AFCON Qualifiers – Nigeria’s Worse: How Times Change!

AFCON Qualifiers – Nigeria’s Worst Results: How Times Change!
This Saturday, 3rd September 2016, Nigeria’s Super Eagles would be hosting Tanzania’s Taifa Stars in a group G qualification match for the 31st Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition scheduled for next year in Gabon. That qualifier is scheduled for Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

However, both teams would be playing for pride in that match, as the Pharoahs of Egypt have already picked that group’s lone ticket to Gabon. This would be Nigeria’s second consecutive absence from that competition, having failed to qualify for Equitorial Guinea 2015 where she would have hoisted her flag as defending champion.

Thus, Nigeria will be missing out of the under 17 AFCON, under 20 AFCON and the main AFCON events for the first time in her history. It would be recalled that “less fancied” Niger Republic recently eliminated Nigeria from next year’s under 17 Africa Cup of Nations and FIFA world cup competitions, respectively.

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Nigeria is the current world champions of that competition, after winning the 2015 competition held in Chile.

Also, Sudan shoved Nigeria out of AFCON under 20 competition which would produce Africa’s representatives at next year’s world under 20 competition scheduled to take place at Korea Republic. These developments give cause for grave concern. How times change!

Three years ago, Nigeria’s soccer fortunes gave cause for celebrations. There were signs of ascendancy and supremacy, especially after the Super Eagles defied all odds to win the 29th edition of the African Nations Cup competition held in South Africa. Furthermore, the under 17 side won the 2013 FIFA World Cup competition.

In honour of those successes, I wrote a news commentary that was broadcast on Cross River Broadcasting Corporation’s radio station. It was titled, “Sustaining Nigeria’s success at 2013 FIFA Under 17 World Cup Competition”. I still nurse nostalgic memories of those times.

Therefore, I have reproduced (below) that commentary here. Join me in reliving those fond times. As you do so, please leave your suggestions on how we can break away from failure and consolidate on success.

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Sustaining Nigeria’s Success at 2013 FIFA Under 17 World Cup Competition

News analysis for CRBC – Radio, written by Cornel Ellah,
Department of Mass Communication, CRUTECH, Calabar

After beginning this year on a bright note with victory at the African Nations Cup competition held in South Africa, Nigeria consolidated her resurgence in global soccer by beating all comers to emerge as champions of the 2013 FIFA under 17 World Cup competition held in the United Arab Emirates. Aptly called the Golden Eaglets, Nigeria’s under 17 team began the race to glory by posting scintillating results at both the African qualifiers and at the world stage itself.

It would be recalled that at the African qualifiers, they beat Niger Republic 10-1 on aggregate, before thrashing Guinea 7 – 0 also on aggregate. The Eaglets scaled 2 – 0 over Mali at home and away respectively, to reach another decisive stage in Morocco where the African under 17 competition took place. They came second in Morroco, to earn a ticket to the United Arab Emirates as one of Africa’s four representatives. Cote d’ Ivoire beat the Eaglets 1 – 0 in a Group B match of that competition and 5 – 4 on penalties in the final match, after a 1 – 1 draw at full time. That is the only dent on the team’s illustrious profile.

AFCON

However, that setback served as tonic for more work. The team regrouped in our state capital, Calabar, to intensify preparations for the world stage. It is interesting to note that the Cross River State government believed in the team right from the outset. They proceeded from Calabar to the United Arab Emirates where they humbled defending champions Mexico by 6–1 in their opening match before forcing Sweden to a 3–3 draw in their stiffest match of this competition. Iraq fell 5–0 to the Eaglets in the last match of the group stage while Iran was beaten 4–1 at the second round stage.

Next, the Eaglets routed Uruaguay by 2–0 at the quarter final round before facing Sweden at the semi-final stage. The Swedish team got whipped 3–0, for having the temerity to pull a draw against the Eaglets at the group stage. This set the stage for the last Friday’s final where the Eaglets confirmed their superiority over their peers by posting an emphatic 3–0 victory over defending champions, Mexico.

With this feat, Nigeria has become champions for a record fourth time. She is the most successful team in the FIFA under 17 world cup. Despite this, some Nigerians have remained skeptical of this country’s achievements at the FIFA under 17 level. They hinge their skepticism on alleged instances of age cheating in previous teams. Thankfully, this class of Eaglets are glaringly younger than their predecessors. They underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test twice, where scientifically, over aged players were dropped. This shows that the coaching crew comprising Manu Garba as head coach and Emmanuel Amuneke, Nduka Ugbade and Sam Amadi as assistants, were honest. They reportedly concentrated on scouting for rookies in schools and grassroot academies. The achievements of these coaches and players confirm that Nigerians do no need to cut corners to accomplish great feats.

AFCON

If we are as individually brilliant and collectively united as these Eaglets and their coaches, our country would be unstoppable in all spheres of positive endeavours at the world stage.

Ironically, Nigeria has so far failed to translate her achievements at the FIFA under 17 world cup stage to glory at the senior world cup arena. She has only featured four times at the senior world cup and never advanced beyond the second round of the competition. This sharp contrast in fortunes at the world stage between our senior team and their cadet counterparts calls for genuine concern. As president Goodluck Jonathan said at the reception ceremony held for the Golden Eaglets, “We must remain world champions from category to category”.

The President’s admonition should be applied by encouraging school sports and youth academies to serve as breeding ground for future Eaglets. Equally, the current crop of Eaglets should be kept intact and allowed to graduate into the next set of under 21 national team. Thereafter, they should graduate into the under 23 team before stepping up to the Super Eagles. Their current chief coach and one of his assistants should move up with them while the remaining assistants should be retained to serve as handlers of the next under 17 side. This would ensure continuity and guard against unnecessary disruption in tactics and formations.

Understandably, players of the Golden Eaglets would be eager to sign contracts with foreign club sides. We urge these players to seek expert guidance in their choice of professional club sides so that their fortunes would not nosedive. We expect that with time and proper guidance, Kelechi Iheanacho would be as famous as Cesc Fabregas of Spain and Toni Kroos of Germany who equally won the most valuable player’s awards at previous under 17 competitions, on separate occasions. We also expect that no player in the victorious Golden Eaglets would fade into oblivion like some of their predecessors did, shortly after dazzling the world in previous competitions.

“We must remain world champions from category to category”.

As we continue to praise the Golden Eaglets, we look forward to more celebrations this Saturday in Calabar, where the Super Eagles would host their Ethiopian counterparts in a second leg play-off match for Brazil 2014 world cup competition. Victory for the Super Eagles would be perfect icing on the cake for Nigeria’s soccer as 2013 draws to a close. We are proud that Calabar has served as host city for all our country’s victorious national teams. We congratulate Governor Liyel Imoke and all Cross Riverians for serving as good hosts.

  • Cornelius Ellah

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