14 January 2017

Nigeria/Gabon: Gabon 2017 Kicks Off Without Super Eagles

Photo: The Guardian Nigeria
Super Eagles in training

The 31st edition of the biggest football event on the continent of Africa, the Total Africa Cup of Nations, Gabon 2017 will commence this afternoon in Libreville as the host nation Gabon take on Guinea Bissau at the Stade de I'Amitie, Libreville.

Unfortunately the green white green flag of Nigeria will be conspicuously missing at the prestigious football tournament, after the Super Eagles lost the sole group ticket to the Pharaohs of Egypt.

As if jinxed, the Super Eagles had failed to qualify for the 2012 edition which Gabon co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea. As if that was not bad enough they again failed to qualify when Equatorial Guinea hosted the championship in 2015.

The failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for Gabon 2017 makes it six times the three time Africa Champions have failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. They did not qualify for the tournament in 1968, 1972, 1986, 2012, 2015 and now 2017.

The downward movement of the national team did not start today but it took a turn for the worse when the present leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation took over the glasshouse. For critics of the Amaju Pinnic led NFF board, missing the AFCON back to back at a time the Eagles should be on the ascendency is unpardonable.

Beginning from the late eighties, the Eagles appeared more regularly in the Africa Cup of Nations and often times ended up among the last four teams.

Before they won their second title in 1994, the Eagles were runners up in 1984, 1988 and 1990. They were again runners up in 2000 when Nigeria hosted the championship for the second time but lost in the finals to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. The Eagles came third in 1976, 1978, 1992, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 in Angola.

A look at the performance of the Super Eagles shows consistence in appearance and performance until in 2012 when the team again failed to qualify for Gabon-Equatorial Guinea. Even as the Eagles bounced back strongly to win their third title in 2013 under late coach Stephen Keshi, they failed to build on the success, thereby missing out in 2015 and 2017.

Consequently, teeming football fans in Nigeria will be left with no option but to watch other African football stars exhibit their skills on the big stage without their darling Super Eagles.

For emerging stars like Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Oghenekaro Etebor, Simon Moses and Leon Balogun, the failure of the Super Eagles to be in Gabon is a huge disappointment because they have been denied the chance to have a feel of the AFCON and also show their football skills on such a big stage.

In addition, the tournament in Gabon would have helped the Super Eagles prepare for the remaining matches of the 2018 World Cup to be staged in Russia. The new Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr needs every opportunity to imbibe his football philosophy into his players. Gabon 2017 would have been an ideal setting for him to assess his troops in a competitive setting. That too has been lost by the failure of the team to qualify.

While the Super Eagles are left to count their losses, other powerhouses in African football would be aiming to improve on their past performances in the championship.

Indeed, the absence of the Super Eagles has reduced the pressure on the Lions, the Foxes, the Elephants, the Black Stars, the Sparrowhawks, the Pharaohs, the Brave Warriors, the Eagles, the Panthers, the Teranga Lions, the Carthage Eagles, the Stallions, the Cranes and the Leopards from DR Congo.

Although there are no more minnows in African football, football pundits have since concluded that the contest for the title in Gabon will be among the superpowers namely Egypt, seven time winners of the championship, Cameroon and Ghana with four titles each not leaving out former champions like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast and DR Congo.

Guinea Bissau are the only team that will be debuting at this tournament but countries like the host nation Gabon, Zimbabwe, Mali, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo who are yet to win any title also have another opportunity to make history.

Even as the absence of nations like Nigeria, Zambia, Angola, Benin Republic, South Africa, Guinea, Mozambique and Namibia has denied football fans the opportunity to savour the talents they would have brought to the party, there would be no dull moment as far as quality football is concerned.

So for the next three weeks, the world will be treated to exquisite and breath-taking football to be cooked and served by some of the most talented football players on the continent of Africa.


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