Sixteen African countries converged on Morocco between January 12 and February 4 for the Africa Nations Football Championship organised by the Confederation of Africa Football for players in the domestic league of their respective countries. Nigeria was among the finalists in the competition which was the fifth edition. Kenya was the original host, but because they were not ready with facilities, the North African country was named in October last year as host.
Morocco defeated the Super Eagles 4-0 in the final match to emerge the first host country to win the tournament. In 32 games played, 58 goals were scored by participating teams. Ayoub El Kaabi of Morocco was the star man of the tournament. He emerged the highest scorer with nine goals to surpass the five-goal record set by Zambia’s Given Singuluma at the inaugural edition in 2009. It did not come as a surprise that he was also adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the competition.
It is interesting that Kaabi only joined RS Berkane of Morocco this season from a lower division club, Racing de Casablanca, where he scored 25 goals to emerge highest scorer for the Batola 2 outfit in the 2016/17 season.
The lessons from the tournament is about organisation, planning with the Moroccan model. For this tournament, the coaches also went to the lower division to get a goal poacher. The federation in the North African country is strict with transfers such that a player cannot wake up one day and head for Kuwait or Iraq to play football. For example, we are aware some of the key players of the CHAN Eagles left the country for professional football even during the preparation for the just-concluded competition. We call for a strict legislation on players transfer especially during the run-in of the CHAN tournament.
Preparation of the Eagles was not adequate enough. Some of the clubs held on to their players for so long and the team was only able to be together for three weeks. The Moroccan team and some others were on training tours where they played not less than five international games respectively.
We observed that the league in Morocco is of same calendar with that of Europe. Same goes for Egypt, Tunisia and some other African countries. The domestic league in Nigeria kicked off the same weekend CHAN started in Morocco and it was obvious the players were not match fit before the tournament. The Eagles struggled in the preliminaries individually and collectively because they were yet to be in top-notch for such high profile competition.
The weather in Morocco was also very tough on the players. Most of them lack the exposure to play in such condition as low as five degrees and it would have been better to camp the team early in a country that has similar condition with Morocco.
Nigeria is a big country and it was clear that the options of the coaches were limited even during the competition. We urge the federation to monitor the selection process in future such that players in all the top two divisions of the league will be evaluated to vie for a place in the team.
We commend the handlers for travelling with quality goalkeepers such that after the injury sustained by the first choice IKechukwu Ezenwa, Dele Ajiboye also did very well in the semi and final matches. It was clear that Ajiboye was a good sub especially against Sudan in the semis.
It is good that defender Stephen Eze and midfielder Solomon Ojo were picked among the best eleven of the tournament, but we make bold to say the Eagles were generally unconvincing at the championship despite playing in the final.
The Salisu Yusuf boys were lucky to have defeated Libya 1-0 in the final group match, Angola 2-1 in the quarters and Sudan 1-0 in the semis. Though the team suffered huge injury setback, the display in the final was poor. The Eagles made the match too easy for the host. We recall that Yusuf also led Nigeria to the final of the West Africa Football Cup tournament only to crumble 4-0 to host Ghana in the final.
No doubt, the silver medal won in Morocco is the best result of the country so far in CHAN but it was also important to stress that the standard of the domestic football in every country is the best yardstick to measure the development of the game in the country.
The League Management Company and the NFF must double their efforts to boost the standard of domestic league in the country. There is need to have junior teams in each of the elite teams to have proper transition which could also serve as a pool to raise the junior and cadet national team players.
It is sad that only the two keepers – Ezenwa and Ajiboye – are being considered for a place in the Russia 2018 World Cup. The league deserves better.
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