January 23rd, 2012
12:48 PM ET

Why football is Africa's religion

Fulham midfielder Dickson Etuhu has represented Nigeria at the highest level. (Getty Images)
Fulham midfielder Dickson Etuhu has represented Nigeria at the highest level. (Getty Images)

I'm passionate about the African Cup of Nations. I've played in it twice for Nigeria and it's the most amazing experience I have had in football, even better than the World Cup and the English Premier League where I play for Fulham.

In Africa, football really is like a religion. It unites people of all backgrounds, it brings them together in common cause, and victory in the Cup of Nations is considered the pinnacle of achievement.

But for some countries, like Libya, just getting to the finals is an incredible achievement. I'll certainly be looking out for them in this tournament and I'm really hoping they can qualify out of their group. I understand that some of their players were at the sharp end of the turmoil, even taking part in the fighting, as Gadhafi was toppled from power.

After that, to then make it to Gabon, that's quite something. For me, they encapsulate the real spirit of the Africa Cup of Nations and they could cause an upset. The likes of Ivory Coast and Senegal may be the favorites, but the magic of this particular tournament is its unpredictability.

In African football there really is no such thing as an upset result because they happen all the time. You have only to look to the qualifying – with my own country, defending champions Egypt and the likes of South Africa going out – to back that statement up. The best players from the continent play in the top European leagues, but when they go back home to play for their country they find very different conditions, with poor pitches and blazing temperatures.

It acts as a real leveler and the Africa-based players have a big advantage. A lot of them are fantastic athletes, very fit and hungry and keen to impress the many talent scouts from top clubs who will be out in force in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

I believe this is one of the reasons why Egypt have been so successful in the past because the bulk of the squad largely still play in their domestic league. But in their absence, I don't think you can look much beyond the Ivory Coast with their star-studded line-up including the likes of Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers, who like me play club football in England.

From a personal point of view, I'm desperately disappointed that the Super Eagles did not qualify to give me the opportunity to play in the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time, added to my appearance in the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. We have a change of management now and I'm convinced we won't make the same mistake again next time.

I would love to be at those 2013 finals representing Nigeria, but for now I must make do with watching this year’s finals on television in London and receiving texts from my many friends who are playing. It still really hurts not to be there, but that's football and I can promise you the teams who have made it will put on a great show for the fans.

Editor's note: Do you have any questions for Dickson Etuhu? Let us know below and he will answer them in his next Cup of Nations blog.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. VampireJack

    Football. Greatest sport on the planet.
    Shame that the England national team isn't better than it is.
    With the players at our disposal we should be.

    January 23, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  2. innocent

    africa tuli hejulu kandi tunasonga mbele

    January 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  3. nana yaw

    Baseless! Senegal and Ivory COAST FAVOURITES? What about Ghana who have done better than these two teams over the past 8 years.Nigerians always seem to hate Ghanaians in sports. When Ghana almost qualified to the semis of the World Cup all Africa was behind Ghana except Nigeria. The writer is bais by not mentioning Ghana.Ghana is not only playing but will win the cup.

    January 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  4. Kazeem

    1. Do you think Nigeria failed to qualify because of tactical errors or the players just couldn't raise their game?

    2. Why is it difficult for the Europe-based players to blend with the players at home? Is it a question of attitude or improvement as a result of the leagues they play?

    3. Do you prefer playing under a Nigeria coach or a foreign one? Do you really see a difference between the two?

    4. How do you judge players who choose clubs ahead of country? ...and why do players choose the games they'll feature for their countries?

    5. How did you get your first boots in football, and what make was it?

    January 23, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  5. LeMalien

    Everyone can keep dreaming, this one is for Mali..

    January 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  6. Lee Stuart

    I almost thing that some of the comments above have answered this, but:
    Does African football suffer some of the same divisive "battle rhetoric" that has sunk to personal (ethnic, racial) attacks elsewhere? (Except in FIFA play, of course.) Alternatively, what are the most wonderful things fans would find about attending Africa Cup of Nations games?

