Fifty years after last hosting the Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon kick off the continental showpiece on Sunday targeting a sixth title while hoping the spectre of the coronavirus does not overshadow the tournament.
It was all shades of bright and colorful at the opening event of the games which had stalled for a year, over COVID-19 concerns.
Workers are applying final touches to the fan zones in Yaounde ahead of the long-awaited launch this weekend of Africa’s biggest sporting event.
Beset by months of problems and uncertainty, the month-long Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway on Sunday when host nation Cameroon play Burkina Faso.
Preparations to get the giant screens, shops, restaurants, and fan space ready for thousands of supporters in the nation’s capital are definitely in a last-minute mode.
“We Cameroonians love to leave everything to the last gasp,” laughs Simon Atangana, a former national player who is part of an organisation setting up the fan zones.
“Everything will of course be ready. AFCON is going to be a huge party, and the pictures will be spread around the world.”
But a familiar foe — coronavirus — is a potential fly in the ointment.
The global pandemic forced the postponement of AFCON from last year, and fears of another delay were eased only last month.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has set down tough rules in a bid to prevent AFCON from becoming a super-spreader event.
Those wanting to enter the stadium must be completely vaccinated — in a country where just six percent of the adult population has been jabbed — and show a negative PCR test for the virus that is less than 72 hours old.
Venues have been limited to 60 percent of capacity, although this is being raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” take the field.
The rampant spread of the Omicron variant is casting a pall over team lineups.
Gabon’s Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the latest player to test positive and may miss his country’s Group C open match against Comoros on January 10.
“We asked CAF whether we can replace some of our players who got infected with Covid-19 but the answer is no,” said The Gambia’s coach, Tom Saintfiet.
“If this still remains to be the case, it could be a catastrophe… but according to the current rules, we are not allowed to replace anybody in the final list of the 28-men squad.”
Waiting For The Party
In Yaounde’s Warda Square, hawkers of flags, shirts, and vuvuzela horns say they have had a slow start in trade.
“Business hasn’t taken off yet as much as I would like, but I’m optimistic,” said Arnaud Medja, 29, dressed from head to toe in Cameroon’s national colours of green, yellow and red.
“It’s just taking more time than scheduled. It’s just the Covid rules which have come along and put a dampener on things.”
The cup and the tournament’s lion mascot Mola have been going around the streets of Yaounde, backed by dancers and musicians and escorted by motorbike riders bedecked with the flags of all the competing nations.
“AFCON is going to be fun — a party,” said Laurentine, a 33-year-old cosmetics saleswoman.
“It’s going to be great to see the town move and watch everyone get out again.”
Desperate For Tickets
On Wednesday, dozens of people lined up outside ticket outlets after AFCON said seats were being put on sale, although they waited in vain.
“I spent all day yesterday queuing. I went to the city hall, to the Ahidjo stadium, and now it’s the Palais des Sports,” said Karine Sunshine, 23.
“But there’s still nothing on sale. I am desperate to see the opening match.
“We’ve been waiting 50 years for this moment — that was the last time AFCON was staged in Cameroon. So I got my vaccinations, and now I am waiting a bit longer because the Cameroonians are going to win the cup. Just look at the atmosphere there’s going to be this weekend.”
But not everyone seemed to be aware of the tournament’s anti-Covid restrictions — or even to be particularly worried about the virus.
In Yaounde’s central market, hundreds of people, none of them masked, thronged the stalls as Cameroonian and international music blasted from loudspeakers.
“Yes, of course, I will be going to the stadium,” said Abdoulay, a water seller. “You have to get vaccinated (to get in)? Oh, in that case, I won’t go.”
“There’s no corona in Cameroon, and we don’t want the vaccine here. You don’t know what it contains and vaccinated people catch the disease anyway,” he said.
Following weeks of deliberations and consultations, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on Wednesday named Jose Peseiro as the new coach of the Super Eagles.
The 61-year-old will be taking over from German gaffer, Gernot Rohr, who was dismissed earlier in the month after some unconvincing performances by the three-time African champions.
While his much-awaited appointment came when the senior national team’s camp had opened for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the federation clarified that the Portuguese coach will not be taking Nigeria to the competition.
