2014 CHAN bronze: A celebration of mediocrity

The 3rd edition of the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) held in South Africa between January 11 and February 1, 2014, has come and gone with the most unlikely squad, Libya, otherwise known as the Mediterranean Knights, clinching the trophy. Nigeria’s flag-bearers, the home-basedSuper Eagles, made their first appearance at the tournament and settled for a bronze medal in keeping to the age-long tradition established by the Green Eagles back in the mid-70s.

Nigeria’s first prize at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) was a bronze medal won in 1976 in Ethiopia. They have also nicked five bronze medals: 1978, 1992, 2004, 2006 and 2010.What then is spectacular about the home-based Eagles winning a bronze medal in CHAN to warrant the elaborate celebrationbeingput together by the Presidency today at the Aso Rock Villa? This is tantamount to enthroning mediocrity more so after the largesse splashed on the 2013 AFCON-winning Super Eagles and the Golden Eaglets that clinched the last U-17 FIFA World Cup at the United Arab Emirate. The Nigerian football family has seen enough bronze medals to last them a life time.

Although it was Nigeria’s maiden appearance, the country had every opportunity to win the trophy. The failure of Nigeria to feature in the inaugural tournament in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 and won by Congo DR resulted from the deplorable state of our domestic leagues, the platforms that produce materials for the home-based Eagles, andthe inability of the coaches to move around and fish out the best legs.

It is even curious that Nigeria’s domestic league is ranked fourth after Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, even though only Morocco made it to South Africa and crashed out in the epic quarterfinal battle against Nigeria. Tunisia, the defending champions, missed out. Libya that won the trophy in their first outing emerged not only from obscurity but also the ashes of internal conflicts that have plagued the country since the fall of strongman Moamar Ghaddafi in 2011.
The Nigerian soccer fans will like to forget the agonizing moments the home-based Eagles put them through in a hurry. Although the squad bounced back after their 1 – 2 shock loss to Mali in the opening encounter, beating South Africa 2 – 0 and Mozambique 4 – 2 at the group stage before dismissing Morocco 4 – 3, their semi-final 1-4 loss to Black Stars of Ghana via penalty shootout and a scrappy 1 – 0 against Zimbabwe in the third place match, defined the quality and character of the team and their handlers in that tournament. Only a few could believe that the home-based Eagles were tutored by the best coach on the continent who is also bound for the next World Cup Finals. Nevertheless, Stephen Keshi and his coaching crew can be excused for the team’s mediocre performance. A number of factors worked against them. Notable among them were inadequate preparations and the failure of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to get the players to camp on time. Aside from one international tune-up friendly encounter with Ethiopia played in Abuja a few days before their departure to South Africa which they won 2 – 1, a couple of other warm-up matches were against off-season local league sides.

However, the individual brilliance of players like Ejike Uzoenyi voted as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Kunle Odunlami and Rabiu Ali should be acknowledged. It is hoped the NFF and the management of the nation’s domestic leagues will step up the standard of the game to give the coaches quality options to prosecute the next championship in 2016.

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