Monday, May 15, 2017

South Africa: The Danger of Focus.....

Barely a month from now, Nigeria is scheduled to host South Africa in Uyo to begin the Group E journey to the 32nd Cup for African Nations (AFCON) to be hosted by Cameroon in 2019. Only the winner of the group automatically qualifies. The second placed team would vie with 11 other second placed teams for ONLY three additional qualifying places! Thus, making it to Cameroon 2019 is not a piece of cake as many may assume.

Unfortunately, most Nigerian fans are focused on the two World Cup qualifying matches against Cameroon that come up in August and September. Though coach Rohr has repeatedly stressed a focus on the AFCON game against South Africa, focus itself has become significant challenge. Nigeria being so close to reaching the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia has sharpened the focus of both players and fans on August against Cameroon and not on June against South Africa. Media have reported stories of players reassuring fans that the team would qualify for the 2018 World Cup and there is a significant silence on the upcoming South Africa game.

A glimpse of this grapple with focus can be seen with recent invitation of players to the camp planned for France. The invitations exclude some players likely to play important roles in the South African game. The question is why were they excluded when they need time to mesh with new players coming into the team. One can understand the absence of Mikel Obi on account of injury but what really is the point of excluding Ogenyi Onazi and Victor Moses? To claim that both players need rest from a long season ignores the fact that several players, invited for the France game, also had long seasons. This decision to rest some players raises the question whether a class privilege is being created within the team. Would such privileges haunt the team in the near future? It is an issue that may crop up at a later time but it is significant.

Unfortunately, the South Africa game is not just the next competitive challenge but South Africa presents the biggest competition for first place in Group E. Nigeria has failed to beat South Africa in the last three meetings between the two countries, which includes a 2-2 tie in Nigeria with Nigeria fortunate to come back from a 0-2 deficit. That result eliminated Nigeria from a chance to participate at the 2017 finals of the Cup for African Nations. Again, Nigeria finds South Africa on its path to the 2019 edition in Cameroon. Will the same occur for the 2019 version? See Table 1 for results of games between both countries.