First 11: Nigeria’s AFCON Crash + This Week’s Biggest Sports Stories
It’s been a week of drama at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria’s shocking loss to Tunisia, and the red cards that marred the competition, were major talking points in the last seven days. Heartbroken fans trolled Maduka Okoye and Alex Iwobi following the defeat which sent out one of the tournament favourites.
These stories, FIFA’s linking of plans for a biennial World Cup to migration tragedies in the Mediterranean and others, headline First Eleven which gives a recap of the biggest sports gist for the week.
Tunisia Clip Eagles’ Wings
The week began on a sad note for football fans in Nigeria after the Super Eagles’ early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Nigeria, three-time continental champions, were stunned 0-1 by Tunisia in a Round of 16 game in Cameroon.
Austine Eguavoen’s men went into the game as favourites having won all three group stage matches, the only team to do so. But a 47th-minute strike was enough for the North Africans to break the hearts of millions of fans in Nigeria. Although Nigeria battled to get the equaliser, a red card for former Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, compounded the Super Eagles’ woes.
Fans Troll Okoye, Iwobi
Iwobi’s sending off triggered a barrage of cyberattacks, not just on the midfielder but goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye. The Sparta Rotterdam man was faulted for not doing enough to stop the 2004 champions from scoring the lone goal in the match. Both were subjects of hate messages from fans who blamed the duo for the Super Eagles’ exit. Their names trended for days on social media, prompting them to disable comments on their Instagram accounts. Okoye, some of the fans claimed, was distracted by praises from female admirers.
Following the defeat, President Muhammadu Buhari had told Nigerians not to write off the team. In a short message on Monday, he asked fans to encourage the side, believing that they can do better in subsequent games.
“They gave everyone the confidence that they were up to it, and I am sure it was something they could have achieved,” a statement from a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, read. “Nonetheless, we should not write them off”.
Red Cards Mar AFCON
Nigeria’s loss wasn’t the only thing that made headlines from the AFCON. In the first round of knockout fixtures, seven red cards were issued in eight games. The development drew condemnation from several quarters. Fans on social media even dubbed the competition “AFCON of Red Cards”, throwing up further debates about the quality of officiating at Africa’s premier championship.
Coach Eguavoen was critical of centre referee, Maguette Ndiaye’s dismissal of the Everton star, describing the officiating as unfair. Aside from the former defender, Ghanaian ex-international, Mikel Essien, also questioned the number of red cards in the tournament. The former Chelsea player while lamenting the situation said it was “shocking” and wondered if the game had become soft.
Tragedy Rocks Tournament
The red car controversy came amid a stampede that killed eight persons and wounded dozens of others before a match between the host nation, Cameroon, and Comoros. The incident took place at the gates where final tickets checks are made. This prompted an investigation by Cameroonian authorities. The health ministry said the victims were immediately transported in ambulances but traffic slowed down their movement.
In a swift response to the tragedy, CAF blamed the incident on the closure of an entry gate at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life,” African football supremo, Patrice Motsepe, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?”
A Case For Biennial World Cup
The stampede happened days before FIFA tried to link migration tragedies in the Mediterranean to plans for a World Cup every two years. Head of the football governing body, Gianni Infantino, said the move can give hope to migrants.
“I understand in Europe the World Cup takes place twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe,” he told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.
“But if we think about the rest of the world… which doesn’t see the best players, which doesn’t participate in the top competitions, then we have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport.”
Nadal Chases Record In Australia
Just as FIFA continues to make a case for a biennial World Cup, tennis stars are in Australia battling for one of the game’s biggest prizes. In a tempestuous match on Friday, Daniil Medvedev powered to a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas to book a date with Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open. The world number two beat Tsitsipas 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, the same day Nadal defeated Matteo Berrettini to reach his sixth Australian Open final in Melbourne. The Spaniard, pushing to become the all-all time men’s Grand Slam leader – 21 titles – claimed a 3-6 2-6 6-3 3-6 win.
The women’s category saw a ruthless Ashleigh Barty book a spot in the final. She won in straight-sets, demolishing Madison Keys, and will now face hard-hitting Danielle Collins in Sunday’s game.
Djokovic Still In The Court
Although he is not in Australia, a leaked entry list, which made its way to social media, has indicated that Novak Djokovic would be playing at next month’s ATP Dubai tennis tournament. The Serb was in the news weeks ago after a COVID-19 vaccination row. But the list shared by tennis journalists showed that Djokovic was named as the top seed for the event.
This is coming weeks after he was deported by Australian authorities following a legal tussle. The unvaccinated player’s next move had become a subject of speculation since he landed at home in Belgrade, via Dubai. He was initially given an exemption to play at the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated but the Australian government later revoked his visa, a move upheld by the Federal Court.
Earlier in the week, the English Premier League “sack race” continued. This time, Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, was the latest casualty following his dismissal by Watford. He was sacked just after 14 games in charge as the Hornets’ boss, the club said in a statement earlier in the week. Ranieri was dismissed, just about three months after he got the job.
“The Hornets’ Board recognises Claudio as a man of great integrity and honour, who will always be respected here at Vicarage Road for his efforts in leading the team with dignity,” Watford said about the Italian.
The 70-year-old was brought on to stabilise the team which is battling relegation. But a string of poor results have left them in the murky waters of England’s elite league. The Hornets have only managed seven points since he arrived at the Vicarage Road. Ranieri’s last game in charge was a 3-0 loss to relegation rivals, Norwich, just last week. They are second bottom on the league log, following a loss of seven out of their last eight domestic matches.
Joshua Denies Pay Off Claims
In boxing, Anthony Joshua has refuted reports claiming he agreed to a ($20 million deal to step aside from his heavyweight title re-match with Oleksandr Usyk. The reports had suggested that the Nigerian was ready to let the Ukrainian fight Tyson Fury in the unification title bout. But Joshua insisted the stories were false.
“I’m hearing people saying: ‘AJ accepts £15million to step aside’. I ain’t signed no contract; I ain’t seen no contract,” he was quoted as saying in a Talksport online video posted on Twitter. “So, as it stands, stop listening to the bullshit until it comes from me. I’m the man in control of my own destiny; I’m the man that handles my business.”
Usyk had defeated Joshua in September to deprive the 32-year-old of his World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Organization (WBO) belts.
Buhari’s Message To Olympians
And as the Winter Olympics inches closer, President Buhari has urged Nigerian athletes to make the country proud in the games. A statement from the presidency on Tuesday quoted Buhari as telling the nation’s representatives of his trust in their ability to deliver.
“The President trusts that Nigerian athletes participating in different events will excel at the competition, surpassing the previous record in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018, when the nation competed for the first time,” the Nigerian leader told the athletes, according to a statement from Femi Adesina.
Buhari said the Olympic Games is an avenue to foster friendship among countries. This is as he hoped that athletes will put the core values of the event – excellence, friendship, and respect – on display.