October 11th, 2011
04:41 PM ET

Cup of woe: Why have African football giants fallen short?

John Obi Mikel cuts a forlorn figure after Nigeria failed to reach the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations over the weekend.
John Obi Mikel cuts a forlorn figure after Nigeria failed to reach the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations over the weekend.

There were some big surprises for the traditional powerhouses of African football, as three former champions failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).

While we have to praise the likes of Niger, Burkina Faso and Botswana for making the finals of the competition, many fans will be disappointed that Nigeria's Super Eagles, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Egypt's all-conquering Pharaohs won’t be there.

The easy way to explain this phenomenon would be to say that the balance of power has shifted in Africa.

One could argue that some of the smaller nations have evolved tactically and technically and that many of their players are now gracing some of the biggest stages in the world with their clubs.

However, while the first part of that argument may be partly true, it is difficult to explain how a team like Egypt - three-time back-to-back winners of the Nations Cup and current reigning champions - fail to make the event. Nigeria too will feel their rich heritage deserved more.

Both of those former African champions still boast several high profile players and should have made it. I could easily sit here and give you at least 10 players from Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt and South Africa that are playing at top clubs around the world and should be on show

But curiously this could be the reason behind their poor performance, because it is these players that have been hit harder by the scheduling of the competition.

It is held every two years, which means an almost constant fixture-list of qualifying matches is placing too much of a strain on the continent’s top players.

Most of them ply their trade in Europe and all the traveling back and forth to remote areas in Africa has become less attractive to many of them. I believe if CAF held the CAN every four years, then you would find everyone would commit to the competition a lot more.

All the other major continental tournaments are played with that time interval, why should Africa - which vies with the Copa America, Asian Cup, Gold Cup and Euros for attention - be different?

Another aspect which has contributed to the fall of many of the continent’s top teams is the failure of their respective federations to support their players.

Too many African stars have told me their national teams do not use hotels and training facilities that are up to scratch. The stories of poor preparation and sometimes even non-payment of fees are rife. Africa is a vibrant and forward looking continent. The players should be made to feel they are the pioneers of this when they turn out for their nation.

If the tournament is to grow and build on the fantastic progress of players from the continent it needs its superstars happy turning out for the big event.

What I hope is that in the future some of the biggest names in the African game won’t miss out on the CAN.

Just think what it would mean for the European Championship to be held without Germany or Italy, or the Copa America to miss the likes of Argentina and Brazil. It just wouldn’t be the same, would it?

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Alex

    First & foremost Mr. CNN, the ACN is not competing with Copa America, Asian Cup, Gold Cup and Euros for attention! That is a very very unrealistic statement! The EUROS are considered even more prestigious than FIFA's WC! ACN is probably on par for attention with CONMEBOL's COPA...As for the Asian Cup & Gold Cup, those still have light years to go, to be anywhere near competitive!
    That said, the entire analysis is unbelievable flaky! For ex. the guy/gal questions the federations' engagement...Following that analysis, the strangest thing happened then! Coz the struggling federations are the ones that qualified! Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt and RSA federations provide their players with unlimited resources on their travels! So your point there is just plain false! You pointed out that the entire continent has players plying across Europe, so why will the scheduling then be a problem to some and not others? I will further challenge that view by picking out Egypt...90% of The Pharaohs play in Egypt! Then let us look at Algeria: their 90% comes from next door neighbors-France!

    October 12, 2011 at 1:33 am | Reply
  2. wangu wangu

    if they dont enjoy coming back to remote areas in africa why do they return to the same remote areas when they retire.the truth is those big countries used to be favored by refrees or did match fixing, especially Nigeria. Cameroon shld hav had inhouse players (differences)problems, Egyptian team is way beyond their best and SA is just an average team. Also teh other teams where not that far from the so called powerhouses, jus poor administration and preperations. the Nigeria of JJ Okocha and the Sunday Olosers was good, the current one is not that good.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:57 am | Reply
  3. johnd

    The club vs country issue will always be there, what is the point of bemoaning for teams that have consistently underperformed; if anything it is laudable that one continental federation is prepared to take the necessary action to allow the so-called minows of African Football to progress (are the efforts of these countries to be seen as trivial, I don't think so). Furthermore, this article has failed to elaborate on the actual problem which is first and foremost FIFA's obstinate protection of the national federations which makes them basically unaccountable to anyone leading to a natural progression thereof which is their imploding either by their inability to focus, manage, corruption or power struggles, results of which translate to the field.

