While Nigeria’s presence will be missed at next month’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea, their absence will not diminish the West African country’s importance to the structure of African soccer, says Confederation of African Soccer president, Issa Hayatou.
Losing two of its first three Africa Cup of Nations final-round soccer qualifiers to Congo and Sudan put Nigeria in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of. The three-time Cup winners finished third in its group behind South Africa and Congo and a point behind the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, which advanced to the finals as the best third-place team.
Hayatou told Nigeria Soccer Federation (NFF) president, Amaju Pinnick, that the entire African soccer family will feel the absence of the Super Eagles at next year’s finals.
“The whole of Africa will miss Nigeria in Equatorial Guinea,” he said. “But the absence will not in any way diminish your stature as a very big and influential nation in the African game. It would have been good to have the defending champions in Equatorial Guinea.
“Nigeria brings so much value to the Africa Cup of Nations. However, we know that you will come back much stronger, as you did in winning the Cup in South Africa last year after missing out on the 2012 championship.”
The West Africa country suffered a troubled qualification campaign where they not only struggled with form on the pitch but were also affected by deep divisions in the NFF.
Meanwhile, Nigeria will tackle five-time world champions Brazil in a prestigious friendly on March 29.
The game will be played at the new Akwa Ibom stadium that was opened in early November.
“Everything has been finalized for the friendly game to go ahead as planned,” said Pinnick.’
The two sides have only ever met once – a friendly in 2003 in Abuja with Brazil emerging 3-0 winners.