Why CAF snubbed Abuja national stadium for AFCON qualifiers

THE Confederation of African Football (CAF) has approved the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, for the Super Eagles next home game in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.

The Super Eagles had previously played their first two home games of the qualification series against Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium in Abuja.

According to a press release by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Monday, May 15, the Abuja national stadium will not host Nigeria’s last home  game as it was not among the approved stadiums.

What happened?

Dangote Group of Companies in December 2021, handed over to the Federal Government, an Abuja national stadium which had a refurbished football field and new computerised scoreboards.

The renovation of the Stadium by Dangote Group was funded through the Adopt-a-Pitch Initiative, which sought to use private partnerships to improve the development of athletes in the nation.

Ten months after the Moshood Abiola International Stadium, Abuja, was turned over to the Federal Government by the Dangote Group of Companies, the stadium’s renovated football field had returned to its previous pitiful condition.

When the Super Eagles defeated Sierra Leone 2-1 in an AFCON qualifier played in June 2022, the rough field prevented free movement of the ball, and the grass in some areas had already vanished.

Fast forward to July 2022, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development completed the revamping of the football pitches at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium in Abuja.

The actors speak

But Super Eagles bemoaned at the state of the pitch when they surprisingly lost to Guinea Bissau in an AFCON qualifying match in March 2023.

The Super Eagles loss to the Djurtus of Guinea Bissau was allegedly caused by the poor playing surface of the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja, according to Everton and Super Eagles star Alex Iwobi.

The Super Eagles were shockingly defeated one nil by Guinea Bissau, one of the lowest-ranked nations in the world. Iwobi and his colleagues had trouble expressing themselves as freely as they did in earlier games on the field.

Nigeria’s head coach, Jose Peseiro, also said that the September 24 Stadium in Bissau had a better field than the one in Abuja following the reverse fixture, which the Super Eagles won by a solitary goal.

Iwobi agreed with the coach, saying the Super Eagles will be tough to beat if they play on a good pitch.

“If we had that in Nigeria, I feel like it would be difficult to beat us. I am confident enough to say that not many teams can beat us,” Iwobi said in an interview with The Beautiful Game Podcast.

“Having a good pitch, if we have that, I feel like we’d be unstoppable. Just a pitch with grass, no crops”.

Renowned Sports Writer and former Nigerian star, Segun Odegbami in his column for COMPLETE SPORTS Newspaper revealed that he admonished the ministry to adopt a feasible way of maintaining the MKO Abiola Stadium pitch but deaf ears were turned to his words and the rest is history.

“What the Super Eagles and Nigerians are passing through now, playing at home and looking like the visiting team, is a consequence of not doing anything about the state of the playing surfaces,  not installing the right grass fields, drainage systems, watering systems, and not training groundsmen on modern technology of nursing real grass turfs.

“I pointed this out to the outgoing Minister of Sport when the 10-year Masterplan Committee for Nigerian Football visited the MKO Abiola International Stadium in Abuja when the latest work on the ground was going on over a year ago. I challenged the contractors handling the project to ensure that the highest standards of construction were adhered to because grass field management had failed severally in the country and needed extra-special handling. They took my challenge very poorly even as they assured the Minister that they knew what they were doing and would deliver a world-class grass field.

Nigeria forward Sadiq Umar (L) and Sierra Leone’s Emmanuel Samadia vie for the ball during the 2023 AFCON qualifiers between Nigeria and Sierra Leone at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium, Abuja, on June 9, 2022.

“The rest is history. It may be a grass field alright by normal standards, but to have the best playing surfaces to help our calibre of players in the Super Eagles today who do not have the luxury of training for a long time on the poor fields and getting familiarised is a great setback for the team and the country. 

“Since the MKO Abiola International Stadium, Abuja was opened for use as the home ground of the Super Eagles last year, everyone can now see that one of the main hindrances to great performances by the national team on that ground is the relatively poor state of the playing turf.”

Super Eagles return to Uyo

The Super Eagles will be making a return to the the Godwin Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, known as the ‘Nest of Champions’ following the latest announcement by CAF. The senior men’s national team last played at the stadium in 2019. The Uyo stadium first hosted a Super Eagles match in 2015.




    Former Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr had previously stated that the players prefer the Uyo stadium.

     

    “But my players like Uyo because of the facilities, because of the stadium,” Rohr had told ESPN.

    The Super Eagles’ next game in the qualifiers is an away clash against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone on June 18, 2023. The game will be played at a neutral venue as no stadium in Sierra Leone was approved by CAF.

    The Super Eagles will then host Sao Tome and Principe in their final match of the qualifiers in Uyo in September.

    Jose Peseiro’s side top Group A of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers with nine points and need a point from their next game against Sierra Leone to secure a place in Cote d’Ivoire.

    A passionate and resourceful sports journalist with a strong enthusiasm for creating excellent sporting articles, including gripping feature and opinion pieces, news articles, and match reports. I really enjoy covering football, and I present a variety of sports programs on radio and television. I have written a variety of sport pieces that have attracted large audiences on both local and worldwide sport media sources using abilities like SEO writing, blog post writing, etc.

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