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With the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Cup having kicked off, fans and businesses in the continent’s most populated country count the cost of missing out on the showpiece

SPECIAL
By Babajide Alaka

The reactions on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, concerning the country’s absence from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) are mixed. They range from the economic to the emotional.

The Super Eagles failed to qualify for the Afcon, Africa’s greatest football showpiece, for the first time since 1986 following their 2-2 draw with Guinea in Abuja last year. It was a devastating blow to the country’s football, which had already suffered greatly in 2011.

Last year was a watershed in Nigerian football history as its national teams failed to qualify for the Olympics, in both the male and female categories, as well as the Afcon, leaving a football-mad population out in the lurch. The continent's most populated country is therefore watching from the sidelines at the ongoing tournament.

Callistus Oparaji, a newspaper agent, opined that the absence of the Super Eagles from Gabon and Equatorial Guinea is very bad for business.

“During the Nations Cup, sales of newspapers, especially football dailies increase substantially,” Oparaji told Goal.com.

“The sales of papers during the competition will definitely take you home but unfortunately the Eagles have killed business this time around. Though people still want to read about what is going on, it is not as intense as if the Eagles had been playing,” he said.

Part of that burden is being being felt by local businessman Adebola Oluwaseyi who runs a football viewing centre at Ojodu, a suburb of the sprawling metropolis.

"People are not interested in watching the Afcon matches because Nigeria did not qualify," said Oluwaseyi whose Buge Viewing Centre has only been advertising European matches due to fans' indifference to the tournament in central Africa. 

"It's a personal pain to note that many Nigerians are only interested in watching their own team and this is bad for my business," Oluwaseyi said.

There is also the bigger issue of loss to the country's economy because they could not beat Guinea in that last qualifying match in November.

“Conservatively, I will say that Nigeria lost about 300 million Naira (€1.46m) by not qualifying,” said Sola Aiyepeku, a football analyst.

Nigeria's Super Eagles | Missing from the continent's showpiece event

The economics also pale in the face of the progress that would have been made by the country's footballers, a missed opportunity to test their skills on the big stage.

“There are too many angles to look at the loss but the most cogent one is that some of our players may never play at the Nations Cup again even though the next one is in 2013,” said Aiyepeku.

It is also pertinent to note that the Super Eagles were on the cusp of qualifying until the 89th minute in their final qualifying match against Guinea at the Abuja National Stadium. Believing they needed to score another goal, they went all out only to be pegged back with a late leveller that sealed their fate.

Some Nigerian football fans believe that the loss was good for their health. It is often said that the quickest way to an appointment with the doctor is to watch the Super Eagles play.

“Most of the time now, I do not know whether to watch the Eagles play or hide in my room praying for victory – they are that inconsistent,” said Emmanuel Adekanye, a banker.

“There is always too much emotional buy-in with the Eagles and though I am sad that Nigeria’s flag is not flying in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, I am also happy that my blood pressure will remain stable at the beginning of the year.”

"There are too many angles to look at the loss but the most cogent one is that some of our players may never play at the Nations Cup again"

- Sola Aiyepeku, football analyst

The Eagles' loss is the other teams' gain, as countries participating at the Afcon are winning support from Nigerian fans.

“I can watch the matches with no pressure whatsoever and enjoy it as I am supporting Cote d’Ivoire because of Didier Drogba,” Adekanye said.

As Nigerians continue to count the cost of missing out, the void is also being filled with league matches from England and Spain as fans continue to devote time and money to their passion. Clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid are reaping all the attention.

It is that passion that is still keeping newspaper publishers and sellers like Oparaji in business.

“The transfer season and the Premier League are driving sales for the moment, but it would have gone through the roof if the Eagles were playing the Afcon,” Oparaji concluded.

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