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FIFA focuses on Moses Simon, the expected Nigeria’s star man at AFCON 2023

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Moses Simon of Nigeria warming up during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations AFCON finals last16 match between Nigeria and Tunisia at Roumdeadjia Stadium in Garoua Cameroon on 23 January 2022.

Nantes and Nigeria winger speaks to FIFA about the highs and lows of his career, from his early years playing in Slovakia to captaining his country.

  • Nigeria have opened with two draws in CAF qualifying for the 2026 World Cup
  • Moses Simon, who captained the team against Zimbabwe, speaks to FIFA
  • Nantes player reflects on the highs and lows of his career

In the Simon family, discipline has always been a prized value. Born in 1995 in Jos, Nigeria, to a father who was in the military, Moses Simon was raised in an army barracks and quickly got used to 5am starts. Although expected to follow in his father’s footsteps in the armed forces, he opted to pursue a completely different career – albeit one that also required discipline – in football.

At the tender age of 18, this graduate of the GBS Academy in Lagos flew to the Netherlands in the summer of 2013 to take part in preseason training with the Ajax reserves, although ultimately the Amsterdam club decided not to retain him.

The young Nigerian took the setback it in his stride and soon after signed for Slovakian outfit AS Trencin, arriving in the throes of winter. “At first I was a bit scared,” Simon admitted in an exclusive interview with FIFA.

By dint of hard work and discipline, that fear quickly dissipated, paving the way for an impressive toplevel career. After Trencin, the wide man gained further experience at Gent, where he won the Belgian championship, then at Spanish club Levante, before a 2019 move took him to French Ligue 1 side Nantes, with whom he won the Coupe de France in 2022.

The 28yearold has also enjoyed some great experiences with the Super Eagles. His first international competition was at the FIFA U20 World Cup Turkey 2013™, before he had even turned 18. “I was young, but I had the ability,” Simon recalls. An unused squad member on that occasion, he would return to play an important part at the next edition two years later in New Zealand.

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However, the winger is still waiting for his first experience of a senior FIFA World Cup™.

After featuring in the qualifiers for Russia 2018 and making then coach Gernot Rohr’s provisional squad for the tournament, he had to withdraw due to injury.

Four years later, the Super Eagles lost out on a place in Qatar after being beaten in a playoff by Ghana on away goals. “Missing the World Cup is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” Simon said.

The Nigerian is now hoping to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 26™ despite the Super Eagles beginning their qualifying campaign with consecutive 11 draws with Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

In conversation with FIFA, he looks back on the ups and downs of his club and international career to date.

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FIFA: Your career has not followed a typical path. How did you find moving to Slovakia aged just 19?

Moses Simon: ”It was hard. I was in Holland before going to Slovakia, but it was during the summer. And I left to Slovakia during the winter, in January. So, it was hard with the wind especially.

“I didn’t expect it to be so cold. And I had never seen snow before! At first, I was a little bit scared. I was wondering: if someone kicks me, what would the pain feel like?

“I thought I was going to play just like I had in Holland, but it was totally different. But the important thing is that I had a Nigerian player with me [Kingsley Madu]. We had played together in Nigeria.

“It was good because we could communicate with each other, we helped each other.

“Everywhere I go, I always meet a Nigerian or a Ghanian player. We speak the same tongue. It’s like meeting a brother. You can interact. They are like a family that try to help you.”

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What kind of routine did you have in Slovakia?

“I just stayed in my room, just going out for training then came back, I never went out. Training, home, training, home. But I got used to it.

“I’m the kind of person that doesn’t go out most of the time because this is the way I was brought up. From school, you go home. From training, you go home.

“They taught us that the more time you stayed outside, the more problems you brought home. So after school, we always went straight back home.

“After training, home. There was no difference when I arrived in Slovakia.”

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When you started playing in Holland and then in Slovakia, did you believe you could have the career you’ve had?

“I didn’t think so, but I had the feeling that I was going to ‘make it’ – that is becoming a professional player, which contributes to the life of my parents, my siblings, my friends. It gave me a new life.