    October 12, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  4. akure

    ACN is not about Egypt,nigeria and cameroon,but African football. If egypt fails to qualify,it is shocking but they should have tried harder. The absence of the so called big teams will give teams like niger,botswana and sudan an opportunity to showcase their game. African footballers should not be ashamed of the remote areas of Africa coz THAT'S WHERE THEY CAME FROM!i am kenyan n our team will not play in the 2012 tournament because of poor organization and administration by our football federation and i believe that is the case in several other countries. Let us not trivialize the efforts of the teams that qualfied.

    October 12, 2011 at 10:55 am | Reply
  5. Adnane

    I fully agree with your point Pedro, I do believe a CAN without the big teams is not beneficial for the competition itself but mostly for making the show that will attract media, supporters and therefore more financial income for African football federations. However, one must say that if this proofs anything, it only shows that there are no small teams anymore. This is more an achievement for African football than anything else. Of course, that said, there are many conditions that can block a good team in Africa from reaching a well deserved qualification. To mention a few, quality of stadiums and fields, refreeing standards, African rather aggressive footballing style... For players practicing amongst the biggest teams in Europe, its not easy to produce a beautiful football in these conditions. They would beat Brazil but loose against Niger... (Just to illustrate).

    October 12, 2011 at 10:55 am | Reply
  6. Calos K

    Mr CNN, i tend to disagree with you. as Africa we are not seeking attention from anyone. AFCON is our tournament and European countries have a problem with the time the tournament is held, then hard luck,. as for countries that have not qualified, i feel for them but you must remember that those guys plying their football in Europe, thy become big headed for their nations. we cnt change everything just to accommodate their egos..

    October 12, 2011 at 11:08 am | Reply
  7. adediran

    dis acn dat is coming up next year won't look sweet enough becos of d top teams dat are suppose to make it gud missed out of it.

    October 12, 2011 at 11:27 am | Reply
  8. Lemmy ijioma

    For consistency in standard, the local football leagues must be looked into. A situation where all the players are always from outside the country during each engagement looks absurd. The change in climatic conditions can always affect the quality of performance. The local pitches and administrative bodies must also be considered. Lemmy Ijioma

    October 12, 2011 at 11:28 am | Reply
  9. Andrew

    The reason why South Africa didnt qualify is a combination of poor adminstration and an inability to read the rules of qualification! SA was top of the table on gola difference but with a worse head to head record than Niger – as such Niger went through. This after SA played for a draw in their final game (even employing time wasting tactics at the end of the game) thinking they would qualify. The fact that no one bothered to read the rules and know what had to be done before the final game is a reflection of the poor and corrupt adminstration that dogs the game in the African continent. And now South Africa is lodging a complaint with CAF because they didnt read the rules is laughable!

    October 12, 2011 at 11:30 am | Reply
  10. Erskine Sam

    I believe that the constant travels will have an effect on them and some of the players tend to lean so much on their Club careers because that fetches them the money to fund their lifestyle and also help cater for family members ( a normal trend in Africa) I don't agree with you on the pegging of the ACN to the Gold Cup's etc. The African Continent is very keen on football than the Asians or Middle Easterners with their whatever Cup. I, however agree with the lack of interest in playing games at remote locations and without prime TV coverage (a case is for instance Ghana's Kevin Prince Boateng – who since his switch to play for Ghana in the 2010 WC has only played ONCE for the local side, always citing 'injuries" but preferring to appear in big games like Ghana Vs. England at Wembley and he was duly turned away) I believe CAF can do a lot more other make these players have to decide between shuttling off from the European bases to play for their Countries in the ACN in the middle of their Club season. All in all.. I feel sorry that these "big guns" of African football are missing out on the mundial but it goes a long way to tell the world that African football has evolved and there are no excuses for complacency

    October 12, 2011 at 11:31 am | Reply
  11. Darl

    Listen these so called big names started and lived all their early lives in those remote areas so why should they make up silly excuses for their failures. These so called Nigerian big names don't play with zeal and there's poor administration out there so those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail, As for the issue of playing the nations cup every 2yrs it brings us joy to see our national teams that often, so you don't come and impose some European system on us.
    We are going to watch the small teams do their thing this time around for this is their time, as change is the only constant in life. Names don't play football but those who are determined to put their best will get the best result, "SUPER EAGLES SHOULD LEARN TO PUT THEIR BEST IN EVERY MATCH" and not wait till the situation gets too tough and start counting other people's points and wishing that some other team will defeat someone for them and so they can come in through the back door by a string of luck !!!

