Minister of Sport and Youth Development, Solomon Dalong, Friday said the Super Eagles of Nigeria would not have left the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna in one piece if the fans were not satisfied with their performance.
He made the statement in reference to the large crowd that turned out to watch the Nigerian team draw 1-1 with the Pharaohs of Egypt in the first leg of their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) encounter.
Dalong spoke at a dinner he held in honour of the players by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, on Friday night at Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna.
In what is a clear violation of FIFA rules, 40,000 football fans were crammed into the 25,000-seater stadium.
Some of the fans were seen on global television hanging on floodlights, scoreboard and rooftops.
The ministers told the Nigerian players at the dinner not to despair, saying even a loss would not have been a calamity.
“Even if it was a loss,” Dalong said “it is good to lose once in a while as no human is an angel and a loss once in a while makes one stronger to work harder.”
He said that the Eagles did their best and should not be sad at the last minute disappointment that saw Egypt’s Mohamed Salah cancel out Oghenekaro Etebo’s goal for Nigeria.
The Minister echoed el-Rufai’s earlier remark that the god of football was not on the side of the Eagles on Friday.
He, however, promised that the ministry would also always support the national team.
A disappointed el-Rufai, on whose order the game was declared open for all football fans, said Egypt’s last minute equaliser was not in the spirit of fair play.
According to him, the centre referee ought to have detected that Salah was in the offside position.
Etebo had scored for the hosts in the 60th minute of the match.
The governor said the Eagles played an excellent game and assured them that Kaduna fans would always support them in all their matches played in the state capital.
“You played excellent football. You were in control 65 per cent of the time; but perhaps the god of football was not on our side today.
“We have said to you that you will not lose a match in Kaduna and you have not lost,” he said.
El-Rufai said he had no doubt that the Eagles would beat the Egyptians on March 29 on their own soil in the return leg of the match.
Dignitaries at the dinner included the President, Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, the interim coach of the national team, Samson Siasia and the captain, John Obi Mikel.