As the 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off in Equatorial Guinea today, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is what will AFCON 2015 be like without the defending champions, Nigeria? When this year’s edition of the biennial football fiesta was plunged into a hosting crisis after the initial host-designate, Morocco, pulled out of the event, due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, there was no doubt that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) would come up with an alternative host country. It was certain that the show must go on. What many Nigerians didn’t envisage though, was that Nigeria – the defending champions – would not be represented at the sports fiesta. The 2-2 draw played against South Africa in Uyo by the Super Eagles ensured that Nigeria would not be in Equatorial Guinea to defend the title they won in 2013, after finishing third in Group A with eight points. It will be the second time a defending champion would not qualify for the AFCON, after Egypt failed to make the Angola 2010 event.
Despite the moderate successes recorded in the sports sector in 2014, Super Eagles’ inability to qualify for AFCON 2015 was a defining moment in Nigerian sports. AFCON is, no doubt, Africa’s biggest and most consistent sporting event. It is undeniable that football enjoys huge following across Africa. This is why many, in almost all African countries, literally put other activities on hold to catch up with its matches. The unity football fosters within the continent is unarguable. When Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 edition in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, we concluded, on this platform, that the best way to respond to that nightmare would be for the Super Eagles to seamlessly qualify for the 2013 edition in South Africa and perform well at the tournament proper. This was achieved, as the national team won the trophy in style.
It is difficult, in our opinion, not to draw a link between the seemingly endless crises in the nation’s football administration and the failure of the Super Eagles. While the national team was sweating to pick up points, Nigeria’s football managers were at loggerheads in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Litigations, accusations, sham elections and corruption were like pebbles flying around the Glass House. There was also confusion as to who was the chief coach of the national team. A decision on a replacement for Coach Stephen Keshi was announced one minute and reversed the next. Such hotchpotch of conflicting events certainly contributed to the Eagles’ misfortune.
Now that the nation has been reduced to an AFCON 2015 spectator-country, it is important that it is understood and we make bold to point out to our football managers, players and coaches that the crises peculiar to our sports will continue to breed the kind of inconsistency that disqualifies a defending champion from a major sporting event.