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

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October 13 – 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?

END

By Pedro Pintp

Pinto is a sports anchor for CNN International.

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