25 November 2012

Nigeria: Afcon 2013 - My Countdown Begins!

There is no major African football competition going on around me. The African Club championships have been rounded off. There is no football at all going on in Nigeria. So, i am thinking what to write about.

My original plan was to re-start my countdown to Afcon 2013 a week to the start of the championship on January 19. By that time, I believe, those of us in the business of writing football would have seen enough of all the teams and their preparations en-route South Africa to be able to make better informed, technical analysis of the teams. Also, the 'brave' amongst us will be in a better position to even dare to predict the result of matches before they are played.

At that time I would do more than the 'dreaming' and peering into a crystal ball that I have done in the past few weeks that fanatical Zambian supporters of the Chipolopolo, in particular, have found very irritating and annoying! They have been so emotionally whipped up by any views that may suggest any other result than the outright victory of Zambia. Any such comment is considered a 'sin' and is reacted to with ferocious indignation. These past 2 weeks, I have been the object of abuses and curses simply because I dared to 'predict' that South Africa, and not Zambia, are the team I see on my radar screen as possible winners of Afcon 2013. I am thoroughly enjoying the 'game'.

Many Nigerians are also angry with me. I can understand their feelings. They wonder why my crystal ball is not 'seeing' the Super Eagles as likely winners. Unlike the Zambian supporters though my countrymen have not crucified me. Instead, many have been complaining in muted voices, but working very hard to complete the process of building a winning team, and prove me wrong. Nothing will gladden me more. The good thing, however, is that many other Nigerians have learnt to see it all as a game, an imaginary game-before-the-game that I have been playing in my writings for decades. My predictions have never been accurate, so what's the fuss?

That said, I have now decided to concentrate on Afcon 2013 and start my own countdown to the championship.

Nigerians and the 2013 championship!

Nigerians cannot now wait for the Super Eagles to arrive South Africa in full force. That is the conversation everywhere now. Even the English Premier League and the European club championships with several unexpected results and twists and turns, are now in the second division of conversations. The Super Eagles are on every lip here now. Expectations are becoming higher. A few days ago, I was at the first official send-forth event for the Super Eagles organised by Guinness to unveil their national campaign materials in support of the Super Eagles . Stephen Keshi, the coach of the team is now expected to round off his building process and announce his team for the championship. The very impressive results against Liberia (6-1) and Venezuela (3-1), cannot be discountenanced and have become the source of renewed hope. I was reminded that when Nigeria was to win the 1980 championships in which I was an active participant the country defeated Liberia on the eve of the championship. History they say is about to repeat itself. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, are now preparing to storm South Africa and drown the noise of the Vuvuzela with the singing and drumming of the Nigerian supporters club. Last Thursday night in Lagos I was a witness to an impressive dress rehearsal. Let me restate here again my thoughts on the Super Eagles. Any team that writes them off, or disrespects them, will be doing so at their own peril. Nigeria is a very physically strong and difficult-to-beat team any day or place. Thats why Nigerians themselves are abandoning any talk of a mandate to Keshi and his players less than winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. The drum beats are getting louder and louder. The Super Eagles, irrespective of any theoretical analysis, will be going to South Africa with a relatively new team. There will be several unfamiliar faces. It will be one of the dark horses of the championship, and no one, least of all Nigerians, that will be surprised if they go all the way to the finals. The team now has two incredibly fast and clever front players, making their Nations Cup debut at these championships could prove to be Nigeria's joker. They can make a huge difference in these championships. The more I think of them the more I start to see some sense in the growing positive expectations of Nigerians. I say no more!

So far, what I have been doing since the official draws were concluded in Durban last month has been a purely academic exercise. My views have been based on gut feeling, history, tradition, and my own obviously biased filter. I claim not the power of clairvoyance, so no one should hold me responsible if my predictions fall short and eventually turn out to be as far away from the reality as Mars is to the moon, when the actual matches start. But hear this. At the same time, I shall demand a public 'apology' from Zambians, in particular, that have made the most 'hated' man in their country on the eve of Afcon 2013, if my predictions turn out to be right and the Chipolopolo are drowned by the sea of over-bloated expectations by their own people.

Me at the African Cup of Nations!

I am preparing for Afcon 2013. I have not been this excited about the African Cup of Nations since Tunisia 1994.

God willing. I shall be there to bear witness. I shall be fully loaded with my pen, a tape recorder, a camera, and a two-man television camera crew.

My intention is to do a comprehensive outside-the-matches and behind-the-scenes, exclusive and unique coverage of the African championship with special attention to the legacies of the 2010 World Cup. Some two years after South Africa hosted one of the best and most colourful World Cup finals in history, it makes sense to look at the physical gains and losses.

The experience of hosting the World Cup, which is double the size of this Nations Cup with 32 rather than 16 teams, should ordinarily make the hosting experience ofAfcon 2013 a piece of cake - simpler and better. With all the facilities and personnel still available, this should be an excellent platform to put to good use all the experiences gathered then to execute this smaller but similar project. The rest of Africa would be eager to learn and find out the many lessons from the 2010 World Cup.

Many questions are racing through my mind.

Some two years after that unforgettable World Cup 2010 experience Africa needs to take stock.

Did the championship attract the anticipated 500,000 visitors to the country that year?

What is the state of all the legacy projects of the World Cup?

How much has South African football and the SA football industry grown since then?

Has the World Cup done for South Africa what we were told the hosting of such international events does for host countries, in terms of social, infrastructural and economic development?

There was an international campaign around the 2010 FIFA World Cup that sought to draw the attention of world political leaders about investing in education as part of the UN Millennium Development Goal objectives to eradicate illiteracy, hunger, poverty and HIV/AIDS in the world by 2015. The project was publicly endorsed and adopted by FIFA as its official 2010 legacy project during the World Cup. It was the 1-Goal Education for All, a global education campaign that drew support from players, football administrators and heads of governments all over the world. What has happened to the project since then? What are the tangibles that FIFA put in place even in South Africa to sustain the project?

How has the World Cup experience influenced education, the football business, football itself, and human capacity building in South Africa since then?

What is the present state of all the new stadia constructed for the World Cup? If they are still in any shape close to what we had in 2010 then Afcon 2013 should be a guaranteed technical success. The matches on those magnificent fields of lush green grass will be great delights.

How has life changed for the average South African since the end of the 2010 World Cup?

Is the Johannesburg sub-way ( the metro-line system) now functioning smoothly and serving the masses?

Has the football business grown and impacted the domestic game, leagues and championships?

There are many more questions that the opportunity of Afcon 2013 will provide answers to.

Thats why I cant wait for the month of January 2013 and the kick-off. So, I take my own kick-off now.

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