By Nana Frimpong
By virtue of their triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations back in January 2013, the Nigerian national team has earned the sole ticket to represent Africa at this month's Fifa Confederations Cup - the dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
For the west Africans, it would be a second appearance at the competition, with their only other experience coming some 19 years prior after winning the Nations Cup in 1994.
That was the second of three editions - the first three, in fact - hosted by Saudi Arabia, and the Super Eagles, then represented by a team featuring current handlers Stephen Keshi and Daniel Amokachi, contested the last of the tournament’s now defunct six-team format and battled their way to the third-place play-offs, only to be pipped to bronze via a shoot-out loss to Mexico, Amokachi's missed attempt proving the difference.
Two years earlier, the Ivory Coast, conquerors of Africa in 1992, had had a disappointing campaign when they came last among the four teams that converged to challenge for the maiden King Fahd Cup, with 4-0 and 5-2 drubbings suffered to eventual winners Argentina and the USA standing out as the lowest points.
The third and final experience for an African side on the Arabian coast brought no more joy than the earlier ones as Clive Barker’s South Africa, fresh from victory at their debut Afcon on home soil, were condemned to bottom-place in their group, scraping a single point to barely offset two losses suffered. One of those defeats came against Uruguay, a memorable fixture that helped announce the Bafana Bafana’s presence on the world stage, albeit ultimately seeing them cling to the wrong end of a 4-3 scoreline.
|A credible representation would be a realistic expectation, yet if Keshi and his boys really do have it in them, they could dare to achieve more for Nigeria and for Africa
The next two tournaments - hosted by Japan and France in 2001 and 2003 respectively - featured Cameroon, multiple victors of the Afcon at the turn of the millennium. The first proved a largely unpleasant experience, as the Indomitable Lions could only place third in their group, managing to win just a game.
The ensuing affair, however, proved markedly different and improved for themselves and for Africa in its entirety. Guided by German coach Winfried Schafer, along with the inspirational Rigobert Song and a certain Samuel Eto'o Fils (then only 22), the Cameroonians topped their group and secured advancement, courtesy two 1-0 wins against Turkey and Brazil, complemented by a favourable draw versus the USA. Another single-goal victory over Conmebol winners Colombia in the next round earned them a date in the final with the hosts and defending European champions at the Stade de France, where the gallant Africans succumbed to a Thierry Henry golden goal.
Nevertheless, Cameroon and Africa's joy at that tournament was marred and unfortunately overshadowed by the
"Africa’s record at the Fifa Confederations Cup has been a fairly checkered one, summed up in six group stage exits, two fourth-place finishes, and topped by a single unsuccessful appearance in the final"
After that all-time orgasmic peak reached by Cameroon, Africa's fortunes at the Confederations Cup reverted to what they had always been - poor - courtesy a sorry display by the winners from the 2004 Afcon, Tunisia, who failed to put up much of a fight, picking only one win in three games and finishing behind host team Germany and reigning Copa America kings Argentina.
The 2009 edition - the last to date - saw the tournament held in Africa, becoming the first to feature two teams from the continent, champions Egypt and hosts South Africa - countries that endured miserable debuts at the competition in 1997 and 1999 respectively, and thus sought some redemption. The former emerged the worst of three teams in Group B (the United States and Italy being the others) that trailed runaway winners Brazil on three points each in the end.
The latter, however, turned up very much inspired, perhaps thriving on home support, and finished handsomely behind Spain in their group. The South Africans faced off with the Spaniards again in an exciting third- and fourth-place decider which they lost 3-2 after extra-time. Sandwiched between those rounds of football was a valiant display against eventual champions Brazil that ultimately culminated in a narrow 0-1 defeat.
From the above, then, it could be inferred that Africa’s record at the Fifa Confederations Cup has been a fairly checkered one, summed up in six group stage exits, two fourth-place finishes, and topped by a single unsuccessful appearance in the final.
Nigeria thus owe it to themselves - and to Africa - to reach heights greater than any attained in the past. Placed in Group B, they would first be required to contend with minnows Tahiti, along with surefire favourites Uruguay and Spain. And if they succeed in working their way out of that pool, any two of Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and Italy await in the latter rounds.
A credible representation would be a realistic expectation, yet if Keshi and his boys really do have it in them, they could dare to achieve more for Nigeria and for Africa, most importantly.
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