: Not quite home for Super Eagles

The Abuja National Stadium (Moshood Abiola Stadium) was naturally meant to take care of the need of the national teams but the Confederation of African Football has withheld approval for that centre. The only stadium that has CAF approval is the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo and that is why the Nigeria/South Africa match is holding there. And it is for the same reason Rivers United played their continental matches there instead of Port Harcourt.

The question to ask now is when will the Super Eagles get a ground they can see as home; get used to and make it a fortress rather than arriving in a new Nigerian city each time they have a game like a visiting team? We can understand that at a point the NFF were eager to move the games to cities where the state government was ready to help offset huge accommodation bills and more. I guess a winning Super Eagles team will attract more sponsors and partners to help offset the huge bills.

With 2026 World Cup qualification in the balance, the Super Eagles need a home now more than ever

What the country needs now is the will to make our maintenance system work better; a will to get more clearance from CAF especially concerning the Abuja stadium for now. The long term goal should be to get the National Stadium in Lagos working. That should be the best nest for the Eagles.

Abuja may have new facilities but it has never replicated the atmosphere in Lagos when the Eagles are playing there. The few times they played at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos in recent times gave us some reminders of how it used to be. The Nigerian football brand is huge, very big not to have some basic things in place. This problem is beyond the NFF though, and also the Sports ministry but the Federal Government. What is required of the NFF and the sports minister is to tirelessly press on the government the need to have a functional ground for the Super Eagles.

What happens today if CAF withdraws the approval given to the Akpabio Stadium? Can Nigeria afford to shamelessly move their home matches to Abidjan or Yaoundé? This is certainly unthinkable.

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Pius Ayinor

Pius Ayinor started his football writing with Complete Sports/Complete Football. He has served as the Sports Editor of The Comet newspaper; Deputy Sports Editor of Thisday/Editor Global Soccer and Sports Editor of The Punch.
The World Cup and Olympics are familiar terrains having covered the Korea/Japan World Cup; Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 as well as the Athens 2004 Olympics, London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Games.