The African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2021) featuring twenty four national teams started with pomp and pageantry in Yaounde, Cameroun last Sunday. The continental soccer fiesta is in its 33rd edition. Due to COVID-19 invasion of the global village the tournament originally scheduled for last year was postponed to this year. Cameroun is a ‘special’ country in Africa like Canada in the Americas. It is a bi-lingual nation where French and English are simultaneously spoken nationally. Besides, she is a soccer-crazy nation with global exploits to boast of.
There are great Camerounian players that have made name and money for themselves while making their country proud on the global football stage. Names like Samuel Eto’o, Antoine Bell, Roger Milla, Patrick Mboma ring a bell.
The host nation would definitely have to overcome three major challenges during the three-week sporting event. One, the Coronavirus pandemic with its dangerous mutating variants. Two, security inside and outside the stadia in major cities. The third challenge happens to be the local opposition to the dictatorship of the long-reigning President, Paul Biya.
‘King’ Biya (88) has been ruling Cameroun for close to four decades with iron fist. He is about the oldest President in the whole world! He neither tolerates the opposition nor respects the fundamental human rights of his ‘subjects’. Succession is not even something anyone is talking openly about. So, the Camerounians are seemingly conditioned and prepared for the Biya presidency for life; that is, until the grim reaper decides otherwise!
Security challenges are mounting even before the AFCON got underway. Apart from the Boko Haram terrorists (migrating criminally from Nigeria) attacking some communities in rural Cameroun there is this violent secessionist agitation for the English-speaking Ambazonia region of the country. The Ambazonians could be compared to Biafrans in Nigeria: marginalized by the state and intimidated by federal forces.
The COVID-19 pandemic remains a menacing health force to reckon with. With thousands of spectators thronging the stadia to cheer up their respective national teams fears exist of possible spike in contamination or propagation of the different variants of the mortal ailment, Delta, Omicron etc.
Opposition to the Biya brutal dictatorship is a growing phenomenon. Maurice Kamto of the Cameroun Renaissance Movement (MRC) and his group are enduring harassments, intimidation and imprisonment. The Professor and lawyer represents change that must come to a country gripped by a gerontocracy that is bound to expire soon.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are among the 24 national teams participating in the AFCON 2021. The Nigerian national football team had had glorious moments with soccer giants like Austin Okocha, the late Stephen Keshi, Kanu Nwankwo, Rashidi Yekini, Peter Rufai etc. The Super Eagles had won the continental trophy (valued now at close to five million Euros) thrice. Egypt tops the table with record seven victories! The indomitable Lions of Cameroun had five triumphs.
In this year’s edition the Pharaohs of Egypt are in the same group with the Super Eagles. Senegal, a West African country, ranked the first team in Africa in the FIFA world rankings, are poised to win the Cup for the first time in their national football history. In the last edition hosted by Egypt in 2019 Algeria beat them in the finals.
The African world-class stars to look out for include the Egyptian Mohammed Sallah, the Senegalese Sadio Mane and the Algerian Riyad Mahrez. Victor Osimhen and Ahmed Musa can be said to be the best Nigeria can offer for now.
According to international soccer pundits favourites to lift the trophy include Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria and Cameroun. Yet, talents abound in the continent and new national teams with little experience could cause upset as the tournament advances towards the crucial stages.
The Super Eagles are ready and motivated to surmount the huge obstacle to the fourth title triumph. Nigerians are soccer crazy. So lifting the trophy in these trying times back home could represent a great feat indeed. With commitment, hard work and never-say-die spirit associated with Nigerians it can be done!
But, weeks leading to the commencement of the tournament preparation and organization became something to worry about. Confusion had set in when weeks to departure to Garoua, Cameroun for the commencement of soccer hostilities (with our first match being against Egypt!) the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) led by Amaju Pinnick, sacked Coach Gernot Rohr citing nebulous reasons of non-performance.
The soccer management in Nigeria has many foundational weaknesses, soccer in particular and sports in general. You have round pegs in square holes playing politics with a unifying factor in our national life. Our country needs professionals to manage the huge sporting potentials and talents Providence blessed us with like the black gold.
Presently what you have, unfortunately, are estacode-loving, ten-percent hussling taking mediocres masquerading as sports leaders. Like in national politics the best does not represent us!
Coach Rohr may not be a great Coach but he performed creditably well by qualifying the Super Eagles for the AFCON in Cameroun. Sacking him at a crucial time like that was nonsensical and tactless. He should have been allowed to lead our national squad to the continental soccer competition in the spirit of continuity. He could been sacked if he performed below expectation after the winner and losers emerged in Yaounde.
Perhaps, Coach Rohr was relieved of his appointment to pave the way for a new contract with a new Coach who would agree to dance to the corrupt tune of the administrators. By appointing a new Manager for the national team, the 61-year-old Portuguese Jose Peseiro, the ten-percenters and contractors are smiling now to the bank!
Pinnick (or is it Picnic?) cannot claim to be above board. He is as corrupt as his predecessors. And his successor is bound to be corrupt in a Nigeria where corruption has proven to be indomitable!
Unless a professional (retired) footballer takes over the soccer management in Nigeria (like Samuel Eto’o bravely did recently in Cameroun and Didier Drogba is trying to do in Ivory Coast) Nigeria would continue to recycle mediocrity reaping failure upon failure as comeupance.
As proud and patriotic Nigerians we can only wish the Super Eagles the best of luck. Soar, Super Eagles, soar!