It instead explained that interim manager, Austin Eguaveon, will be in charge as the country pushes for a fourth continental crown in Cameroon early next year.
Despite a handful of names making the news in the quest for a new Eagles manager, fans are divided over the NFF’s choice.
Below are six things to know about the Super Eagles latest handler:
A Spell With Real Madrid
Peseiro is reputed to have had spells with some top clubs in Europe including Real Madrid.
He was an assistant to compatriot Carlos Queiroz in 2003. The Los Blancos finished fourth that season, leading to their dismissal from the job.
Quit Last Job Over Unpaid Wages
With less than two weeks to a triple-header of World Cup qualifiers, he resigned from his job as Venezuela’s coach in August 2018, citing unpaid wages.
President of the Venezuela Football Federation, Jorge Gimenez, admitted that Peseiro was owed “no more and no less than one year” of salary, adding that “he’s hardly been paid anything from his tenure.”
First Time Coaching African National Team
While the former FC Porto coach is not new to African football having managed the Egyptian side, Al Ahly, the Nigerian job is the first time he will be in charge of a national team on the continent.
At Al Ahly, he, however, did not last more than the 2015/2016 season with the African Super Cup holders.
Managed/Worked With High-Profile Teams/Coaches
Apart from Real Madrid, Peseiro has also had stints with some top clubs in Europe.
The coach has worked with top Portuguese sides like FC Porto and Sporting CP, playing in the Champions League with the latter. In addition, the new Nigerian manager at some point worked with Jose Mourinho and Carlos Queiroz.
Nigeria’s new coach has a Master’s degree in sports science, a big plus for the Super Eagles.
Began Coaching In 1991
Having retired from playing football at 34, the Portuguese started his coaching career as a player-coach with Union Santarem in the Portuguese fourth division.
Defending champions of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Akwa United, have kicked off their title defence campaign with an impressive 3-0 victory over Kano Pillars in Uyo.
Opening day action against a decent Pillars team was the sort of test coach Kennedy Boboye was hoping to use in assessing if his team can continue the brilliant show they put up last season. And, oh yes, the champions showed class.
The first half was a cagey affair and just when the home fans thought there will be no celebration before the break, Ezekiel Bassey, broke the deadlock. The hosts took the lead into the break.
When action resumed, it didn’t take long before Stephen Chukwude opened his goal account for the Promise Keepers with a brilliant finish off Ubong Friday’s low cross.
In the 79th minute, the visitors had a chance to pull one back but Kokoette Udoh’s strike flashed across the face of goal and goes wide. That move reawakened the attacking prowess of the league champions. In the closing minutes of the match, Ubong Friday made a good run onto a long ball, dribbled Bassey Akpan cleverly, and finished calmly.
Good start to the 2021/2022 NPFL season for the Promise Keepers who showed their intent to defend the title they won in style last campaign.
Newly-promoted Remo Stars produced a stunning performance to beat MFM FC 2-0 at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos. This is the first league win for the Sky Blue Stars over the Olukoya Boys since 2017.
Akanni Qudus gave the visitors the lead in the 55th minute, and Andy Okpe with an easy tap in at goal placed the icing on the cake. New manager, Gbenga Ogunbote, praised his team for not respecting the hosts and wants the team to continue the season-opening form in the next home match against Heartland FC of Owerri.
Enugu Rangers also got their league campaign to a flying start with a 1-2 win over Katsina United. The Flying Antelopes gave new manager, Abdul Maikaba the sort of experience he needed to get things going.
Ossy Martins is still on fire. He continued his impressive league form to score a brace for the visitors. The former Lobi Stars man opened the scoring in the 13th minute, Saliu Mustapha, scored to level up for the hosts. In the 54th minute, Martins scored again to give Rangers a vital away victory.
Shooting Stars of Ibadan, also making a return to the top flight held another newcomer, Gombe United to secure a vital away point on the road.
Enyimba Rules Abia Derby
Enyimba Football Club of Aba continued their dominant display in the Abia Derby with a 2-1 win over Abia Warriors.
