By Ikeddy Isiguzo, Chairman Editorail Board
IT may be helpful if Nigerians understand a few things about the implications of the Nations Cup for greater things in the game. The Nations Cup may be Africa’s version of the peak football competition, but it has always marked the fall of teams that are on their way to the big event, the World Cup.
What usually happens is that the winner of the Nations Cup fails to qualify for the World Cup (Ghana in 1978 and 1982, Egypt in 1986, Algeria in 1990, and Egypt in 1998 and 2006) since 1970 when Africa started getting a World Cup ticket for the entire continent. Several changes have ensured more places for Africa.
Only two teams that won the Nations Cup have qualified for the World Cup since 1974 when CAF decided that Africa’s sole ticket for that edition of the World Cup would go to the winner of the Nations Cup. Zaire was a worthy Nations Cup champion but its World Cup woes, included a 9-0 thrashing by Yugoslavia (the point is still made that the Zairean coach was Yugoslav).
Nigeria in 1994 became the first African team to qualify for a contested World Cup ticket in the same year that it won the Nations Cup. Nigeria’s inaugural outing was considered incredible, even when rated against the failure to make the quarter-finals that Cameroun, hit in 1990.
Cameroun, which in 2002 won the Nations Cup as well as gaining a World Cup ticket, is the other country to score the double. Cameroun was immemorial at the 2002 World Cup, much to the disappointment of many. The African team that shone at the 2002 final was Senegal that defeated defending champion France in its opening game and made the quarter-finals.
If the Nations Cup and the World Cup tickets were contested independently as was the case until CAF bowed to pressure from European clubs to combine the qualifications, some teams going to the World Cup would have failed to make the Nations Cup.
The same foreign pressure makes a lot of difference in the final outcome of the Nations Cup, then the World Cup. CAF is anxious to have the best African players at the Nations Cup. European clubs have been complaining that the long absences of African players affect their efforts adversely.
I can speculate on what would happen in Angola and how these would affect Nigeria’s anxieties until the World Cup in South Africa ends.
Major African players with bigger challenges in Europe tend to have higher considerations for club commitments than national assignments. Some players also do not give their best on African pitches which have been proven to be unfriendly to their delicate feet that are valued millions of Dollars.
Would it be understandable if players go all out to win the Nations Cup and pick injuries that could sideline them from the World Cup? Can Angola be an appropriate competition to rate players for selection for a World Cup that is still months away?
How would competing in Angola (rigours of a three-week contest, if the team advances to quarter-finals, travels, changes in food, weather, playing turf, team tactics) affect the players when they return to their clubs? These are not entirely new situations.
Individual coaches would answer these questions and more. Some have learnt from their peculiar situations and have tailored solutions to meet their needs. No one solution fits.
The peculiarity of Nigeria’s setting is the near absence of adequate planning. When the bulk of our key players were based in Nigeria, these situations were ameliorated by the ease of assembling the players and longer camping.
In 2010, the five top contenders for the Nations Cup, with the exception of Egypt, the defending champion, would be at the World Cup. South Africa, World Cup host, did not make Nations Cup party. Who among Egypt, Cameroun, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire can the Eagles beat to the Cup?
Should the team focus more on the World Cup? How can the Nations Cup be used effectively to prepare for the World Cup if the coach is not sure of a World Cup seat after Angola?
Every move, every moment, every method, every model used in Angola would be assessed against its place in the World Cup. Therefore the agonies of Nigeria during the Nations Cup would centre more on the futureÂ a critical look at some of the features of the team that should attempt mending Nigeria’s shredding honours after Angola snatched the 2006 World Cup ticket from her in Kano.
The anxieties these detailed examinations of the team would produce would leave many too tensed to understand there could be hope after Angola, if we decide the World Cup is more important than the Nations Cup and channel our energies towards making something of a miraculous presence in South Africa.