    October 12, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
  12. Marcelle Hugues

    As far as Cameroon is concerned, the team should fix their internal quarrels with captain Eto’o before anything could go back to normal again, too much pride from the captain and less maturity. He is a good player but that is not enough to lead the team

    October 12, 2011 at 11:40 am | Reply
  13. xblaze

    @ wangu wangu

    I'm shocked at your statement crediting Nigeria's success to Referees taking sides. But reading further along your comment shows you actually contradicted your self in the statement by saying

    "the Nigeria of JJ Okocha and the Sunday Olosers was good, the current one is not that good."

    So dear wangu wangu Nigeria used to be great because they were good not because of match fixing/ bad refreess.


    October 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  14. Emmanuel

    so Alex what do u think is the problem. We need answers not plain talk.

    October 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply


    October 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  16. nasiru

    Nigeria failed to qualify because of poor management. The coach 'Siasia' was busy querreling with his best players (Osaze, Etuhu, Enyeama etc) in his process of building a team. Just yesterday, SAF came out to back Rooney after his red card at Montanegro unlike siasia who always criticises his players during press conference.

    October 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  17. worrell

    @adediran – This is an intelligent forum, where we write in proper English. Please know the time and place for your texting grammar,

    October 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  18. Biéno

    Pedro Pinto, I utterly disagree with you. As it’s said, if there’s no problem then why fix it?
    There’s never been a problem regarding ACN competition before, then why should it be an issue now?
    We must bear in mind that ACN is only for best African countries that have made through into the competition.
    We need competition within African countries, thus our standards of playing remains high. For other countries that didn’t make through, they’ll need to play better next time around.
    I’m not surprise of which country made and which didn’t for this is Africa and only the best makes it.
    Besides the world best soccer players are in Africa.
    Why should climate, travelling and condition be an excuse now?
    When in competition, one must be set for all sort of conditions.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  19. Zambane

    Whether CAN is held every 2 years or 4 is not the point really. Point is if you are not good enough to qualify you should sit at home watch from the living room. Fact is a lot of countries in Africa have improved greatly and can no longer be taken for granted. People should not come with lousy excuses about hotels/facilities you should accept that this time you were not good enough to qualify.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  20. Gbolahan Ola

    we fail to realize that having a historically revered name is no automatic ticket to these championships nor success...anyone remember England at the 2008 euros?some of the problems plaguing these countries include corruption within the football federations lack of zeal and disciplined attitudes on the part of the players and frankly lack of technical depth and intelligence in the coaching crew....i cant understand why the head coach of the Nigerian super eagles will comment that they didn't know a 2-1 win would have been sufficient in the last round of matches....there's something called permutations combinations and possible outcomes....does he watch the premiership on the last day of the season or even the Bayern-Inter last season?

    October 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  21. Jalloh Ahmad

    Well, Pedro,no one is born big or powerful,power is earned though hard work, no condition is permanent as it is known in my remot village and mst african villeges.thats an african perspective.
    Power shifts not only in Football but in all other disciplines if you dout you can ask Tiger wood,French football team,Real Madrid,Ajax,Juventus or N.forest of englan.
    the big teams that faild to qualified,did so because others are better prepared and willing to make name but the conditions are the same for all african teams.
    Ethihopea was once a powerhouse but where are they now?Are
    Nigeria,Egypt,and cameroon also following ethiopeas footsteps?
    South Africa has never been a powerhouse Mr.Pedro,in all competitions they perfurm well,they organised and where favoured.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  22. Max

