As COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to sports globally amid the Omicron variant, calls for the postponement of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), have gathered steam.
In Nigeria, the Super Eagles’ longest-serving coach was dismissed, while Akwa United got rewarded for their title-winning feat.
These and others, make up First Eleven, as we try to make sense of events in the sporting world in the past week.
We begin from home where Nigeria on Sunday sacked long-time coach, Gernot Rohr, following a string of unconvincing results.
The decision came months after Nigeria lost at home to the lowly-rated Central Africa Republic (CAR), and survived a nervy game against Cape Verde to book a place in the playoff stage of the 2022 World Cup qualifier.
Days after Rohr’s dismissal, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, explained that the decision had to be made to avoid disaster.
According to him, the German had lost the dressing and indiscipline was rife in the team.
But Rohr faulted the NFF for sacking him, maintaining that he met all targets.
A ‘Surprised’ Move
Although the NFF’s decision may not be surprising to many fans in Nigeria, the interim coach of the team, Austin Eguavoen, said he never expected to be handed the role.
The former Super Eagles defender explained that he also did not see Rohr’s sack coming.
“I would say I was shocked, I was surprised when my name was announced after a brief discussion but I thought Gernot Rohr will continue because it has always been, ‘Is he going to continue? Is he not going to continue?’ We’re going to sort things out,” Eguavoen told Channels Television.
“And then when my bosses spoke to me about it a couple of days ago I was like why not but is there a possibility that we can sort things out with him.”
Money Rain For Akwa United
Away from Rohr’s sack, Governor Emmanuel Udom rewarded Akwa United following their title-winning feat in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Udom in a ceremony to honour the team at the Government House in Uyo on Thursday promised them N100m, a bus, and a plot of land each to the players.
The Akwa Ibom Governor aside from the reward also urged the team to build on their league victory in the coming season.
While Akwa United will be waiting for the start of the NPFL to defend their crown, matches have already started in the women’s league better known as the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL).
The league which began last weekend is already in Match Day 2. Fourteen teams will be competing in two groups of seven teams each.
Rivers Angels, last season’s winners, have started their title defense and have four points from two games played so far. But Bayelsa Queens are the leaders in Group A with four points having scored more goals.
In Group B of the NWFL, Confluence Queens led the chart after winning two of their games played so far.
Okpekpe Race Returns
World Athletics has confirmed May 28, 2022, as the new date for the eighth Okpekpe International Road Race.
The decision is coming after the competition was twice moved – in 2021 and 2020 – due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Pamodzi Sports Marketing – organisers of the competition – Mike Itemuagbor, the road race will be back in a better form.
“We have done all the documentation required and we are delighted that World Athletics has confirmed the date we set for the race,” he said, adding that the Okpekpe Road Race will be held in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
AFCON: Pressure Mounts On CAF
With less than a month to kickoff, there is pressure on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
The European Club Association, which represents leading clubs across the continent, is among leading voices calling for the postponement of the competition billed for Cameroon early next year.
With a host of African top stars playing in Europe, several big clubs are expected to lose players for at least to three-week.
Worried by the outbreak of the Omicron variant and a “suitable medical and operational protocol for the AFCON tournament,” ECA is threatening that the clubs will not release players for the competition. Amid clamours for the postponement, CAF insists the AFCON will hold as planned.
UEFA Draw Drama
In Europe, the UEFA Champions League knockout draws were held earlier in the week but an “error” from the organisers meant it had to be redone.
UEFA blamed a “material error” due to a “technical problem with the software of an external service provider” as it announced that the draw for the first knockout round of its flagship competition would be redone at 1400 GMT. The full fixtures for the knockout phase of the Champions League can be found here.
Aguero Bows Out
Two days after the Champions League knockout phase draws, Argentine star, Sergio Aguero retired from football, ending a career that saw him score 260 goals for Manchester City.
The 33-year-old, who recently moved to Barcelona and only managed five games, broke down in tears while announcing his retirement from the game in a press conference.
Compatriot, Lionel Messi, was among the first set of people to pay tribute to the former Atletico Madrid forward both of whom won the Copa America earlier this summer.
COVID-19 Ravages EPL
Aguero’s retirement was not the only health-related issue in European football this week. The English Premier League is battling a wave of COVID-19 infections. Owing to the resurgence of the disease, several league games have been called off but opinions are divided on moves for a COVID-19 break.
Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, is among those who maintain the league should continue while his Arsenal counterpart, Mikel Arteta, is calling for fairness before a decision is taken on the matter.
England is also not the only nation where the virus is disrupting football. In Spain, several Real Madrid players have contracted the disease.
F1 Great Hamilton Knighted
And just days after missing out on a record-breaking eighth Formula One title in controversial fashion, Lewis Hamilton was knighted by the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old was recognised in the New Year Honours list for services to motorsport following a year in which he broke Michael Schumacher’s all-time tally for Grand Prix wins and emulated the German by winning a seventh world title.
On Sunday, however, championship rival Max Verstappen won his first Formula One world title after a season-long battle with Hamilton came down to a one-lap shoot-out in Abu Dhabi.
‘Greatness!’ Steve Curry Sets Record
In basketball, Golden State Warriors star, Stephen Curry, eclipsed Ray Allen’s all-time record for NBA three-pointers with his 2,973rd career three-pointer.
It came on his first shot of the clash with the New York Knicks, less than two minutes into the contest, and had the crowd on its feet.