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THE SHOT THAT PASSED RIGHT THROUGH THE NET    African Cup Of Nations 2000  JAN 22 - FEB 13  Nigeria/Ghana 
Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
  • in the 1990's finally has emerged as the football superpower of Africa
  • a difficult background: one fifth of Africa's population, 400 different ethnic groups, three major different language families spoken in various dialects, major different religions, muslims and christians
  • administration problems, inconsistent team policy, hardly preperation matches, overcrowded pool of football talents with different styles, another coach appointed with roughly one month preperation time 
  • some star players with shaky careers and questionable form
  • drawn into 'group of death' with strong Morocco, topform Tunisians and possibly dangerous Congo
  • BUT, too much talent: IF they achieve to build a team quickly they will be THE favorites ANYWAY
  • overview: Nigeria among the best of Africa
  • the list of players  (includes age and where do they play analysis)
 It took until the mid of the 1970's until the population biggest country of Africa emerged as a powerful football nation and it took until the 90's before Nigeria finally became the considered superpower of African Football. But will they stay top? Generations of journalists have been speculating on the reasons why Nigerians, who are one fifth of the African population and from early on a traditional footballing nation, seldom were able to fulfil the expectations that arose from the talent and the richness of the ressources of players.

 The lack of consisteny was always obvious. Nigeria is a difficult country. 400 people living in it with 4 major people with languages from different language families.

 As normal neither ressources nor power are not equally distributed and have led to cruel confrontations in the past but also an ephasizis on a more federal political system. This situation and past makes Nigeria prototypical for the difficulties many of those artificial state products of colonialisation are in today. Players, officials, journalists stem always from a particular background. Whether this plays a role or not, recently they have been always quarrels in administration for example about appointments and dismissals of coaches, there have been problems between players and administration about money, and so on. Apart from the reginal and ethnic view, also religion devides the country. It has just been reported that women soccer is about to be banned in a northern muslim province while the Nigerian national team is the most successful of Africa and women soccer seems quite popular at least among the christians.
 All those problems add to the case of an maybe 'overtalented' pool. In smaller countries a selection of top players is no problem because there are only few, and those players would stay in a team even when having a bad time, such a team structure can be built. In Nigeria there will be always discussion and blame.
 A team hardly could have been built: Because of the quarrels and diverging interests there has been no coach working for a longer period since the Dutch coach Westerhof pulled out of it 1994, who had worked 4 years and Nigerian Super Eagles finally had reached new heights.

 Since the last world cup there have been hardly matches and occasions to built a team. Little more than one month before the Nations Cup 2000 the preperations have begun. The blame is on the administration, the Nigerian Football Association and as well counterparts in the sports ministery pointing fingers at each other.

 But it is strange, that many players reflect those inconsistencies in their own careers. They are a bunch of huge talented stars, remarkably from one particular players generation, but few of them yet have turned out as valuable for big clubs over longer periods. In the European media some have become the darlings of reports about money issues rather than sports, a certain paranoidity of not being treated fair appears to be reflected. Another problem adds: When those stars gather, most different attitudes collide, some preaching disciplined football, some praising the fun they can only have in the National team.

 The intention of superiorty drawn from particular matches in which they excited the crowds often seems to lead to a more lacklustre approach of doing work before and in the next match. Some stars prefer to skip even the few left preperation matches and do not turn up, being sure to be called up anyway. And some might have even started to rethink and revalue their personal and club career against the National team like it has already taken place with stars from minor huge African football nations.

 This all has lead to devastating preperation results: 1:4 against Spanish 2nd devision club Compostela and 1:5 against the selection of Basque. Similar preperation results had characterized the 1998 World Cup preperations, too. The under-20-team had been disappointing at the under 20 World championship after similar circumstanzes had marred team building. Them had been star studded favorites on home soil, too.

 BUT. Nigeria are THE favorites ANYWAY. If they achieve to build a team around their strong in-form stars Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, and Nwanko Kanu, they will be excitement to watch. Their fate might lie to some extent also with the attitude of their opponents. If those play too carefully and neglecting to target the Nigerian defence inconsistencies, obtaining rather just to contain the Nigerians, Nigeria should patiently lure for their chances and win through the skills of their individuals with a capability to win such a match out of nothing.

 The final is at Lagos and until then then the 'the tournament builds the team, if you will stay in it' rule might have applied. The opener against Tunisia will be a rough test: the North Africans seem in top form. But Nigeria are warned and reports from the training camp sound confindent: Players and Dutch coach Jo Bonfrere, who was once before in charge with the team that won the Olympic title in 1996, seem committed.
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In Nigeria football played a big role early, but the country has not converted talent into results until 1976. Since then they might be considered as successful as any other. The country is the most populated of Africa, overvrowded of football talent, and fragmented into different ethnic groups. This might be one reason for that no club team ever has won the African champions cup and there has been hardly a consistent natinal team, winning consecutive tournaments. This generation could have been the first but Nigeria withdrew from the 1996 Nations Cup for political reasons and was suspended 1998.
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