“Once you’re a professional player, no matter what it takes, you will have something to take back home. And back home, people struggle to eat.

“So once you make it, you can feed your family members. I wanted to make it so my people could be proud of me. And today, I know they are.”

At international level, you’ve also had success and were part of Nigeria squads at two U20 World Cups. What memories do you have from those tournaments?

“My first one was in 2013 in Turkey. I was 17, I was like a ball boy and I didn’t play one single game. I was really young but I was capable.

“Then there was 2015 in New Zealand. It was the farthestaway country I’ve ever been to, I thought we were going to the end of the world!

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“I even felt sick because it was very long. But the World Cup was fantastic for me, really fantastic. We eventually lost [10 in the Round of 16 against Germany], but I had a really good time.”

Then, with the senior team, you missed out on 2018 through injury and Nigeria didn’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup. How did that feel?

“In 2018, at first, I felt really sad. I played all the qualification games, I started and I finished [the matches]. But in the end, I didn’t go to the World Cup.

“It’s something I would not wish on my worst enemy. I was really devastated. But not any more. Now, I just think: ‘OK, I thank God for everything because I know that it’s for a reason.’

“It [not going to the 2018 World Cup and or qualifying for Qatar 2022] motivated me to keep working hard. I want to play in the next World Cup, it’s a dream.

“I just need to do my best, push and work hard. If the coach calls me, good. If he doesn’t and calls up someone else, I will be happy to support them.”

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You wore the captain’s armband in Nigeria’s match against Zimbabwe on 19 November. What did that mean to you?

“First of all, I have to thank the coach for that. Then, I want to thank the players for the respect they give me. To be the captain of your nation is a big honour, but it is not easy.

“It’s not the same as being captain in your club. You carry the whole nation, so you have to be a strong leader.

“I’m really happy that I captained Nigeria and, even if I’m told that I won’t be the captain any more, I’m still grateful for the opportunity.

“Football has taken me all the way to captaining the Super Eagles! I had never, ever been the captain of even the Academy where I came from, so it meant so much.”

Looking back at all those experiences you have lived through – from playing in Slovakia to captaining your country – what advice would you give to your 19yearold self?

“I would just say: you can do more. At 19, it is the time you need to prove to the world that you are one of the best players.

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“If you can put this in your head, you will make it for sure. You will go further than where you are now. Just keep working.

“Also, respect the people around you. Respect your coaches. Listen to what they say, this is key.

“Don’t argue with your leader or with anyone that is older than you and that has seen it all before you. Listen and understand, and you will go far.”

CREDIT: FIFA.com

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

AFCON

Nigeria’s AFCON 2025 fixtures almost in same pattern with World Cup qualifiers

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Confederation of African Football (CAF)  has now released the full fixtures of the qualifying series for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations.

The fixtures for the Nigerian team is almost in the same pattern with that of the 2026 World Cup qualification which has seen the Super Eagles wobbling.

Like that of the World Cup, the Super Eagles will begin their quest for qualifcation for AFCON with a home game in Uyo as they will host Benin Republic.

As it was in the World Cup, they will then head to Rwanda. Last November, their second match was played in Rwanda which hosted Zimbabwe home match. This time the Super Eagles will be facing Rwanda, the same team they will meet when the World Cup qualification series resume in March next year.

On Match Day 3, the Super Eagles will host Libya and will have the reverse fixture immediately after that of Match Day 3.

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Later they travel to Benin for Match Day 5 before hosting Rwanda on the last match day.

The Fixtures

  • September 2 – Nigeria vs Benin Republic; Libya vs Rwanda
  • September 6 – Rwanda vs Nigeria; Benin Republic vs Libya
  • October 11 – Nigeria vs Libya; Benin Republic vs Rwanda
  • October 16 – Libya vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Benin Republic
  • November 11 – Benin Republic vs Nigeria; Rwanda vs Libya
  • November 15 – Nigeria vs Rwanda; Libya vs Benin Republic

The top two teams qualify for AFCON 2025

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AFCON

Rohr roars warning to Benin; Nigeria, Rwanda will not be easy

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Former Nigeria manager, Gernot Rohr now handling Benin Republic has warned The Cheetahs of Benin not to expect an easy match when the team meet Rwanda and Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later this month.

