The 34th edition of the African Cup of Nations is in full swing. We have witnessed the first round fixtures of the group stage with an impressive display of high-level technical football. As a football purist, I am tremendously impressed by the standard of play at this year’s tournament. We have had a handful of shocking results, drama, nail-biting moments, great goals, daring saves, fine dribbling moves and exhibition of high technical skills. As many as 27 goals were scored in 12 matches, an average of 2.4 goals per game which is a remarkable improvement from last edition’s tally. Only 12 goals were scored at this stage at the previous tournament held in Cameroon. So far, the events in Cote d’Ivoire have confirmed that there are no longer minnows in African football. The so-called “underdogs” have pulled out some shocking results against favorites. One of the tournament’s powerhouse, Nigeria, were forced to a 1-1 draw by Equatorial Guinea in Group A and Cape Verde posted one of the shocks of the tournament so far with a brilliant 2-1 victory against the Black Stars of Ghana. Similarly, Mozambique stunned perennial champions, Egypt, as the Pharoahs needed an injury time penalty-kick from Mohamed Salah to draw 2-2 with the unfancied Mambas.
Also, mighty Cameroon and Guinea played a one all draw just as Angola pulled another shocking result in Group D, holding former champions Algeria to a similar scoreline.
In Group E, llttle Namibia recorded a stunning results against Tunisia. Deon Hotto scored late as Namibia picked up their first ever AFCON win. Meanwhile, serial underachievers Mali defeated South Africa 2-0 with goals from Hamari Traore and Sinayoko.
Last week, I picked out the holders Senegal and 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco as favourites for the trophy and I was’nt off the mark as both teams were imperious, demonstrating class, power and panache usually associated with worthy contenders in their opening games.
The Super Eagles are set to face the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in a crucial Group A match at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan today. Unfortunately, Alhassan Yusuf, who was outstanding in the tournament opener against Equatorial Guinea, will not be available for selection. The Royal Antwerp midfield dynamo was ruled out due to an injury he sustained in the last game. The cramp in his thigh is not considered serious, though. Therefore, there’s a good chance he will be back in action for the final group game against Guinea Bissau. However, Kelechi Iheanacho is looking fit and ready for the much-anticipated match.
Now, let’s talk about the controversy over Sadiq Umar’s purported injury and subsequent removal from the AFCON squad. Nigerian fans were alarmed and upset when they heard the news that the Kaduna-born lanky forward is actually fit and ready, contrary to the claims by Eagles medical team which asserted that the Real Sociedad striker was nursing a knee injury and was ruled out of Nations Cup action. Having returned to Spain, a video showing the striker training individually in Sociedad on Monday went viral on Social media which led to Nigerians criticising the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for their ‘unfair treatment’ of the former AS Roma forward. The fans criticized the medical team of unprofessional conduct and poor judgment in determining the player’s status. But the NFF was forced to shed light on the controversy surrounding Sadiq’s injury. It stated on Tuesday that the Eagles medical team approached Umar’s case with every sense of professionalism.
“We are surprised at the news trending on social media concerning Sadiq Umar and how he was withdrawn from the team camp.
“The fact is that our medical team meticulously abided by the best medical procedures and were diligent in their processes and conclusions before advising Head Coach José Peseiro that the player be withdrawn from the squad,” the NFF said, adding that “Most of the reports we have seen are not a true representation of what actually happened. We have a very competent medical team who are well-trained in sport and exercise medicine and highly experienced and exposed to the most modern techniques and practices.
“They followed all due processes and protocol in tandem with the consultant knee surgeon that Umar himself contacted in Spain, before the decision was made in the interest of the nation and the career of the player.
Sadiq played twenty minutes as he was a 73th minutes substitute in that encounter which Real Sociedad won by two goals to nil. It’s definitely going to raise eyebrows in Nigeria, considering Sadiq was releaved from the Eagles AFCON squad due to ‘a knee injury’.
Undoubtedly, this is a situation that calls for further explanation from the NFF. I’m sure Nigerians would love to know what really happened. Let’s hope they shed more light on it soon.
Moreso, the Eagles handler Jose Peseiro had reportedly said he is also confused over the Sadiq injury twist. He said: “I am confused as well, our team doctor said he would be out for 15 days. We held a meeting with him, and it was the last day to replace a player…”
My opinion is that Sadiq is not injured may be somebody within the NFF hierarchy doesn’t want him to be part of the team, he was therefore presumed to be injured.