    January 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  7. David Lubanga

    Nigeria are a over-hyped has-beens. I don't know why people always give them a chance. Their golden days are gone

    January 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  8. Ephambuka

    No and Big NO, its not True that football is Africa's Religion. Who Told you that??? We like football because it brings us together BUT at NO Time has anybody said its our religion.

    January 23, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Reply
  9. alonzo

    I have fond memories of the Green Eagles growing up of a strong solid team. There were the team everyone dreaded to play and wonder what really has gone wrong. I can't tell you the score if Nigeria had to play India today and would not bet on that anyway. The whole system needs an overall and this unfortunately will take a decade or so to fix. In the meantime the once powerhouse of african and world soccer is just a shadow of itself which brings me to tears sometimes

    January 24, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply
  10. bbabeslovefootball

    what is your take on the foreign coach as against a local coach generally pls be honest

    January 24, 2012 at 4:36 am | Reply
  11. Fyne, California.

    Point of Correction...whether in fact or metaphorically, football is never "religion" nor "like a religion in Africa!"

    January 24, 2012 at 7:11 am | Reply
  12. Kay

    @nana yaw

    As a Nigerian I want to apologise for what you perceive is our hatred of Ghana in sports. Dickson is one of many Nigerians and is entitled to his opinion.
    I do not think there is hatred but there is rivalry between our countries in football.
    I do think rivalries can be kept healthy; we can all go above the tugging of the heart which wants our rivals to fail.

    At the end of the day we can not deny the brilliance of the players and teams across Africa.

    If anyone thinks Ghana an underdog then they do not know much about our football and do so to their peril.

    January 24, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  13. Elena Dafni

    The black Race has much more muscles then the white one.....more muscels more power!
    I like black Races....

    January 24, 2012 at 8:25 am | Reply
  14. Esther Nwogwonuwe

    Nigeria did not qualify... very painful, tears drop from my eyes just thinking Nigeria won't be there to fly our green white green and make me proud. but one thing is sure, I love African football and will not miss a single match. just wish, i could be in Gabon. but i trust my Television, i'm watching out for the best improved team. African football is entertaining and fantastic... can't wait to watch african boys make me proud.
    Go! Go!! Africa Go! Go! FOOTBALL..Go! Go! CNN. BEST OF LUCK. i love every African player.
    Give me something to last me for the next two years after the game...

    January 24, 2012 at 9:04 am | Reply
  15. marshall from zimbabwe

    On my own perspective point view , nigeria failed to qualify because of
    lack of commitment from the players themselves, 2 ,the coach himself was not focused enough that he failed to read the proceedings of qualifiers well. The other thing is , he failed to combine his players and his cards well which led the entire nation to a failure. As for Mali , i really dont tip them to lift the nations cup because they not good enough to do so , i cant everything away from the but i "m stressing a point. Sorry my follow Malians , but you are the because of lucky. 2012 nations cup may go to Ivory coast, that is if Ghana sleeps.

    regards

    marshall

    January 24, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
  16. marshall from zimbabwe

    The nations cup has kicked off now with the 4 games played , the first game was not that interesting the second one was better , third and fourth were disgusting ,i just wish if our warriors are threre they would have given us some good flowing football. So far the refering is just excellent but the commentry itself is juts something else, i really dont have any word for them to describe how bad it is. I think the organaisers should do something before its too late

    regards

    marshall

    January 24, 2012 at 9:53 am | Reply
  17. DARIFU KAMIL

    The Ivory Coast and Senegal although could still be part of the favourites, Ghana has a better and more cohesive team with skill that can easily snatch the cup.

    Other countries that are capable of causing surprises include the Zambians and Moroccans.