 Last month, he led his team to defeat both Rwanda and Nigeria in World Cup qualifying duels in Abidjan, where Benin Republic are compelled to play their home matches following inadequate facilities at home.

 Benin’s 1-0 defeat of Rwanda was Rohr’s first victory with the team. Days later, he followed up with a 2-1 defeat of Nigeria, the first Benin Republic victory in over 65 years.

 Those wins have put Benin in the frame of possible qualification for the World Cup. They are now to meet Nigeria and Rwanda again in World Cup qualifiers.

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 It won’t be easy, remarked Rohr.  Hear the Franco-German as he spoke in French but translated into English for the Sports Village Square: “From September we will play against Nigeria before facing Libya and Rwanda.  

“These are three difficult opponents.  We had already played Rwanda and Nigeria but be careful, it’s not because we won Rwanda and Nigeria that it will be easy matches.

“ We know that it is possible to achieve good performances again.  We know that Nigeria with its great players will want to take revenge against us.

“ I think it will probably be an interesting match in Uyo before continuing against Libya.  I suppose in Abidjan because in September the Mathieu Kerekou friendship stadium  will not be ready.  

“Everything will be decided in three months in September, October and November.  It’s a difficult group but it’s playable.  

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“You have to finish in the top two.  We had a team that is becoming solid, where the players are like brothers, accomplices.  I hope we will recover the players who were absent.  We are confident.”

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AFCON

Coaches react after intriguing Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers Draw

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The journey towards qualification to the  Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2025 shifted a gear higher on Thursday, after CAF officially conducted the draw of the qualifiers in Johannesburg South Africa.

A total of 48 nations will vie for the 24 places that will contests the 35th edition of Africa’s most prestigious competition.

This is what some of the coaches has to say in reaction to the draw outcomes.

Emerse Fae, Cote d’Ivoire coach

“I am satisfied because we are going to play against Zambia, a team that we know very well. In our last qualifying campaign, we lost against them. We know what mistakes to avoid.

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“I am also satisfied because I did not want to have countries geographically far from Cote d’Ivoire which will lessen the travel load. That said, in Africa, there are no longer small teams. All the teams will want to challenge us because we are the reigning champions”

Leslie Notši

“The draw is very interesting because when you have the host in your group, it means they qualify automatically for the tournament, and you have to double your efforts to secure the remaining qualification spot which will be contested by the three other teams in the group.

“We will work very hard to see to it that we are competitive side and try as much as we can to get maximum points in matches against countries that are with us in our group. It will be very important to do well in our home games and I know all eyes will be on “Morocco as the hosts and a powerhouse in our group. We will draw inspiration from recent games where we played the likes of Nigeria as well as Cote d’voire and were able to frustrate them”

Amir Abdou, Mauritania Coach

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“Quite a complicated draw. Egypt will be the big contender for qualification. They have a good track record that speaks volumes.

“Seven times African champions – that’s no small thing. We also have Cape Verde who eliminated us during the last AFCON.

“This team is made up of many quality players. We have Botswana, they are having a good qualifying campaign for the World Cup. We have a pretty strong group. It’s up to us to believe in ourselves. We will do everything we can to achieve our fourth participation in the AFCON”.

Kévin Nicaise, Chad coach

 “We are already having the reigning African champions facing the last qualified team in the FIFA rankings. These will definitely be very difficult matches played at high intensity. We will fight to defend our nation’s pride. The group remains relatively open, and we will approach these qualifications with humility and ambition”.

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 Badou Zaki, Niger coach

“We have every chance of qualifying. For me, Ghana is a football country with a team that is blessed with great professionals. But this is not the team of 5 or 6 years ago. Even at home, they can lose.

“Angola had a good showing at the last AFCON with their beautiful, modern and fast football. It’s a team that shook up the big teams in Cote d’Ivoire.

“I know Sudan very well. They are first in their World Cup qualifying group. They are going to be dangerous, but we know our strengths and we know we can go far”

-CAF

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