No Nigerian football player in recent memory has polarised opinions amongst football fans as Odion Ighalo. The Super Eagles striker must be forgiven for any harboured misgivings about his future in the national team after a shambolic performance at the FIFA World Cup where he was overshadowed by his fellow striker, Ahmed Musa.
The striker missed chance after chance in the crucial game against Argentina at Saint Petersburg with a devastating aftermath – Nigeria crashed out and the striker’s family received multiple death threats from aggrieved fans with the player contemplating retirement.
This prompted the striker to grant an interview where he apologised to fans whilst pleading for patience and support in future competitions.
He said, “It’s sad that we went out in a bad way, losing to Argentina in our decisive last group match. It was a sad day for me, sad day for the team and a sad day for the country.
“We deserved more in the match. We had a penalty which the referee didn’t give us. I also missed a couple of scoring chances that could have won the game for us. That’s football for us. Sometimes you lose like this and sometimes you win.
“I want to apologise to my teammates and to Nigerians for the loss. I take responsibility for those goals missed. It has happened, and we all should put that behind us and move forward”.
Despite the heartfelt apology, Nigerians still were not prepared to forgive his perceived transgressions and this situation was further exacerbated when the Bafana Bafana of South Africa defeated the Super Eagles by two unreplied goals in an African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier played in Uyo, the capital of Cross River State.
Odion Ighalo was not part of the line-up in that defeat but that did not stop fans from referring to his World Cup performances as part of the reasons the team was struggling.
The striker took everything in his stride and worked harder at his game which resulted in an upturn of fortunes starring for his Chinese club, Changchun Yatai where he has scored 20 goals in 25 matches in 2018. Despite his good form, fans were still sceptical when the manager of the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr, invited him for the recent round of AFCON qualifiers against the Libyan national team.
Five goals in both legs against Libya propelled Nigeria above South Africa in the qualifying group and this delivered the most perfect riposte to even the harshest critic.
Is Ighalo still the answer to the striking position in the long term? Maybe, but I bet nobody will complain if his goals propel the country to glory at the upcoming AFCON so in the meantime, let us give the striker and the team all the support needed in order to achieve glory at the biennial footballing event.