First 11: Nigeria’s AFCON Crash + This Week’s Biggest Sports Stories

First-Eleven

 

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

Tunisia’s players celebrate after winning the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 round of 16 football match between Nigeria and Tunisia at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 23, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP

 

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

A photo combination of Maduka Okoye and Alex 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

The AFCON was tagged by many as a “tournament of red cards” following the number of players that were sent off in the competition.

 

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 

Supporters of the Comoros national soccer team celebrate their team goal during the match Cameroon vs Comoros in Moroni on Jan 24, 2022. Ibrahim YOUSSOUF / AFP

 

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

File photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks during the inauguration of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) new headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on October 30, 2018. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

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

In this file photo, Novak Djokovic of Serbia takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 13, 2022. Mike FREY / AFP

 

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.

Ranieri Fired 

In this file photo taken on April 01, 2018, ex-Nantes’ Italian head coach Claudio Ranieri attends the French L1 football match between Nantes and Saint-Etienne at The La Beaujoire Stadium in Nantes. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

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 this file photo, Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk (L) fights British heavyweight champion boxer Anthony Joshua at the end of their heavyweight boxing match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London on September 25, 2021. Usyk defeated Joshua on points. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

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

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

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.

Channels TV Wins Aiteo-NFF Development Award

 

Channels Television has won the AITEO-Nigeria Football Federation award for the second consecutive year, for promoting football at the grassroots.

The Channels International Kids Cup, a corporate social responsibility programme of the TV station, started in 2009 as a Lagos state competition and has evolved into an international event featuring participants from the Benin Republic and Ghana.

The tournament received the development award at the maiden edition of the NFF awards for constantly improving on the objective of discovering and nurturing young talents under the age of 13 in primary schools.

Meanwhile, Super Eagles’ stand-in captain Ahmed Musa and Super Falcons’ opposite number Onome Ebi took the big gongs at the second edition of the awards that held in Lagos on Monday night.

Among the winners were Super Falcons’ coach Thomas Dennerby, Super Eagles’ ace winger Samuel Chukwueze and Enugu Rangers’ coach Olugbenga Ogunbote.

The project started only last year, but, like the first edition, dignitaries and guests came from all over Africa and other parts of the world.

The highlight of the night, by miles, was the special recognition of the Super Eagles’ Class of 1994 – the squad widely nicknamed ‘Golden Generation’ after qualifying Nigeria for her first ever FIFA World Cup finals, winning the Africa Cup of Nations on away soil for the first time and coming within 100 seconds of a quarter-final place at the World Cup in the United States of America.

Physically present and bathed in applause were goalkeepers Peter Rufai and Alloy Agu, defenders Austin Eguavoen, Uche Okechukwu, Benedict Iroha, Nduka Ugbade and Taribo West, midfielders Mutiu Adepoju, Austin ‘JJ’ Okocha, Sunday Oliseh and Edema Fuludu and forwards Finidi George, Samson Siasia and Daniel Amokachi. Omoyemi Yekini, daughter of the ‘goalsfather’ Rashidi Yekini, stood in for her late father as well as the four others who had passed on: team Captain Stephen Keshi, goalkeeper Wilfred Agbonavbare, defender Uche Okafor and midfielder Thompson Oliha.

READ ALSO: Five Things We Learned In European Football This Weekend

Emmanuel Amuneke, Michael Emenalo, Emeka Ezeugo, Efan Ekoku, Isaac Semitoje and Chidi Nwanu could not make it down to Nigeria for the ceremony. While a couple of the players present on Monday night did not make the final cut for the World Cup in America, six members of the group went ahead to join the Dream Team and return to America to conquer – by winning Africa’s men’s football gold at the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta two years later.

