’TANA AIYEJINA reviews the 2016 Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, which ends today at the famed Eko Atlantic City in Lagos
Nigeria’s Supersand Eagles and Senegal on Saturday claimed Africa’s two tickets to next year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in the Bahamas. The Nigerian side recorded a comprehensive 6-1 victory over hapless Morocco in the semi-final of the 2016 Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations at the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos while Senegal defeated another North African team Egypt 5-2 to continue the West Africans’ dominance in the competition.
The event, which began on Tuesday, ends on Sunday (today) after several days of intensive, grueling and often times explosive games amongst eight of Africa’s best, who stormed the Eko Atlantic City jostling for the two African tickets to next year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in the Bahamas.
The Confederation of African Football awarded Nigeria the hosting rights of this year’s Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations in February. Though several champions had emerged in the championship, the first edition of the Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations was actually held in Seychelles last year, with Madagascar emerging champions.
In a letter addressed to NFF President Amaju Pinnick, CAF noted that Nigeria would host the first edition of the event in an even year.
The letter read, “Considering indeed that the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup might be held early 2017, and that CAF in odd years do organise three major events back to back, namely the Africa Cup of Nations followed by the U-20 and U-17 Cup of Nations from January to April 2017, the CAF Executive Committee decided to ease the overall calendar of events by organising the Beach Soccer Cup of Nations every even years from now on.
“Hence, we look forward to a tremendous competition and to meet your team as soon as possible to start the preparations of the said competition.”
And the state started preparations in earnest. In hosting the championship, the Lagos State Government partnered with some top brands, and the result has been a world-class show on and off the ‘beach’ of play.
Eight teams including hosts Nigeria, champions Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Libya qualified for the final tournament, from where the final two teams would qualify for the Beach Soccer World Cup.
With three-time winners Senegal and two-time champions Nigeria in the tournament, this was always going to be explosive. And the matches have been unpredictable, sometimes leaving the spectators breathless until the final moments of the encounters.
The bitter rivalry between Nigeria and fellow West Africans Ivory Coast and Ghana was rekindled at the event, with the Nigerians falling to the Ivoirians on penalties but recovering to beat Ghana in a pulsating final Group A match-up.
Ivory Coast saw off Nigeria after extra time 4-4 in a thrilling tie. The Nigerians found themselves down 3-2 with eight minutes left on the clock but two goals from Abu Azeez and Tale semed to have ensured victory for the hosts before Aka equalised again from the spot. The Ivoirians then silenced the dancing home fans at the venue with a 3-1 win in the shootout.
Ivory Coast, who had led Group A from the opening day, surprisingly crashed out of the group stage after a 4-2 defeat to Egypt on the final day of the group’s games. Nigeria then held their nerves to surmount Ghana 4-3 in a nervy tie, which had the first four goals scored in the space of two third-period minutes, to seal the group’s last ticket to the semi-finals, alongside the Egyptians.
Morocco downed defending champions Madagascar 2-1 in a winner-takes-all tie on Thursday to ensure their spot in the semi-finals at the expense of the holders, who had earlier beaten Libya 9-5 and lost 3-1 to Group B leaders Senegal.
Africa’s most successful beach soccer team Senegal were ruthless, hammering Libya 10-2, the widest margin recorded at the tourney so far.
Another major highlight of the championship is its entertainment and tourism attraction. Nimble-footed cheerleaders from the Bahamas have wowed the fans with their amazing dance steps to songs from Nigerian artistes.
Lagos, reputed for its fun-loving residents, lived up to expectations once more. The state government threw open the gates and the fans capitalised on it, moving straight from work in some cases, to the Eko Atlantic City, to catch a glimpse of some of the final games.
“This competition has been amazing. Since the competition started, what I do is to come straight to the match venue, watch games, relax and when I embark on the trip to the Mainland after the games, the traffic would have eased. I have enjoyed the fun here, irrespective of which country is playing” Doyin, who works on the Island, said.
Visiting teams and officials were on Friday — their rest day — taken to various notable sites in Lagos by the Lagos State Government.
The tour of Lagos was put together by the Ministry of Tourism in conjunction with the Host City Working Committee co-headed by the Senior Special Adviser on Sports to the Governor of Lagos State, Deji Tinubu and Dr. Kweku Tandoh, former Director of Sports, Lagos State Sports Council.
Friday’s tour, according to Tinubu, who is also the Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission, “helped showcased the hospitality of the city of Lagos and tourism potential to the visitors, who comprise the participating teams and their officials as well as the delegation of the Confederation of Africa Football.”
The tour took two forms, with some of the visitors going on a boat cruise to Taqwa Bay and other places, while the others on the bus tour visited places such as the Palace of the Oba of Lagos, Freedom Park on Lagos Island and the National Art Theatre, Iganmu.
Tinubu said the fans would equally be treated to the best on offer by Lagos at the closing ceremony.
“We are making sure that everything goes according to plan. There’s going to be a taste of Lagos and what we can offer,” he said.
On the successful hosting of the competition, Tinubu added, “It’s been hard work and co-operation from everybody. We know what the governor (Akinwunmi Ambode) wants from us and we can’t afford to fail. Hosting the event is an opportunity to showcase what Lagos has to the world and we are happy that we’ve been able to get positive results.”
He however didn’t rule out challenges in hosting a tournament of such magnitude. “There will always be challenges but the key thing is how we manage these challenges, which we’ve done.”
No doubt, Senegal and Nigeria are Africa’s finest beach soccer nations. And this year’s final is a replay of the 2007 and 2011 final games.
Nine years ago, the Supersand Eagles defeated Senegal 6-5 in Durban to emerge victorious but the Senegalese got their pound of flesh back four years later, when they defeated their West African foes 7-4 in Casablanca, Morocco, to win their second title.
Now, both sides would be involved in another titanic battle that could either see the Nigerians equal the feat of the Senegalese or the latter extending their dominance on the continent.
When elephants fight, the grass suffer, so goes a saying. However, when these two African giants tackle themselves today, would the beach of the celebrated Eko Atlantic City sink or would it stand the battle?
Nigerian beach soccer fans are anxiously waiting and also praying to see their side come tops and equal the Senegalese three triumphs.
“The only way to serve Lagos residents and Nigerians a birthday gift is for the Nigerian team to beat Senegal and rule Africa once again. We will give the team all our support come on Sunday,” a female supporter of the Nigerian team, Lola, said.