Nigerian star Iwobi faces cyberbullying after losing the African Cup of Nations to Ivory Coast soccer

Abidjan, Ivory Coast – In the wake of Nigeria’s defeat on Sunday in the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations, Nigerian midfielder Alexander Iwobi has archived all posts on his Instagram account, leaving the page blank.

The action was in response to a barrage of hate speech on his social media accounts, as frustrated Nigerian fans sought an outlet for their anger following the Super Eagles’ 2-1 loss to hosts Ivory Coast in Sunday’s final.

The Fulham midfielder started six of the seven matches in the tournament and was instrumental in Nigeria’s unlikely run to the final despite playing a more withdrawn role than is normal for him.

He was similarly targeted online after being sent off in the defeat to Tunisia that saw Nigeria exit in the round of 16 in the 2021 edition of the tournament. Then, as now, he had to archive his social media posts; But this time, there are reports that he may retire from international football.

Ayoubi at work
Equatorial Guinea’s Jose Machin, left, is challenged by Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi during the Africa Cup of Nations first group match against Nigeria in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, January 14, 2024 (Sunday Alamba/AP Photo)

Head of the Department

Iwobi, who has made more than 70 caps for Nigeria since making his debut in 2015, is the nephew of legendary Nigerian midfielder Augustine “Jay Jay” Okocha, who is widely regarded as one of the best dribblers in world football. .

Throughout his career, the 27-year-old Iwobi has been burdened by comparisons to his uncle, who won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, with many predicting similar scintillating performances from the former Paris Saint-Germain and Bolton maestro.

While that is a big shoe to fill, Iwobi has surpassed Okocha’s number of caps and enjoyed a solid Premier League career.

His versatility also saw him play in different roles, including in the Africa Cup of Nations, where, according to the player himself, he was tasked with safe passing and helping the team maintain its discipline without the ball. “I am supposed to manage and work for the team,” he explained on the eve of Nigeria’s victory over Angola in the quarter-finals. “The role that myself and (midfield partner) Frank (Onyeka) have been asked to play is to manage the game as best we can, but first and foremost to defend as a team.

“We have creative players up front, whether it is Samuel Chukwueze, Ademola Lookman, or Moses Simon; there is a lot of creativity there,” he said. “I just try to do my job for the team and if anything helps the team win “It’s what I’m willing to do.”

Despite his explanation, he has been the subject of renewed abuse, ranging from criticism for a perceived lack of creativity and risk-taking to disrespectful and hateful comments about the legitimacy of his familial connection to Okocha.

This is despite Nigeria’s progress to the final being unexpected, with the likes of 2021 champions Senegal and 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco being rated as favorites until their early exits.

In November, the Super Eagles began their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with back-to-back draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe, which not only jeopardized their chances of qualifying but also cast doubt on their chances at the Africa Cup of Nations and the quality of Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro.

However, Nigeria progressed through the group stage unbeaten, scoring in every match and conceding just one goal from open play heading into Sunday’s final. However, the backlash following Sunday’s defeat focused on the Super Eagles’ level of form, which many viewed as lethargic. Iwobi, who was substituted in the 79th minute when the score was tied at 1-1, became a foil to the fans’ anger.

The hatred was so intense that members of the Nigerian team took to social media to post messages condemning them and supporting Iwobi.

Midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, who missed the tournament due to injury, posted on Instagram: “The way we treat others is very sad. The difference between our jobs is that our mistakes are broadcast on television; We all make mistakes, but few people see your bad days at work.

“Some trolls are looking for positive feedback, interactions on social media, increased followers, etc., without even caring about the mental state of the victim,” he added. “But when something happens to the victim, we go back to social media to hypocritically ask why the victim didn’t speak up. Let love lead.”

Team captain Ahmed Moussa posted on the X website that “cyberbullying is not only a violation of etiquette but a major crime,” and called for showing “true love and support for our players.” “This unnecessary aggressive behavior is unacceptable,” striker Victor Osimhen told Al Jazeera. “We all fought for the colors of our country, whether we win or lose, we are together,” he said.

Okocha, who has often condemned unfair criticism against his nephew, had been telling online trolls and abusers: “I pray for my country Nigeria and the people who can only hate others and see nothing good; When effort is worthless. “Treat people the way you want them to treat you. All we have in this life is each other.”

While there has been no official confirmation of reports of Iwobi retiring from the national team, there are fears that the cycle of abuse could impact Nigeria’s chances when it comes to attracting expatriate players.

Over the past decade, more foreign-born players have been integrated into the team; Five of the 11 starters in Sunday’s match, including Iwobi, were born abroad.

Following the team’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations in 2021, German-born goalkeeper Maduka Okoye was inundated with so much online hate – including threats to his life and family – that he not only deactivated his social media accounts, but also relieved himself of… International selection. since then.

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