BY DANLADI BAKO
The African Cup of Nations is upon us again, this time Cote d’Ivoire, two time winners are the hosts. Nigeria is gearing up to browbeat it’s was into the final and probably win the trophy not because of the strength of its preparation, quality friendly matches, pedigree of coaching crew but more because of the providence nature bestowed on us as a country by having a few top class players in the mould of Victor Osimhen and the rave of the German League Victor Boniface of Bayer Leverkusen.
But winning the African Cup of Nations or indeed major football tournaments go beyond the quality of players and coaches, it also tasks each country’s football administration cascading from the Sports Minister, his drive, personality, charisma, and his hold at the presidents office down to the aura of the Football Federation President to the tactical depth of the coaching crew and very importantly the commitment, passion, grit, energy technical ability and discipline of the players individually and collectively.
Another major factor in winning tournaments is the quality of the opposition. Today in Africa, the reigning champions are Senegal and also FIFA rankings put them ahead of Nigeria. Morocco is another country tipped to excel due to the sterling performance at Qatar 2022 World Cup where they got to the semi-final.
The host country Cote d’Ivoire is a contender simply because they have a legendary youth football culture spewing up such great legends of the past like Didier Drogba , Yaya Toure Omar Ben Sallah and Abdullahi Traore.
Among the contenders for every edition are six time winners Egypt. Not only have they entrenched a solid home-based club football culture, they have the best club-sides on the continent in Al Ahli, former Ahli National and Zamalek football club.
They have midwifed generations of legends like goalkeeper Ekramy Ahmad El-Shahat, Hossam Hussain and today One of Africa’s greatest export to the English Premier league, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.
One cannot but also mention Algeria and Riyad Mahrez, South Africa and Percy Tau, three time winners Cameroon and Andre Onana along with Chuppa-Mouting of Bayern Munich.
Even with all these great players , no country is guaranteed of excelling without the tactical prowess of it’s coaches.
Here we are talking about the formation and style of play of the team. Gehnot Rohr when he was Eagles gaffer was accused of not being offensive enough in the teams play.
Peseiro has also been criticized for a weak defence and choice of sloppy, error-prone goalkeepers like Uzoho.
But with the abundance of talent we have today , how do we evolve a team that defends well , enforce a good defensive midfield wall and even without the mercurial skills of Jay Jay Okocha create defense splitting passes to feed Osimhen and Boniface.
For want of designing a winning team and strategy together with the coaching crew, I might suggest Nwabili of Chippa United in goal because the South African league tests you enough especially as a first team goalkeeper.
African Cup of Nations football is gritty, rough, and rigorous. Not sure Uzoho is that tough and rugged or if he can maintain optimal concentration throughout ninety minutes of African weather.
Ola Aina, Trust Ekong , Semi Ajayi and Zaid Sanusi hopefully are experienced and will do a good back four for me. Ndidi sits in front of the back four while Iwobi and Kelechi play as 8 and 10.
Of course the three attackers will be Chukwueze of AC Milan , Boniface of Leverkusen and African Footballer of the year Victor Osimhen leads the attack.
Tactically, the definitive transition from defence to attack is not only extremely key it is imperative and on the field of play, Ndidi and “senior man” Iheanacho must assume leadership on the pitch and service the attackers.
Having attended 12 AFCON tournaments and six FIFA World Cups between Spain ’82 and South Africa 2010, I guess one have acquired an intuition and sixth sense that guides one towards who are likely winners , contenders and the pretenders to the title.
I dare say countries like Cameroon , Cape Verde and Ghana might likely be surprise packages of the tournament despite not being top notch during qualifiers.
As a note of caution, I was in Cote d’Ivoire in 1984 when Super Eagles boasted of the likes of Stephen Keshi, Patrick Okala, Muda Lawal, Henry Nwosu and Cameroon knocked us out in the final with a star -studded team of Thomas Nkono, Stephen Tawtaw, Djonkep Bonaventure and Doumbe Lea.
We were overpowered by their stars. The reverse is the case today. We have the stars like Victor Osimhen and Wilfred Ndidi.
Can we overwhelm Morocco, Egypt, Senegal and the hosts Cote d’ Ivoire?
Are dollar issues and greed of officials going to affect and distract the team?
Is there luck associated with Presidents and Sports Ministers in our favour during tournaments?
In less than 14 days the games will begin in Abidjan then the real challenge will start. I dare say the success or failure of the Super Eagles will depend on not only the technical and tactical strategies on the pitch but the diplomacy, the politics, the administration and the positivity of all Nigerians to the team.
As we move to battle I love the new jerseys but the players must know that wearing that jersey means they carry the hopes, dreams and pride of 200 million Nigerians. One can only admonish them and say to them “Fly Super Eagles, fly”.
Dr Danladi Bako attended six FIFA World Cup and 12 AFCON Tournaments and was Chairman Sokoto State Football Association 2000 – 2003.
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