Nigeria’s Football Legacy: From Azikiwe’s Vision to FIFA World Cup
Football is Nigeria’s most popular sport, with the national team competing internationally and Nigerian players making a mark in Europe, particularly in England.
Introduced by the British in the early 20th century, football gained prominence by 1950 and played a pivotal role in Nigeria’s nationalist movements for political freedom.
Nnamdi Azikiwe is the key figure in connecting sports and politics in Nigeria. He founded Zik’s Athletic Club in 1938 to promote football and African self-determination. His efforts, along with the West African Pilot newspaper, contributed to football becoming a cornerstone of Nigeria’s identity, culminating in the country’s independence in 1960 and FIFA membership. Azikiwe later became Nigeria’s first President in 1963.
The Nigeria national football team, called the Super Eagles, is overseen by the Nigeria Football Association and ranks 39th globally and fifth in Africa. Notable achievements include reaching the second round of the World Cup in 1994, 1998, and 2014. Nigeria’s youth teams have excelled, too, with the U-17 and U-20 teams clinching titles, such as the 1985 U-17 World Cup.
In women’s football, the Super Falcons have dominated the African continent, qualifying for every FIFA Women’s World Cup and winning numerous CAF Women’s Championships.
Nigeria in the World Cup
The Super Falcons is a dominant force in international women’s football, boasting a record eleven Women’s Africa Cup of Nations titles, the most recent being in 2018. They have achieved quarterfinals in both the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Summer Olympics and have consistently qualified for every edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with their best performance in 1999 when they reached the quarterfinals
The Super Falcons impressed at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup, progressing from a challenging group and reaching the knockout stages by holding Canada to a draw and defeating Australia. Despite a strong performance,they suffered a heartbreaking penalty loss to England in the quarterfinals after a goalless match on August 7.
However, the Super Falcons’ World Cup journey was marred by a pay dispute, with some players reportedly unpaid for two years by the Nigeria Football Federation. After the game, Forward Ifeoma Onumonu also highlighted the disparity between Nigeria’s and European counterparts in terms of facilities, recovery resources, and overall support.
She criticized the lack of support and resources provided by the federation, revealing issues like sharing beds and inadequate training fields.
Nigeria’s male national team members, such as Victor Osimhen, Victor Anicehe, and Odion Ighalo, have voiced their support for the Super Falcons, urging the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to address the payment issue. Osimhen’s Instagram post read, “Pay them NFF,” while Ighalo criticized the NFF, highlighting the ongoing concern.
Anicehe emphasized paying what is owed to the players, saying, “They did us all proud!”
Despite the current tension, the Super Eagles stride on with their own preparation for the upcoming FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2026 after failing the 2022 qualification for the first time since 1994.
Nigerian football and music
As football reaches the ultimate popularity in the country as a sport, it becomes an integral part of the nation’s culture and lifestyle, from sporting bet to songs. Football-themed music is also part of that fusion.
Take the U-23 Nigerian football team’s victory at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, for instance. It inspired numerous hit songs like Lagbaja’s “Loko Iya Won (Owole)” and Tony One Week’s “Gyrate.”
Austino Milado‘s “Super Eagles Carry Go (Walele)” became a sports anthem in the early 2000s, tracing Super Eagles’ victories and featuring actors who symbolized their triumphs. 2baba and Omawunmi followed after. They joined forces for “Power of Naija,” a song by Guinness celebrating Nigeria’s qualification for the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
However, nothing tops the excitement of being part of the famous FIFA World Cup. Being selected as a FIFA World Cup anthem is a prestigious honor for musicians, as it signifies global recognition.
Fireboy and Nnekaare among the Nigerian artists who have previously had their songs featured in FIFA World Cup official soundtracks. ‘Party Scatter’ by Fireboy was part of FIFA 2021’s soundtrack, while Nneka’s collaborative song with Wesley Williams ‘Kangpe’ was featured in the FIFA 2010 soundtrack.
Recently, in another adaptation of the popular global franchise, other Nigerian musicians are also included in the soundtrack for the FIFA 23 console game. ‘Finesse’ by Pheelz, featuring BNXN FKA Buju, as well as ‘Skelele’ by Bad Boy Timz, featuring Olamide, will be part of the diverse and impressive soundtrack for one of the world’s top-selling video games.