The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, tagged “AFCON 2021”, gets under way in Cameroon on Sunday, December 9, 2022.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles, who are making their 19th appearance at the tournament, joins 23 other national teams to do battle at Africa’s football showpiece. There are six groups and Nigeria is drawn in Group D, alongside Guinea Bissau, Sudan and seven-time winners, Egypt.
With an average squad age of 25.7 years, Nigeria will be parading the sixth youngest team at the continental soccer fiesta. Samuel Chukwueze, who features for Villarreal, and Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye, both aged 22, are the two youngest players in the squad while Kaizer Chiefs goal stopper, Daniel Akpeyi, aged 35, is the oldest member of the Super Eagles. Akpeyi is followed by team captain, Ahmed Musa, who is 29.
Equatorial Guinea with an average squad age of 24.52 years, has the youngest team and are followed by Ghana with an average squad age of 24.67 years.
The Super Eagles, who left the shores of Nigeria for Cameroon on Wednesday, January 5, will be in Cameroon with a depleted squad, with at least five of the original 28-man squad missing, mainly due to Covid-19, injury or refusal of their clubs to release them.
Napoli striker, Victor Osimhen has pulled out of the team after contracting Covid-19. In addition, he is recovering from injury and his club is not too comfortable allowing him to play just yet. Another high profile player who is out of the squad is Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia striker, Odion Ighalo. The contract papers of Ighalo, who had been away from the team for two years now and was recalled only last November, contains information to the effect that he is no longer actively engaged in international duties and as such the club is not obliged to release him.
Abdullahi Shehu and Leon Balogun are out due to injury while Watford sensation, Emmanuel Dennis’ participation at the AFCON is being blocked by his club, who claim the player’s invitation letter from the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) came too late.
Osimhen is being replaced by Henry Onyekuru while Peter Olayinka is taking the place of Dennis. Venezia defender, Tyrone Ebuehi and Semi Ajayi are returnees standing in for the other players who pulled out of the tournament.
Team captain, Ahmed Musa has left the Super Eagles Camp to be with his family after losing a relation but will fortunately rejoin the team before its first match.
Three-time winners, Nigeria, who last won the AFCON trophy in 2013, will have its first game against Egypt on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. Thereafter, the Super Eagles will trade tackles with Sudan on Saturday, January 15 and Guinea Bissau on Wednesday, January 19. The group games of teams in Group D will be played in Garoua.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has urged the players of the Super Eagles to settle for nothing other than gold as they fly the nation’s flag in Cameroon. The president gave the charge on Tuesday, January 4, at a pre-departure send-forth dinner organised for the team.
Buhari, who was represented by Youth and Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, said the team possesses the skills and experience to succeed at the tournament, adding that Nigerians back home are looking up to them so they must strive to live up to expectation.
Noting that he was not unaware of the challenges being faced by the team, which include Covid-19, injuries and late, as well as, non-release of players by clubs, the president charged the players to rise above the challenges and strive to do the nation proud by aiming to win the trophy for the fourth time.
The Authentic Nigeria Football and Allied Sports Supporters Club will be travelling to Cameroon for the AFCON 2021 with over 500 supporters to cheer the Super Eagles to victory. According to the President of the group, Abayomi Ogunjimi, the supporters club will be in Cameroon as the Eagles’ 12th player at the tournament.
News filtering out of Cameroon indicate that the Super Eagles defeated Cameroonian club side, Cotton Sport 2-0 in a warm-up friendly. Goals from Ahmed Musa and Samuel Chukwueze in each half ensured victory for the Eagles in the match decided on Friday, January 8, 2022.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) has effected a change in the prize money structure of the tournament. All the teams that get to the quarter final will receive the sum of $1.175 million each, which is an increase of $175,000 while semi-finalists will receive $2.2 million, up from two million dollars. The two runners up get $2.75 million each, representing an increase of $250,000. The winners of the tournament will receive $5 million, up from $4.5 million.
CAF will be using the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in all 52 matches of the AFCON. The VAR was deployed in the 2019 edition in Egypt but it was only from the quarter-final stage.
There will be a total of 63 match officials, including four women, one each from Rwanda and Cameroon, and two from Morocco. The list of match officials consists of 24 referees, 31 assistant referees and eight VARs, all coming from 36 countries.
Some of the teams to watch in Cameroon include defending champions, Algeria, hosts, Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and of course, Nigeria. The opening match of the 2021 AFCON will see host, Cameroon take on Burkina Faso at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
The big news coming out of the Nigerian camp however is the fact that the federal government has named a bogus, high-powered delegation of people, most of whom have nothing to do with sports, to lead the country’s contingent to the tournament.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is leading the federal government delegation. Joining Gbajabiamila are the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as well as chairmen, Senate and House Committees on Sports, Senator Obinna Ogba and Hon. Olumide Osoba.
Also on the delegation are Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and their Agriculture and Natural Resources counterpart, Dr Mohammed Abubakar.
Ministers of State for Agriculture, Mustapha Baba Shehuri; Science and Technology, Mohammed Abdullahi, and Finance, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba; Special Adviser to the President on Sports, Daniel Amokachi, as well as a representative of the Department of State Service (DSS) also made the list.
Others are the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyeama; Executive Director (Marketing), Nigerian Breweries (NBL), Emmanuel Orhiaki; Managing Director, MTN, Kari Toriola; Managing Director of Coca Cola, Alfred Olajide; Executive Director, Premier Lotto, Bisi Adebutu and President of the National Association of Nigeria Student (NANS), Sunday Asefun.
The delegation is too bogus. Besides, 15 persons out of the 21-man delegation have no business being on the list. For instance, what is the Head of Service going to do in Cameroon? Chairman of Air Peace; Executive Director, NBL; Executive Director, Premier Lotto; as well as the MDs of MTN and Coca Cola, all have no business being on the federal government delegation, except their companies part-sponsors of the Super Eagles.
It is difficult to understand what the CBN governor, the NANS President as well as the ministers and ministers of state (other than the sports minister), are going to do in Cameroon. Or is the CBN governor going to be the one paying the players their match bonuses?
The only people on that list that merit to be there are the Speaker, the Governor, the chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on Sports, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, as well as the Special Adviser to the President on Sports. All the others are excess baggage who are going there for nothing other than a jamboree! It is a sheer waste of public funds and that is no way to spend taxpayers’ money, especially at a time when the federal government is looking for additional sources of income as a result of dwindling revenues.