The Peoples Elephant got the lead through Ekene Awazie’s goal in the 34th minute. Proceedings stayed that way till the second half when Paul Samson equalized for the visitors. Coach Finidi George made some useful changes to take control of the game and in the 77th minute, Chigozie Obasi, scored the winner.
Meanwhile, in Owerri, it was goals galore. Visiting Nasarawa United held Heartland FC to a 3-3 draw. Some familiar names in the goalscorers sheet include Chinedu Ohanachom and a brace by Otegbeyi Ajibola.
In Ilorin, Dakkada FC was no match for last season’s surprise package, Kwara United. Steven Jude’s brace and one from Junior Lokosa sealed a 3-0 win for the Harmony Boys who will be looking forward to repeating their impressive performance from the last campaign.
In Makurdi, Lobi Stars were held to a 1-1 draw by Rivers United, Niger Tornadoes beat Plateau United 1-0 while the game between Sunshine Stars and Wikki Tourists couldn’t hold because the Elephants failed to show up. The League Management Company (LMC) is yet to make an official statement on the situation
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday’s win means Rivers Angels, defending champions of the NWFL, are on four points from two games. Over the weekend, they were held to a barren draw by Delta Queens in Asaba, the capital of the oil-rich state.
Edwin Okon’s side will now travel to Warri where they face Royal Queens in their next NWFL match.
Before the encounter, the coach had said his girls were battle-ready for the tie, even though he conceded it would not be an easy game.
“I’m expecting a tough fight from Robo Queens tomorrow [Wednesday] because they have a very young side but notwithstanding, victory will be ours,” he said on Tuesday.
“This season will be quite an interesting one because of the opportunity to qualify for the continental showpiece next year so one cannot afford to slip at all.
“I’m looking forward to a good game come tomorrow and hope the odds will favour us.”
In other games played on Wednesday, Bayelsa Queens and Delta Queens shared the spoils in a south-south derby with goals from Grace Henry and Mercy Itimi.
Nasarawa Amazons, away from home, walloped Pelican Stars 3-0 just as Abia Angels and Royal Queens’ encounter ended in a goalless draw.
There was also another barren draw in Matchday 2 of the NWFL. This was the game between Edo Queens and Naija Ratels.
Osun Babes, however, lost one nil to Confluence Queens.
Barcelona and Argentina striker Sergio Aguero on Wednesday announced his retirement from football at a tearful press conference, just over a month after the 33-year-old was diagnosed with a heart problem.
“I have decided to stop playing professional football. It is a very hard moment but I am happy with my decision. My health comes first,” said Aguero, who enjoyed 10 highly successful years at Manchester City before leaving at the end of last season.
He signed a two-year deal with Barcelona but had made just five appearances, scoring one goal against Real Madrid, before being taken to hospital with breathing problems after a match at home to Alaves in October.
Aguero was then diagnosed with a heart problem and forced to accept that he would not be able to play again.
“I took this decision because of problems I had a bit more than a month ago. I was in good hands with the doctors who also did their best and told me the best thing to do was stop playing,” he said at the press conference at the Camp Nou, which was attended by his Barcelona teammates.
“I did everything possible to keep the hope alive but there wasn’t much hope.”
Aguero began his career at Independiente in his native Argentina before moving to Europe in 2006 to sign for Atletico Madrid.
He won the Europa League during his time with the Spanish side and then moved to City in 2011.
Aguero left the Etihad Stadium a decade later as their all-time leading scorer with 260 goals, the most famous being his injury-time strike against Queens Park Rangers in May 2012 which won the Premier League title.
“I am very proud of the career I have had,” he added.
“Everyone knows about the goal I scored for City against Queens Park Rangers to win my first Premier League, but there have been many great moments.”
The Nigeria Football Federation has terminated the contract of Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr and appointed ex-international, Augustine Eguavoen, currently it’s Technical Director, as the Technical Adviser on an interim basis.
Eguavoen’s appointment is with immediate effect, and ends the NFF’s relationship with Franco-German Gernot Rohr, who has been in charge of the three-time African champions for the past 64 months and is Nigeria’s longest-serving manager.