    Kenyan football is so so so corrupt and big names play football not big players. Despite not perfoming, players have been recycled over n over again like there has not benn any upcoming talents for the last years. Most of clubs' funds are embezzeled, you can outshine the ones playing nationwide but the amount rewarded can't feed, clothe or cater for a single rental crib. Nepotism has killed us, you have to be known and well connected to play for the big clubs. Our Nation team's doors got lock'd up way back while we were back in pri schools.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  23. Bakare

    As far as i am concerned "SUPER EAGLES SHOULD LEARN TO PUT THEIR BEST IN EVERY MATCH" there is no small team in African Football anymore.
    More so, most of these international players are very indiscipline when it come to national level, which they can NEVER try in their respective clubs.

    A case study of Nigerian football, due to indiscipline Osaze was suspended from the national team, all Nigerians were crying and pleasing on his behalf to the Chief Head Coach Samson Siasia, who stood his ground that their is no player that will ever place himself higher than Him or the Nation as a whole, due to much pressure on the coach He (Osaze) was recalled back into the team even without direct apology to his head coach, thinking they are the best in the national team.
    As if that was not enough, Enyama, also called for a mini protest within the National team, which i think they all have the right to freedom of speech if only He channel it very well, but due to lack of education he did not channel His protest in the appropriate way, which call for his suspension also.

    Bringing all this together and knowing that if they win that march all the glory will go to the Coach, I AM VERY SURE THAT THE PLAYERS SABOTAGE the coach just to show him that HE can only do the talking while they do the playing.

    If you watch both Nigeria match against Guinea and Ghana you will realize what am talking about, there are players that are hungry for football but because the senior players that plays in Europe are around, most Nigerian/ African fans will want the coach to field them while those that really want to play will be benched.

    Finally, i think all African players need to go for different type of training on self motivation and Patriotism before things can change in Africa.
    In fact CAF should make it a compulsory course for any player to join National team in Africa... and you just must pass before you can proceed.

    Thank you.

    October 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  24. Peter Emma

    How many footballers paid more than french and UK national teams earn? who are given better hotels and all sorts of allowences than them when it comes to national teams? what are their results!! I think our football stars are simply too proud and never serious with the game at the national level and this is not only in africa but all over. Only brazilians do well.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  25. Ahmed

    Sad to see a giant like Egypt not qualify, i have no doubt if they did they would win the cup for the fourth time...Hopefully Egypt can concentrate on the world cup now.

    Good luck EGYPT!

    October 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  26. Ahmed

    Also....Egypt is way underrated...Egypt is one of the worlds top teams....

    October 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  27. Simon


    October 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  28. chike

    @wangu wangu wonder where u come from,who fix matches this days,whoever tells tells u Nigeria fix matches is totally off the point,please get your facts and stop spreading trash online.

    October 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  29. Saint

    No such thing as 'Match fixing' in Nigerians' case.....its pure managerial problems period!

    October 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  30. ola

    well we have one hope. The country(NIGERIA) continue

    October 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  31. Shaka

    Let the absence of the so called big teams not underrate the efforts of the smaller teams. They have worked hard for it and deserve to be there. The problem with most players that play in Europe is that they have big egos and usually bring a lot of confusion to the local teams when they go back home. Their wings need to be clipped.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  32. Ebere

    FIFA secrecy and protection is the root cause of corruption in football administration in Africa and elsewhere in the world. FIFA operates like a Mosaic cell, where only the initiates have a say, they only judge themselves and no one does. Hence Football administrator are so corrupt and no one outside FIFA can bring them to book.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  33. redphi

    the day an african nation makes it to the final of the world cup is the day when.........

    October 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  34. Austin

    Pedro, I totally disagree with you. You miss the point when you take lightly the fact that countries like Botswana have up their game. Don't forget that it is not the number of star players you have in your team that determines a teams performance. To say Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt have star players and hence they should be in the African cup of nations is a fluke. What was South Africa's performance over the last years? Cote D'Ivoire has one of the finest line up in Africa but they have been consistent under achievers in recent times. Football is evolving and is moved beyond the number of star players a team has to the quality of play and technical discipline of the team. Apart from Egypt, all the countries you mentioned as African power house have consistently been putting up bad performances in the current past. The ACN would be fun as usual.

