The Nigeria Football Federation has explained why Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi was excluded from the U-23 team ahead of the All-Africa Games qualifier against Gabon on Saturday.
The football body had left no stone unturned in convincing the 18-year-old to switch allegiance to his fatherland despite having represented England at the youth level. He was initially listed by coach Samson Siasia to play in Saturday’s game, but information reached the NFF hours before the game that the player was not eligible at that level, according to FIFA rules. It was, however, too late to drop him from the contingent heading to Gabon.
NFF Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme , explained that the decision to take him along was to encourage the player and others in the Diaspora.
He said, “As a responsible body, there was no way we would have used Alex Iwobi in Gabon knowing the implication of such an act; the rules are very clear on players seeking to switch allegiance from one country to another.
“For Alex, having played for England in the cadet level, there is no way he could have played for us in any such level, unless at the senior level. Luckily for us, his parents have been of great help in this regard.
“We all know that the U-23 team is like the feeder team for the Super Eagles, so bringing the young man to be part of this team was done on purpose. Now that he has fitted and bonded with the team, our next target is trying to see how we can complete the paperwork with FIFA then invite him to the Super Eagles in our next international friendly, hopefully against Bolivia.”
The attacking midfielder had expected to feature in the match but despite the disappointment, he was excited that Nigeria defeated their hosts in the away game.
He wrote on Twitter, “‘Even though I am disappointed to not get my debut for Nigeria, I’m happy that my teammates/family were able to be victorious against Gabon.”
In spite of the 4-1 victory in Gabon, Siasia has admitted he still has work to do in making his team better.
He said he knew nothing about the Gabonese before the game, but his team were able to overcome because they trained hard and played according to the game plan.
“Let’s bear in mind that this team has been together for about three months, so we should appreciate what they were able to achieve. We’re not at our best yet, but I’m impressed with all of them, they played as a team, meaning that all the hard work we put them through for the past months were not in vain,” the former Super Eagles midfielder said.
Goals from Junior Ajayi, Oghenekaro Etebo, and Peter Onyekachi gave Nigeria the important victory in Gabon.