Secretary-General of FIFA, Ms Fatma Samoura (the first African/first woman to occupy the position) was honoured with the NFF Order of Merit Award, as Presidents of 18 Member Associations of FIFA, the Abia State Governor (Chief Okezie Ikpeazu), the Acting Governor of Edo State (Comrade Philip Shaibu), two Governors-elect (Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Abdulrazak Abdulrahman of Kwara State) and captains of industry, political juggernauts, A-class artistes and heavyweight stakeholders of the game watched at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Members of the NFF Executive Committee and Management, Members of the NFF Congress and chairman of various Clubs were also in attendance.

President of the Nigeria Football Federation and First Vice President of CAF, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, once more eulogized the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) for providing the conducive environment for football to thrive and for total support for the NFF and the various National Teams, while calling on Nigeria’s other billionaires and well-heeled companies to emulate AITEO Group and boost the development of football in Nigeria.

Business mogul and politician, Chief M. K. O. Abiola was honoured with the NFF Presidential Award, while Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his hefty support for football projects and programs of the National Teams.

There were several members of the CAF Executive Committee, namely Dr Danny Jordaan of South Africa, Suleiman Waberi of Djibouti, Aisha Johansen of Sierra Leone, Moses Magogo of Uganda and Sita Sangare of Burkina Faso.  All noted the good and great works that Samoura, who spent 21 years working for the United Nations, has been doing as chief accounting officer of FIFA since she assumed office three years ago.

NFF First Vice President and Chairman of the Awards organizing committee, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi said the Federation decided it was apt to honour the Super Eagles’ Class of 1994, 25 years to their AFCON –winning exploits and FIFA World Cup performance. It would be recalled that Nigeria was named the second most entertaining team of the USA 1994 World Cup.

Responding on behalf of the 1994 Eagles, defender Austin Eguavoen expressed deep appreciation of the squad to the NFF for the honour, while also using the opportunity to plead that NFF should help the players pursue the Federal Government’s promise of a house for each member of the squad, following the AFCON triumph in Tunisia 25 years ago.

2ND AITEO-NFF AWARDS WINNERS

Young Player of the Year (Female): Anam Imo

Young Player of the Year (Male): Samuel Chukwueze

Fair Play Award: Akwa United FC

Fans of the Season: Kano Pillars FC Fans

Coach of the Year (Female): Thomas Dennerby

Coach of the Year (Male): Olugbenga Ogunbote

Goal of the Year: Ahmed Musa

Team of the Season: Super Falcons

NFF Development Award: Channels Television (Channels International Kids’ Cup)

Special Recognition: Super Eagles of 1994                           

Lifetime Achievement Award: Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

NFF Presidential Award: Chief M.K.O Abiola (of blessed memory)

NFF Order of Merit Award: Fatma Samoura

Player of the Year (Female): Onome Ebi

Player of the Year (Male): Ahmed Musa

ODSFA Denies Blaming Referees For Eguavoen’s Exit

Austin Eguavoen

The Ondo State Football Agency (ODSFA) said it has never blamed Austin Eguavoen’s disengagement on bad officiating from referees in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

The agency made the clarification over the weekend in a statement from its media officer, Chris Okunnuwa.

“ODSFA wishes to clarify that the claims attributed to the parental body of Sunshine Stars FC in the said report are not true. The claim in the report is not in any way a reflection of ODSFA’s thought about Nigerian referees.

“The agency, nor any member of its management staff has never and will never issue such a statement wrongly credited to the Secretary of the ODSFA Interim Management Committee, Elder Mike Adeyeye,” it said.

The agency, however, noted that only Coach Eguavoen could have divulged the reasons for his disengagement.

“We hold the Nigerian Referees in high esteem and regard the Nigeria Referee Association (NRA) as a noble body that must be accorded every bit of respect.

“So we urge every stakeholder of the Nigerian game, particularly the NRA to disregard the said report,” the statement added.

Sunshine Stars Accepts Eguavoen Resignation As Coach

The Management of Sunshine Stars FC has received and accepted the disengagement notice of Coach Austin Eguavoen.

This reveled in a statement signed by Sunshine Stars FC Media Officer, Mr Chris Okunnuwa.

The statement read: The Club appreciates the coach for his time with the club and wishes him the best for the future.