    October 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  35. Nkruma

    Hate the colonial vibe of this article. Love to know how much African football Mr. Pinto has watched? How many African players he knows other than those who play for the very top European teams? How familiar he is with the problems and limitations of the infrastructure in club football all over Africa and within the CAF? My suspicion is that he's speaking from a position of ignorance and extrapolating from the few "facts" he's managed to dig up during his brief research. African football is a work in progress but gone are the days when it needed to be lectured and dictated to by the "wise" men of Europe. The Cup of Nations is every two years because that's the way the CAF wants it, end of story. Some big teams haven't qualified - oh well, stuff happens. Remember the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals when so many big teams failed to perform? Was a radical reorganization and restructuring of the tournament demanded then? No, because football is all about peaks and troughs and the super powers were fully expected to rise again without any tampering, as they will in Africa. So stick to what you actually know and leave African football to deal with its own issues and evolve without the dubious "benefit" of Big Brother's guiding hand.

    October 13, 2011 at 3:33 am | Reply
  36. Albert

    Pedro should not be hounded for making his comments. Africans have an inferiority complex as exhibited in above comments. Football today is a money spinning venture that needs constant marketing. Pedro's comments should be examined with the intention of improving African football.

    And please don't refer to him as Mr CNN.

    October 13, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  37. Bisoo

    Personally, i think one needs to have had an experience living in Africa, watch AFC Qualifies before you would understand some of the "postivie" contributions here. African Players are usually too proud. Not forgetting that these were the same players, from very very poor backgrounds, who were playing without any descent football boots some 10 yrs ago under the hot sun in Lagos and other cities. If they're now plying their trade in the U.K or other EU countries and earning big sums, it's because their country paved the way for them, however difficult the path was. Once you have accepted the call up to play for your nation, you have to be dedicated. If you know you can't cope with the coach or whatever, decline the call and let those who could, join the team. Most of these players are earling 10x more than their National team coaches or even the head of the FA of their respective countries and this is where the pride is coming from. Corruption on the side of FAs for failing to give the coaches the total freedom to decide on who plays and who doesn't is what is killing the standard of most of these supposedly big teams, particularly Nigeria and Cameroon.
    Summing it up, until the FAs, the coaches and the players will put their respective countries at heart, teams like Nigeria and Cameroon will fail to qualify for every African cup, and even if they do, they will not take the trophy. As for South Africa, they're no where near the level of Ghana, Ivory Coast and even Sudan and them not qualifying is no big issue. If i were their FA I would have sacked their coach, not just for making those flimps comments that africa is a jungle, but also for his negligence of not knowing the rules of the qualifiers.

    October 14, 2011 at 11:20 am | Reply
  38. JIY

    Apropos Wangu Wangu, Nigeria has been in many more finals of the ACF than most countries and many more semi-finals. If they bribed referees as you insinuate, why didn't they win those finals or advance from those many semi-finals to the final?

    You and your ilk should stopped the nonsensical tune about Nigeria's corruption, which is what you're really trying to imply by your calumny.

    October 16, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  39. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Football, cricket, tennis, hockey and athletics are all facing the same old problem. What comes first: Country or club ? Players are the ones who could answer the tiny puzzle.

    October 16, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
  40. Kelly O .Samuel

    The only point I agree with is the fact that the African Nations cup is hosted every 2 years. This means constant calls from the countries to the players in terms of qualifying matches; this puts strain on the professional players.

    So I do not blame the professional players if they fail to give 100% at the games. We all should consider what will happens when the sustain injuries and can’t play for club and country.

    If you’ve not made your name at the top of the game, you will want to do all you can to make it. When you get there, you also want to remain the best there.
    And the only way is to avoid injuries.
    This is Natural is not about the players feeling to big to play for their countries.
    Local players would play well and take risk to get to the top.

    October 21, 2011 at 7:39 am | Reply
  41. Paulo Gomes

    That's it mr.Pinto.I agree 50% and i disagree 50% with u.Africans are vibrants but the aliens (europeans &americans) dislikes the progress of them.They know that whether africans trashing every barriers will be end of golden era of the westerners sides.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  42. Babayo Joshua

    should Nigeria sport we come together and build a strong team in dis country

    September 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply

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