By RON FANFAIR
Gabon has won its first ever African continental soccer title.
The West Central African nation defeated host country Morocco 2-1 last Saturday to clinch the African Under-23 crown. Both finalists along with Egypt will represent the continent in next year’s London Olympics.
Senegal, which finished fourth in the eight-team Under-23 championship, will face off against an Asian side in a home-and-away game for an Olympic spot.
Other Olympic qualifiers so far include Belarus, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Uruguay and host country, England.
Nigeria, the runners-up at the Beijing Olympics, failed to advance to London after crashing out in the group stages in the African Under-23 tournament, losing two of their three matches.
Head coach Austin Eguavoen quit after his team’s exit and apologized to Nigerians for the side’s failure to make it to the Olympics.
“I am so sorry I couldn’t make it,” he said. “I think it’s just honourable for me to resign after failing to meet the set targets….I had confidence in this team but, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted. I am deeply sorry.”
This has been an extremely disappointing year for Nigerian soccer.
The West Africans failed to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, marking the first time the Super Eagles has missed the regional tournament since 1986.
The women’s team also missed this year’s All-Africa Games and will not be at next year’s Olympics.
Meanwhile, Cameroon’s sports minister, Michael Zoah, has been sacked following a row that resulted in the national side refusing to compete in an international friendly. The delayed payment of appearance money for several friendly matches sparked the strike.
Zoah had criticized the Cameroon Soccer Federation for its handling of the affair. The sports ministry, which largely funds soccer, has been involved in a long-running dispute over the administration the game.
Cameroon failed to qualify for the 2012 African Cup of Nations tournament.
And, former Brazilian international, Socrates, passed away last week after a brief illness. He was 57.
A medical doctor, Socrates was a member of Brazil’s 1982 and 1986 World Cup teams. He scored 22 goals for his country as an attacking midfielder.
“Socrates was one of the most brilliant players in the history of Brazilian soccer,” said International Soccer Federation president, Sepp Blatter. “He was a legendary, highly technical player who was gifted with outstanding vision on the field…He was a recognizable figure on the pitch as much for his flawless technique as for his proud posture, beard and upright dribbling style.”
Socrates played for Brazilian clubs Botafago, Corinthians and Fiorentina.