Following a virtual meeting of the NFF Executive Committee on Sunday, it was decided that Eguavoen will work with Salisu Yusuf (Chief Coach); Paul Aigbogun (Assistant Coach); Joseph Yobo (Assistant Coach); Dr Terry Eguaoje (Assistant Coach) and Aloysius Agu (Goalkeeper Trainer). Former Nigeria captains Augustine ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Garba Lawal have been appointed to provide technical and ambassadorial support for the crew.
“The relationship between the Nigeria Football Federation and Mr Rohr has come to an end. We thank him for his services to the Super Eagles and Nigeria,” NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi said.
“We also want to thank the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports for their collaboration and guidance all through.”
Eguavoen, a former Nigeria captain, was coach of the squad when it finished in third place at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2006. He was on-field captain when the Super Eagles lifted the Africa Cup for the first time on away ground, in Tunisia 27 years ago.
He will now take charge of the team as it begins preparations for the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations taking place in Cameroon 9th January – 6th February 2022, and until the appointment of a substantive head coach.
Brazilian football legend Pele has been hospitalized for treatment of a previously identified colon tumor, his doctors said Wednesday, the latest health problem for the 81-year-old icon.
The three-time world champion was admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo “for follow-up treatment of the colon tumor identified in September this year,” his medical team said in a statement.
“The patient is stable, and is expected to be released in the coming days.”
Pele underwent surgery for the tumor on September 4, spending a month in the hospital before being released to continue chemotherapy from home.
Considered by many the greatest footballer of all time, Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele’s real name — has been in poor health in recent years, and has spent various stints in the hospital.
The only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), he burst onto the global stage at just 17 with dazzling goals, including two in the final against hosts Sweden, as Brazil won the World Cup for the first time in 1958.
“O Rei” (The King) went on to have one of the most storied careers in sport, scoring more than 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977.
Jakson Follmann remembers the moment the plane’s engine died and everything went black. Then, an intense pain and cold rain falling on his body.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, he called out for help, until he saw the beam of a flashlight shining through the wreckage of the fuselage.
It has been five years since the plane carrying Follmann and the rest of Brazilian football team Chapecoense Real ran out of fuel on the way to the final match of the South American Cup, slamming into the mountains outside Medellin, Colombia.
Seventy-one people were killed in the crash. Follmann, now 29 years old, is one of six who survived — though he lost his right leg below the knee.
“We were all so happy, so excited to go play for the title. Then from one day to the next, I lost my friends, I lost the source of my livelihood,” he said.
“After that, my biggest dream became something so simple: just to be able to walk again.”
In the half-decade since the one-time goalkeeper from the southern state of Santa Catarina has had to reinvent himself.
His football career cut short by the crash, he has found new life as a motivational speaker and Brazilian country singer.
“As a kid, I had two big dreams. Becoming a footballer came first. Then fate brought what it did, and now I’m living my second dream thanks to music,” he told AFP.
Follmann, who has released four “sertanejo” (Brazilian country) singles, spent two months in the hospital after the crash undergoing treatment for 13 fractures, including two severe ones in his upper spinal column.
He said he turned to music and his Christian faith to get him through.
“I had two options after the accident: sit around feeling sorry for myself, or lift my head up and face life,” he said.
He chose the latter.
He got a tattoo on his right arm — a picture of himself in his Chapecoense jersey climbing a staircase with his prosthetic leg, a giant dove in the sky above.
By 2019, he had recovered so well he was able to appear as a contestant on reality TV show “Popstar.”
He didn’t just participate in the show: he won, with sertanejo songs that pulled at the audience’s heartstrings.
Follmann, who moved to Sao Paulo last March, played for Brazil’s under-20 national team and several local clubs before joining Chapecoense.
He had played just one official match for the underdog club, which was having the best season in its history before the crash.
Just three players survived.
One, Alan Ruschel, today plays for first-division side America Mineiro. Another, Neto, tried to return to football, but hung up his boots in 2019 after struggling to overcome the injuries left by the accident.
Follmann, for his part, says in some ways his new job is not so different from his old one.
“As a footballer, I practiced every day. Music is no different,” he said.
He has set himself a new goal.
“I want to reach people,” he said.
“Music can transform lives, like it transformed mine.”