It is the morning after the Super Eagles again fell short of being crowned champions of Africa for a fourth time and the disappointment of an entire nation has not fully sunk in.
This was a chance of a lifetime for a set of players to write their names in gold, an opportunity to be a part of a legacy.
We are proud of the team, who against most expectations went all the way to the championship game of the 2023 AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire.
Like Vice President Kashim Shettima eloquently told the players after the loss, there is no cause to be sad for not reaching your goal, you should be sad if you don’t have a goal to reach.
This team united a nation of over 200 million people for a month, they gave millions a new hope and it was a much-needed distraction for the hardship and suffering Nigerians have had to endure on account of drastic economic measures to fix the country.
If Nigeria can learn from coming short for the fifth time at the AFCON Final, we would not have lost.
It is ironic that on a night the Super Eagles defence, the meanest at this tournament, needed to be at their best, they failed.
For the Ivorian second-half equaliser, Zaidu Sanusi did not take on his man and the defence was guilty of ball watching to allow Franck Kessie a free header.
Kessie ought to have been sent off for a nasty foul on Zaidu and was not even booked on a night of some questionable officiating.
Instead, he stayed on the pitch to later play a crucial role in the outcome of this Final.
The revelation of the tournament goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali could also have done a lot better to deal with Kessie’s header, but he was off his goalline.
The defence was also culpable for the late cup winner by Sebastian Haller.
Ola Aina was one of the best defenders in the competition before the Final, but he failed to close up on Man of the Match Simon Adingra from delivering the cross from which the damage was done.
The pragmatic 3-4-3 formation had worked wonders for the Super Eagles beginning from the 1-0 win over Cote d’Ivoire in the group stage, but it could not get them across the finish line when it mattered most.
The team’s transition was very slow and they did not create chances – only a shot on target that led to the opening goal – for a side filled to the brim with some of the most potent strikers on the continent.
The focus of the team must immediately shift to the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.
In June, Nigeria face two crucial games against South Africa in Uyo and away in Benin Republic after a lacklustre start with two draws in November.
Surprise team Rwanda did Nigeria a big favour by beating South Africa at home, if not South Africa would have been sitting a lot prettier on top of the group now to make the task a lot tougher.
The Super Eagles have their destiny in their hands as they will back to top reckoning in the World Cup qualifiers with wins over South Africa and Benin in June.
What should become of coach Jose Peseiro?
He should get a new contract to at least cover the World Cup qualifiers, while tasking him to vary his tactics as the occasion demands.