From Sunday January 20th an intercontinental soccer ‘war’ will be officially declared in Accra Ghana. The African Cup of Nations, the most prestigious football bi-annual event will be hosted this year by Abedi Pele’s Ghana. Sixteen countries and their national soccer teams are participating competitively in the tournament. Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Cameroun, Ghana, Egypt (defending champion), Angola, Senegal among other nations will lock horns for soccer glory.
As hostilities open in the next few intervening hours from now it is important a serious analysis is done by a soccer enthusiast that I am. In the last edition in Pharoanic Egypt the host nation squared up in the final against star-studded Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire who eliminated Nigeria in the semi-final. Egypt went ahead to win the trophy via penalties after 120-minute pulsating soccer show.
This year’s episode will definitely produce some thrills and frills. With those nations that have won the competition for four or five times like Egypt and Ghana and Cameroun seeking to improve on their national soccer records nations like Nigeria that have won it twice will also seek to take the trophy home for a record third time. After failing on more than one occasion in the finals especially in Lagos in 2000 against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun the Super Eagles, going by recent news from Malaga Spain where they were camping preparatory for the Ghana assault, are desperate to taste the trophy a record third time after many elusive attempts.
More than any other nation patriotism aside Nigeria deserves the intercontinental cup, but the trophy cannot be won on a platter. The Super Eagles must work hard to beat other formidable opponents to be able to be so crowned “Kings of African soccer 2008”. Nigeria is in a hard group B comprising her, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Benin but the greatest threat to her topping the group towards the next round could come from the Didier Drogba-captained Elephants.
The Kanu Nwankwo-led Super Eagles has all it takes to bulldoze their way through to the final taking the trophy to Abuja and Lagos for a national soccer feast. With NFA failing in its responsibilities times without number the Sani Lulu-led Football Association is associated more with financial scandals, unpatriotic acts, estacode ‘wars’ and lack of welfare packages for players. Now that the Glass House seems to be doing things right one only hopes the Super Eagles will be motivated aright to achieve glory in Ghana.
The Nigerian football in general has been on a steady decline. Save for the glorious victory of the Golden Eaglets late last year in the junior category the Nigerian soccer house is in perpetual crisis of management. Mismanagement has somewhat become the other name of the NFA, mismanaging the huge pool of talents that abound within our sporting space which ordinarily should have placed Nigeria, were they properly harnessed, ahead of any other African country in the FIFA global ranking. Alas NFA led by the controversial and inefficient Sani Lulu has become a burden to both players and coaches.
Nigeria is in group B which has nations like Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Benin Republic. In this group soccer pundits generally are seeing the Super Eagles and the Elephants coming out in the end for the next round of elimination series. But with high-flying Malian internationals boasting of creating an upset it is left to be seen how Mali or Benin will displace the Giant of Africa or ‘Drog’ and co to qualify for the second decisive round.
On Monday January 21st the clash between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire will be a memorable one. The encounter will remind us all about Egypt 2006 in which the Super Eagles were overwhelmed controversially through a lone goal by Didier Drogba who seemed to have scored the winning goal from an off-side position. The battle of monday will be pay-back time but the Ivorian squad is not a run-over by any stretch of imagination. It will certainly be fire for fire and after ninety minutes the Super Eagles should fly over the Elephants in speed and tenacity of purpose. Defeating Nigeria once again a la Egypt ’06 will amount to a national disgrace.
Another cracker will be when the Indomitable Lions square up against the Pharoahs. Cameroun and Egypt are the most glorious nations in the history of the African Cup of Nations which was first held in Egypt. So their match will be the final before the finals if you like. With deadly strikers like Etoo Fils Samuel hungry for goals and glory Egypt will have enough to contend with.
I think the hardest group happens to be Group D where you have countries like Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Angola. Senegal has never won the African Cup of Nations but the Lions of Teranga has made it to many editions. The Eric Cantona of Africa, El Hadj Diouf and his co-teammates will be up against formidable sides that qualification for the next round may well be as difficult as winning the trophy itself.
South Africa, after the 1996 triumph at home when the defending champion Nigeria was prevented from participating by the late crazy despotic bulldozer, Gen. Sani Abacha just to spite Nelson Mandela who lampooned the dictatorship the dark-goggled one was perpetrating, looks ahead for a good showing in Ghana. Bafana Bafana will seek to re-invent themselves after the woeful outing in Egypt two years ago. Nelson Mandela, Africa‘s foremost nationalist and statesman deserve to be honoured with the trophy in Jo’burg for the second time.
Tunisia has won the continental trophy once at home as host. But the poor performance in the last edition in Egypt where they fell 3:0 to Syli National of Guinea before Nigeria sent them packing gave the impression of a declining side living out a past glory. Ghana 2008 will afford us the opportunity of discovering their present form and status but repeating the feat of 2004 may never come to pass.
Angola is the underdog but any attempt to diminish their importance may spell doom for whichever team underrating them. The boys from Savimbiland play good hard soccer and with the World Cup Germany 2006 experience in their kitty I believe the Portuguese-speaking side will put up a good show in Ghana but not to the extent of reaching the final. But if they historically do reach the final then the revolution in the African soccer must have swept through Luanda.
Captained by ‘Drog’, (apology to the British enterprising press) Didier Drogba of Chelsea FC of London the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire boast of 23 foreign-based professionals playing active football in top clubs in Europe and elsewhere. The squad is star-studded and they have been together for a long time so team cohesion is there. The runners-up to the last edition in Egypt are definitely going to Ghana to win and they are in a killer mood straight from Kuwait where they camped in preparation.
As hostilities open forth in the Ghana CAN 2008 may the best team win. But if you ask me my prediction for the ultimate victor come February 10 I would say the Pharoahs of Egypt will not retain the trophy they won two years ago at home soil. Nigeria‘s Super Eagles will carry the day replacing the Egyptians as Champions. But in the regrettable event of the Eagles failing once again to fly Superbly then the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire should come back to Abidjan with the prized trophy. And if the Elephants, given their bulky frame, disappoint like they did in Cairo two years ago then the Nkrumah Black Stars should keep the cup as hosts and winners.