When the Nations Cup kicks off in January next year in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Algeria and South Africa will not be participating. Not because they are not good enough but because they did not qualify. With these five teams missing, the Nations Cup will be less entertaining and there will be a drop of quality. These teams, with the exception of Egypt, played at the World Cup last year in South Africa. This goes to show the gap between the big and small teams in Africa and in world football in general.
In September this year, CAF president Issa Hayataou expressed fear over the quality of the Nations Cup as the big teams then were in danger of missing out and his fears have come to pass as all five teams were past winners of the Nations Cup. Football fans in Africa will not see the likes of Samuel Eto’o regarded as the best player to ever come out of Africa, Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwingie, Steven Pienaar and Ahmed Hassan show case their skills in the Nations Cup
In the case of Egypt, the Pharaohs are the defending champion of the Nations Cup and have won the last three Nations Cup. It is unfortunately true that this is the first time since 1996 the defending champion has failed to qualify for the Nations Cup. Nigeria won the title in 1994 but did not participate in the 1996 edition due to political reasons.
The Egyptian team that won the three straight titles is regarded as the best generation of African players ever. Age and motivation may be the factors that led to the Pharaohs’ poor showing at the qualifiers, with South Africa, Niger and Sierra Leone in their group many expected the Egyptians to qualify but they could only win a game in the qualifiers and finished bottom of the group with five points
South Africa, winners of the Nations Cup in 1996, were also in the same group with Egypt. South Africa played for a draw in their last game because they didn’t know the rules of qualification. Despite finishing with the same points and a better goal difference. Niger qualified due to the head to head rule.
When Nigeria was grouped with Ethiopia, Guinea and Madagascar, it was seen as an easy group in which the Super Eagles of Nigeria were the favorite to qualify. Needing just a win at home in Abuja to seal qualification, Siasia’s boys could only play a 2-2 draw against Guinea.
The coach and the Super Eagles players blamed lack of communication for their elimination. At 2-1 up, Nigeria would have qualified for the tournament as one of the two best-placed runners-up, but they went in search of the third goal which left them exposed at the back they now conceded the second goal which eliminated them completely from the Nations Cup for the first time since 1986. Many reasons contributed to the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify; from the NFF, to the technical crew and the players themselves.
Cameroon, on the other hand, won the trophy four times. Boasting of players like Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song in their ranks started the qualification well beating Mauritius 3-1 away but indiscipline and infighting within the squad contributed to their downfall.
They finished second behind Senegal with 11 points. In a must win game against Senegal they could only manage a goalless draw at home. Algeria also stuttered through the qualifying campaign and a game that would have qualified them was the game against North African rivals, Morocco, known as the Lion of the Atlas, walloped them 4-0.
With the absence of these five major teams, the Nations Cup may be less interesting. These teams didn’t play well enough to qualify, and the teams that qualified ahead of them deserve all of the credit in the world. Also, Ghana and Ivory Coast have already been installed as the favourites to win the Nations Cup next year.
But like the qualifiers have shown, there are no more minnows in African football.