Nigeria is one of the 24 African countries currently jostling for honours in the ongoing 32nd edition of the African Cup of Nations—AFCON 2019— holding in Egypt between June 21 to July 19this year. The continental soccer tournament is organized by the Confederation of African Football, CAF. It was first held in 1957 when only the three countries, namelyEgypt, Sudan and Ethiopia participated. It was however formalised as a biennial tournament for African countries in 1968.
Since then Egypt has emerged the most successful country having won the trophy seven times with Cameroon in the second place, having won the trophyfive times. Nigeria has won the trophy on three occasions with Nwankwo Kanu appearing in six editions, hence emerging as the most featured Nigeria player in various editions of the tournament.
Nigeria’s journey into the finals of this year’s tournament is buoyed with high hopes in some quarters and concern in others. The high hopes derive from the team’s early showing of promise as it earned 12 points to emerge at the top of its Group E which had other countries as South Africa (second at 11 points), Libya and Seychelles in the group.On one side of cautionis the Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr, who though counting on the youthfulness of the team, is nevertheless concerned with the lack of experience of most of them, who are debutants with respect to AFCON tournaments. Out of 23 Nigerian players in Egypt for the contest, only three – Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo have tasted action in previous tournaments. He is however counting on the team’s good outing against all odds on the exposure the players had in the 2018 World Cup where they put up an impressive performance in the matches they played there.
On the optimistic side is the President of the Nigerian Football Association [NFA] Amaju Pinnick who is in an upbeat mood, assuring Nigerians that it will be well for the country at AFCON 2019. On the basis of his upbeat note he is spurring Rohr to drive towards winning the trophy for the country. Most likely, Pinnick and many Nigerians are basing their optimism on the country’s early showing at the preliminary group stage.
The discordant tunes being sung by Pinnick and Rohr have many implications for the country’s chances in the tournament.It suggests the existence of gaps in the capacities and capabilities of the team in the tournament. This is not surprising because it is a perennial weakness in this country’s preparations for most international sports contests, not just beyond football. Shoddy preparations have so often denied Nigeria of consistency in its dominance of soccer on the continent. Considering that the country has in abundance football talents that are proven to be world beaters, its inability to harness these for proper placing at the front row of soccer rating in Africais a challenge.
Incidentally AFCON 2019 is coming with some developments such as the turn of events which saw Cameroon,the current champion, losing the hosting rights to Egypt late in the day. Cameroon’s loss of the hosting rights was courtesy of a wave of violence near two of the designated venues for the event, fear of delay in facility development, and the political tension arising from the restiveness of the Anglophone sections of the country, over reported marginalization by the Francophone controlled government. Another is the expansion of the number of participating countries from 16 to 24, as well as the shifting of the tournament timing from early in the year to the middle of the year.
We hope that our national team plays well and achieves success in the on-going tournament. We however advise that in future, we should start preparations early for international sporting tournaments. We are discouraged when our own national coach is cagey about our prospects at a tournament.
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