    Ivory Coast and Senegal are names not teams and i do not see how they are favourites ahead of Ghana and Zambia. They were too disappointing in their first matches to remain favourites.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
  18. alonzo

    This cup of nations will be the trickiest of all with countries like Senegal and Ivory Coast not making it very far. The soccer "spring" wave will be bringing out new powerhouses like Zambia and countries like Nigeria and South Africa as well as Cameroon need to learn valuable lessons from this trend if they are to keep abreast with rising soccer nations.
    I cannot believe how Ivory Coast really struggled to be beat Sudan and and still are tipped to be winners. As far as Nigeria is concerned rebuilding a winning soccer team will be a miracle and i can only say time will tell when that formidable team is built up in 10 years or so

    January 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  19. Kenn Onyema (Australia)

    While i admire your achievement in the midfield. One thing I don't like in your midfield play is that you run less in the midfield. most of the time you stand at a place and wait for the ball Why do you do this and please can you make a change for the better of our national team and you overall .

    January 24, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  20. wilson

    yes i love the word of my Dickson Etuhu

    January 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  21. wilson

    i also give coted'ivoier the cup

    January 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  22. Esther Nwogwonuwe

    The nations cup has finally started. i wish every Arican country well and good luck...so far, we keep our fingers crossed... the better side is stil pregnant. in the game of football, giving birth takes only a second, the baby is in the NET... AT THAT, WE SHOUT...'ITS A GOALLLLLL.... congratulations to the pregnant team of Africa.. WE PRAY AGAINST SERIOUS INJURIES IN JESUS NAME.
    HAPPY AFRICAN NATIONS CUP TO ALL AFRICANS...PRESENT OR NOT..

    January 26, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
  23. Yusuf

    @dickson, the next nations cup is in a years time in 2013. So you wont have two years to wait. Good luck next time guys.

    January 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  24. Linda Muthuri

    i'm just waiting for the time Kenya will make it to the cup... Kenya amkeni!!! but still keeping the hope...

    January 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  25. mo farah

    for me its kinda sad that Egypt Nigeria, South Africa,and Cameroon, didn't qualify but thats what sports are about you can both win and lose at another time, anyway great to see other teams appear for the first.

    January 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  26. alonzo

    The big soccer nations like Cameroon, Nigeria Egypt are sinking real fast and nothing at this time can bring them back to where they used to be. They need to get back to the basics and set up soccer academies for the youth who will be the backbone of the future national tems. Otherwise, i can see these nations going on a freefall only to be ranked in the hundreds and not enjoying the prestige they once had in the soccer realm

    January 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  27. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    African footballers are physically strong and mentally tough. On the football field they enjoy expressing themselves without inhibitions and external controls.

    We in India love watching African footballers playing in Goa, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kochi, Kolkata and Delhi. Since football is Africa's religion, the African footballers are seen as "football missionaries" propagating the art of goal scoring in our I-League.

    Almost all the top goal scorers in our I-League are footballers from the football rich continent of Africa.

    January 27, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  28. Emodi

    Nigerians always think that they are better than their talents actually demonstrate. They can not subjugate their egos for the betterment of the team. The best Nigerian teams are from the 1970s – the likes of Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel & Chuka Okala, Odegbami, Muda Shiru Lawal, The Atuegbu Brothers, Adokie, Okey Isimah, Okey Ozoh, Christian Madu, etc. Then the most tactifully fanciful team was the team that represented Nigeria in the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Olympic Games. Bar none the three best teams Nigeria ever produced and their results spoke volumes on the field. The current crop is an utter rubbish.

    January 31, 2012 at 5:51 am | Reply
  29. aliyah

    seriously? so you think Ghana don't even stand a chance in this game? unbelievable. Is so bad that Nigerians think so little of Ghana.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:44 am | Reply
  30. alonzo

    There will be a day when great teams like Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypyt as well as Senegal will wake up from their soccer sleepness. For now, they are as miserable as Olunkutu the cat but with enough money pumped in and picking up right coaches and technical staff, they should bounce right back.
    I am curious to see the next world soccer ranking and would not be surprised if they dive into the hundreds. Hope things go better for some of our "elite" african teams in the future.

    January 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply

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