In view of this development, Sunshine Stars FC Management has appointed the club former assistant coach, Akin Olowookere as the Interim Head Coach, and will be assisted by coach Ogunderu Boye.

The appointment takes with immediate effect.

Also Read: Eguavoen Quits Sunshine Stars Coaching Job

Eguavoen Quits Sunshine Stars Coaching Job

Austin Eguavoen has become the latest coach to quit his position at a Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) club after dumping struggling Sunshine Stars of Akure.

Eguavoen has been angered with what he termed biased officiating tilting against his team in recent matches and does not feel he can continue in his role.

Under the former Super Eagles boss, Sunshine Stars fumbled to home defeats against Lobi Stars and Plateau United.

Assistant coach, Akin Olowookere will take charge of the club against Kano Pillars on Sunday pending the appointment of a substantive head coach

Eguavoen, Shorunmu To Manage Sunshine Stars

Austin Eguavoen

The Ondo State Football Agency (ODSFA) has unveiled a new set of technical crew for Sunshine Stars Football Club.

The ODSFA appointed former Super Eagles coach, Austin Eguavoen as Head Coach and erstwhile Nigerian international, Ike Shorunmu as Goalkeeper Trainer.

They have been employed with the task to help Sunshine Stars escape relegation from the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

Performing the unveiling, the Chairman of the Interim Management Committee of the ODSFA, Mr Gbenga Elegbeleye, urged the new coaches to be alive to their new responsibilities in a bid to revive the team.

He said with the position of the team on the league table, sentiments must be put aside in recruiting of players and ensure the club performs well in the FA Cup.

Ike Shorunmu

“Sunshine Stars as a football team is the darling team of everybody in Ondo State and their current position is not where we feel they should be if we check the league table now. Sunshine are either on 18th or 19th position and sincerely speaking, the Sunshine Stars that I know should be among the very first three teams.

“So, if we are in this current situation and if care is not taken, the team will go on relegation. For this team to move up, we don’t have to put sentiments in recruiting players.

“The agreement is that the coaches will not get more than what the former coaches were getting as salary, it’s a sacrifice. I want you to know that based on our personal relationship with them, we want them to come and support the team because we want to swim out of relegation waters as a team.

“By the grace of God, this team will not go on relegation. The assignment is to make sure Sunshine Stars do not go on relegation; and secondly, make sure they do well in the FA Cup,” the football administrator said.

Coach Eguavoen, who said the team is good, stressed the need to fortify the squad with more players for optimum performance in the NPFL.

He said that the leadership of the team would work hard, assuring Mr Elegbeleye that the club would have a cause to celebrate at the end of the season.

“We all have a job to do; the players, the supporters club, everybody is important. There will be rough times, there will be good times, but the ability to stick together matters. We have to be up and doing, Sunshine is not a bad team but the situation may make players lose confidence and concentration. It is only important that we bring in some more players to fortify the team.

“I’m with you all the way, the work has started from today. I urge everyone here and wherever to try as much as possible to give their prayers the support they need. We will work hard day and night because this situation we are in is not the best. At the end of the season, we will all gather to celebrate by the grace of God,” the new Head Coach promised.

President Jonathan To Lead Physical Training Exercise In Abuja

Jonathan President Goodluck Jonathan will on Saturday lead government officials as well as sports men and women to an out-door physical training exercise in Abuja, which is aimed at promoting sports and fitness in Nigeria.

The programme, which includes jogging, physical stretches and light aerobics will start at 7.00am with a long walk from the Presidential Villa by the President in the company of government officials, presidential aides, political associates, sports personalities and enthusiasts.

According to a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, the training will culminate in a solidarity rally for President Jonathan at the Eagle Square, organized by the Nigerian sports community.

Sports personalities expected to participate in the physical training exercise and solidarity rally include Mary Onyali, Austin Eguavoen, Kanu Nwankwo, Joseph Yobo and Chika Chukwumerije, amongst others.