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EDITORIAL

Lessons for Nigeria from Senegal’s AFCON Victory

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SENEGAL’s Lions of Terenga were crowned kings of African Football last Sunday in  Olembe Stadium, Duoala, Cameroon, to mark  the end of the 33rd edition of African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021. Senegal beat seven-time AFCON champions, the Pharaohs of Egypt by 5-3 after a penalty shootout. The full and extra times produced no goals which stretched the match into the ‘sudden death’.

  THIS historic feat by the Lions of Terenga did not come on a platter of gold neither did it take football pundits by surprise. It took Senegal 60 years of aspiration, planning and meticulous execution for the dream to come into fruition.

  APART from long preparation,  the  Senegalese team is an amalgam of some of Africa’s best footballers, some of them plying their trades in best football clubs in Europe. Such players as Sadio Mane of Liverpool, Édouard Mendy of Chelsea, named the current best goalkeeper in the world by FIFA, Alfred Gomis of Rennes of France, Bouna Sarr of Bayern Munich of Germany, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Italy, among other stars dominated the epic final showdown but couldn’t find the net during the regulation and extra times.

  THE triumph of the Senegalese could be rightly called a victory for tenacity. For six decades, the team strived and failed but never rested on their oars until the victory was achieved.

  THE Lions of Terenga had been in the  quest for the  AFCON trophy that eluded them since  1963.   Their efforts came to light in 2002, when they, against all expectations, reached the final stage of the competition but lost to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in a penalty shootout. In the subsequent edition in 2004, they were eliminated at the quarter final stage. They won the third place position in 2006. In the 32nd AFCON, they won Silver after losing to Algeria in the final match. 33rd AFCON crowned their quest  with a victory in Cameroon.

  IT IS necessary to note here that the Senegalese reached the quarter final stage of the Japan/ Korea World Cup finals in 2002, thereby achieving Cameroon’s record as the second African country to reach that stage in the World Cup.

  IT IS also worthy to note that the Lions of Terenga have  a consistent   technical crew led by a sound coach,  Aliou Cisse, who incidentally was a former captain of the team, a dyed in the wool defender with rare leadership qualities. He won over 100 caps for the country as a player in the  team. He has also been coach of the team for over seven years prior to the AFCON trophy.  Unfortunately, Nigeria’s case  directly  contrasts Senegal’s case. It is noteworthy that the Super Eagles of Nigeria were led to the competition by a three week- old coaching crew. One wonders what a coach can  inculcate in  his team in just three weeks.

  SENEGAL’S case presents the fact that given the necessary encouragements, an indigenous coach can hold his own and achieve victory for Nigeria, anywhere in the world.

  IT IS time football managers in Africa, particularly Nigeria,  realised that no foreign coach had ever won the World Cup before. We must look inward and fish out indigenous coaches with good leadership and sound technical abilities to tinker with our national teams. The current trend of  dependence on expatriate coaches to steer the ship of our football must be jettisoned.

  AGAIN, as teams like Egypt that played  with at least, seven players from their local football league had shown in AFCON 2021,  given the right incentives, home based players can match their counterparts who play in foreign  leagues in gunning for laurels.

  NATIONAL Light is of the firm belief that Nigeria has  players of good quality  who can dominate the world football but they must work as a team to achieve it. For instance, irrespective of the presence of popular and wealthy players like Mane, Kaulibaly and Mendy, in the squad of the Senegalese, they were united, none of the players requested to be flown around in private  jets.

They camped and shared rooms both the very rich and not too rich. Koulibaly, who captained the team to the victory was supported by all his teammates even those that could be said to be richer and more popular than him. In some climes, Mane could have been handed the captain’s band.

  SENEGAL has shown us how to manage a national team and win honours. The ball is now in the court of our football administrators to learn from them.

  THE World Cup finals is around the corner and the Super Eagles have a herculean task of beating their old rivals,  the  Black Stars of Ghana in the two-legged qualifying play-offs scheduled for  Mareh. Nigerians will not accept any excuse if our flag is not hoisted in Qatar.

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