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CAF’s strange geographical qualifier draws

The politics of football in Africa is just like the day-today politics of other spheres of life. Football politics is even worse as a few cliques could determine what happens in the entire continent to boost their selfish interests. Simply, football politics is like the same politics and rivalry between the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the All Progressive Congress. Top shots in football at all levels tinker with crunch decisions based on their influence in CAF. In recent times, Nigerian teams have been struggling to earn tickets for global events as CAF has now turned the qualifiers into a regional matter.

The country’s U-20 team under the tutelage of coach Ladan Bosso was grouped in WAFU Zone B of the African qualifiers for the Nations Cup at that cadre and the FIFA World Cup. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire were the opponents of the Flying Eagles and only one team will emerge.

The country’s U-20 team failed to pick the ticket since the three countries are tough in the round leather game. Few weeks after, the U-17 team also filed out against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the team had to rely on another result to pick a ticket for the AFCON in that stage of football. As fate would have it, FIFA cancelled the U-17 and U-20 World Cups and so the impact of the CAF pairings did not manifest to the fans of the game at global level. However, investigations revealed that politics in CAF during the Ahmad Ahmad regime informed the current regional style of qualification series. It was decided that teams and other zones on the continent might never get a chance of playing at the global stage if the open draw style prevailed and so the regional style was embraced. Sad enough strong countries/teams come from the western and northern parts of Africa while the East and South are weak.

It was so strange that Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire compete in the same WAFU B. For example, Nigeria and Ghana have rich pedigree in continental and global age-grade football but these countries are now competing in the first round of the African qualifiers. This is a big setback for Africa as at least one of the continent’s big teams must fall from the first stage while a weak team will pull through from the eastern or southern part of the continent. During the week, the fixtures for the African Women’s Nations Cup were released by CAF and Nigeria will be meeting Ghana in the very first round. How? This fixture is one of 22 ties that saw the 44 teams seeded based on geography, rather than a ranking system, taking into account past results, the latest FIFA rankings or even a mixture of the two.

Nigeria are currently the top-ranked women’s side in Africa according to FIFA with Ghana at number four. The 22 aggregate winners progress to the second round that will decide the 11 nations joining hosts Morocco at next year’s finals. The 2022 tournament will be the first to feature 12 nations after the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria and Ghana are heavyweights in women’s football and having them meet in the first round means one of the continent’s best will be missing at the next AWCON.

This is very absurd and the new CAF leadership under Patrice Motsepe of South Africa will have to address this issue capable of causing disaffection forever in Africa. Of what use will it be for Africa if either Nigeria or Ghana fail to make the cut while countries like Uganda, Tanzania or Ethiopia will make it and eventually reduce the standard of the competition in Africa. If any of these teams qualify based on the current geographical arrangement, some of them could be beaten by 8 or 10-goal margins at the Women World Cup.

In future competitions, things have to change because it means Ghana, Nigeria Cote d’Ivoire cannot represent the continent in same event. The continent should revert to the open draw style with the top teams on bye such that the best should pull through no matter the geographical region they come from. Football is a beautiful game and we should not allow the politics and administrative issues to hinder the progress in any way. Nigerian officials who were part of the crisis which led to this arrangement should learn how to play better politics that will be of advantage and not otherwise.

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