Nigeria’s Super Eagles Team B (CHAN Eagles) finished as runners up at the just concluded 5th edition of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) which held in Morocco. In the final match of the tournament played against the Atlas Lions of Morocco on Sunday night in Casablanca, the CHAN Eagles lost by four goals to nil. Despite this fall at the last hurdle, the result represents our best outing so far at the competition designed to grow the game on the continent. Our previous best outing at the CHAN was a third-place finish in 2014.
We commend our gallant national football team for the relative success achieved, and hope it will serve as a springboard to go one step further and win the competition at its next edition scheduled for Ethiopia in 2020. At that next edition, the price money for the winner and other participants will significantly increase, but for now, reports say our Eagles will get 400,000 dollars for coming second.
The footballers, who returned to a quiet welcome at the Murtala Mohammed Airport on Tuesday morning, are expected to be received by President Muhammadu Buhari sometime this month to further underscore the nation’s appreciation of their efforts. Two members of the team, goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, and defender, Stephen Eze, have been invited to participate in the pre-World Cup camp coming up in Austria in May this year. This is a good outcome of the CHAN already, given the earlier disposition of the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rhor, not to involve any home-based player in his World Cup preparations.
We believe that even more players from the recently-concluded CHAN deserve to be given a chance to stake their claim for a World Cup berth. Players like Goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye and Midfielder Dayo Ojo were impressive with their resolute performances when called upon in the course of the competition.
This was exactly the aim of the CAF leadership under former President, Issa Hayatou, when it inaugurated the competition about a decade ago. Founded to feature only home-based players, the CHAN is a viable platform to grow the local leagues and the game on the continent. Now in its fifth edition, the competition has showcased the depth of local talent on the continent to the entire football world and the gains are beginning to roll in.
Apart from growing endorsements and sponsorships by Corporate Africa, the CHAN has enabled these home-based players to attract prospective lucrative contracts from foreign clubs. Getting these contracts will free the space for other home-based players to showcase their talents in subsequent editions. Credible reports indicate that a number of foreign clubs have started jostling to engage some of the players in the just ended CHAN. A number of players in the conquering Moroccan team are also in hot demand.
This is why some of the criticisms which trailed the outcome of the final match and our general performance at the tournament may not be justified. Not many in the country’s football fraternity gave the CHAN Eagles any chance of a decent outing at the competition, given our shambolic preparations and previous poor outings. But, to qualify from the group and make it all the way to the final was a pleasant surprise, and no mean achievement.
The Moroccan team which they met in the final match, apart from being the host, was very well prepared. From the first game of the tournament, they had installed themselves as firm favourites and it was no surprise that they went on to win it. Anything else would have been an upset. Their top striker and Man of the Tournament, Ayoub El Kaabi, had the distinction of scoring nine goals, more than many nations that took part in the competition.
The competition was particularly stiff, coming on the eve of the Russia 2018 World Cup. We hope that the level of the competition is sustained in future editions. Participating nations too, and especially our own country, must learn from their mistakes on the competition and prioritise proper and early preparations. Given the depth of talent at home, we should be winning the CHAN at regular intervals. But, to actualise this vision, all the ills hampering the growth of football and our local leagues must be corrected.