IKENWA NNABUOGOR charges Super Eagles to end the bronze party at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon…
Despite the huge potentials of one-time world fifth best football country according to FIFA rankings, Nigeria’s Super Eagles have only managed to win the AFCON title three times, much to the surprise of many football enthusiasts.
The Eagles have a record of being Africa’s third best eighth times, claiming their last bronze medal at the last AFCON in Egypt two years ago.
Perhaps, their bronze collections may have hit a further record 10 had they been at the tournament in 2015 and 2017.
Eagles boast of some of the best African exports in the world and it’s surprising that they trail Egypt and Cameroon in the AFCON grand honour’s roll call.
The bronze party started in Morocco in 1976, when Christian Chukwu led his men to finish third best in the first and only AFCON where the league system was employed to produce the winners.
Chukwu led his men to finish behind winners Morocco and Guinea in the round-robin format in the final knockout rounds involving Morocco, Guinea, Nigeria and Egypt.
Eagles had only appeared in the AFCON once before their bronze best in Ethiopia, in 1963, where they failed to go beyond the first round, in the tournament hosted in Ghana.
The bronze medal finish in Ethiopia would open their “celebrated” haul of bronze medals that would take other countries some years to equal.
Two years after Yugoslav coach Tiko Jelisavic, nicknamed “Father Tiko”, led Eagles to their first continental glory in 1976, he repeated this in Ghana by beating Tunisia in the lottery of penalties after a 1-1 draw.
It was not until 1992 in Senegal that the three-time African champions under Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof added their third bronze medal to the honour’s cabinet.
The 2000s witnessed the biggest bronze medal harvest for the West African country as four bronze medals were brought in to decorate the honour’s cabinet that had earlier added two gold medals (1980 and 1994) and four silver medal finishes (1984, 1988, 1990 & 2000).
What was seen as breaking the bronze finish duck in 2013 in Africa when late Stephen Keshi became the second ever football icon to win the AFCON both as a player and a coach, was pushed back to the archives with yet another bronze medal honour in Egypt in 2019 after two unforgettable misses in 2015 and 2017.
Is it not a shame that Nigeria, who compete favourably with the world best Brazil in the trade of players’ exports in world football, will be trailing Egypt and Cameroon in the honour’s list?
Could it a coaching defect that has landed this bronze medal record for a country whose football pedigree is world class?
Coach Gernot Rohr courted sack after he helped Nigeria to grab their eighth bronze medal title in Egypt and only managed to hang on to his job with a renewed contract and tall charge to win the AFCON title in Cameroon early next year.
The apex football body Nigeria Football Federation settled for a contract renewal instead of severing links with the 67-year old Franco-German which would have dug a whopping hole in the NFF’s pockets via the contract pay-off clause.
Rohr has finally landed in Cameroon after finishing tops in the Group L standings in the qualifiers, but will he be second time lucky to emerge African kings and add a fourth AFCON title to the honour’s cabinet?
The former Gabon coach has the best legs scattered all over the place to play and cruise with consummate fun to win the AFCON title in Cameroon but will Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Egypt and Algeria be watching and let them have it?
In truth, Rohr hardly has an excuse not to fly with the Eagles to the AFCON title next year because of the quality of players at his disposal.
The diaspora players with England providing majority of them are also available and willing to be selected, the headache is totally Rohr’s to ship in or ship out.
The end of a bronze medal finish for the Eagles is now and Rohr’s best MUST be the AFCON gold medal proudly hanging round their necks in Cameroon as anything short of that will not be good enough.