Following the November 22 release of the five-man shortlist for the African footballer of the year award from which Nigerian players were unsurprisingly omitted, the African football body has released shortlist for other categories of the annual award. CAF released names of shortlisted players and sports personalities in thirteen categories. Nigeria misses out on representation in seven of the thirteen categories.
The thirteen categories include the African women player of the year, the best coach of the year, the national team of the year, best youth player of the year, and the most promising talent. Others include referee of the Year, Football Leader of the Year, Fair Play Award, African Legend, Platinum Award, and Africa Finest XI. Of the 13 categories, Nigerians are featured in six of the categories with the likes of Iheanacho and Coach Florence Omagbemi leading their respective categories. Following the release, it appears Nigerians have made up for their omissions from the highlight awards of BBC African footballer of the year and the CAF version of the award. But as much as the nominations provide succour, do Nigerian nominees really stand a chance against their fellow nominees?
In the Women’s Player of the Year category, Nigeria and Arsenal Ladies Forward, Assisat Oshoala, who won the award in 2014 will slug it out with South Africa’s Jamie Van Wyk, Ghana’s Elizabeth Addo, and Cameroonian duo of Gabriela Onguene and Raisa Tchunyo. Oshoala who scored in Arsenal’s 5-3 win against Liverpool has been in top form in 2016 scoring six goals to win the highest goal scorer of the tournament as the Super Falcons won their 10th African Women Cup of Nations title. Oshoala, who remains the favourite for the title, however, faces stiff competition from Cameroonian Gabrielle Aboudi Onguuene. The Cameroonian winger won the player of the tournament at the just concluded African Women Cup of Nation in Cameroon. The battle is obviously between the duo and it’s hard to call; but having outshone Oshoala to win the player of the tournament at the cup of nations, the award appears to be that of Onguene to lose.
The duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ogenekaro Etebo lead nominations for the award in the Most Promising Talent category. Iheanacho and Etebo are joined by Stoke City of England’s Egyptian winger Ramadan Sobhi, Mali U-20 midfielder, Naby Keita, and 20-year old TP Mazembe forward Elia Meshack. With Nigeria’s duo of Iheanacho and Etebo being the better known of the nominees, there is almost little doubt about the possibility of the awards ending up with either. Etebo, who won the award last year, starred for the Dream Team VI at the 2016 Rio Olympics scoring four games as the Dream Team defeated Japan 5-4 in their opening group game. He also played a vital role in the recent Super Eagle’s win over Algeria in the 2018 World Cup Qualifier. Iheanacho, the undoubted favourite, has been showered with praises following strings of stellar performances that marked his 2015/16 breakout season. Kelechi has proven a good substitute for the injury prone Aguero, scoring 5 goals in 12 appearances all season including scoring one and assisting another in the 2-1 win over Manchester United in the Manchester derby. Iheanacho has also scored two goals in as many appearances for Nigerian in the ongoing Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier. At 20 years, with this much of international exposure, and proven signs of a brilliant future ahead, Kelechi Iheancho is undoubtedly the most promising talent in Africa.
Arsenal’s Alexander Iwobi reeling from his breakout 2015/16 is another Nigerian leading his category as the favourite. He is shortlisted alongside Ghanaian duo of Eric Ayiah, Sandra Owusu-Ansah, Ivorian Franck Kessie and Mali’s Sidi Maiga. Iwobi, though having a mixed season at Arsenal having recently ended a six-month goal drought, is still tipped to go home with the award. He, however, faces a stiff competition from Owusu-Ansah who led the Ghanaian U-17 female team to the quarter-finals of the 2016 Female U-17 World Cup in Jordan.
In the coach of the year category, coach of the victorious Super Falcons team, Florence Omagbemi, is shortlisted alongside DR Congo’s Florent Ibenge, Uganda’s Milutin Sredojevic, Algeria’s Nacer Sandjak and Mamelodi sundown’s Pitso Mosimane. Pitso Masimane who led Mamelodi Sundown to their CAF Champions League trophy earlier in the year is a strong contender for the title. Serbian Milutin sredojevic who oversaw Uganda’s remarkable first qualification for the African Cup of Nation in over 38 years is another strong contender. Florent Ibenge is another top contender after surprisingly putting DR Congo on course for their first world cup appearance in Russia 2018 following consecutive wins in their world cup qualifiers scoring six goals and conceding one. The award is apparently a tough one to call as each of the nominees has excelled in their respective positions this year. Whoever wins the award will be thoroughly deserved but after becoming the first woman to win the African Women Nations Cup as a player and as a coach, Florence Omagbemi could only be taken a favourite for the award..
The Super Falcons and the Dream Team VI complete the nomination for Nigeria in the best female team and the best male team of the year categories respectively. The Super Falcons won their 10th AWCON title after defeating Host, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, in the final. The Dream Team VI were the only positive as they won Nigeria’s only medal in a disappointing Olympics campaign Dream Team VI are shortlisted alongside Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Uganda who qualified for their first nations cup in 38 years. The Super Falcons are shortlisted alongside Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa and Cameroon. While the super Falcons are clear-cut favourite to take home the award in the female Team of The Year category, the Dream Team VI faces a stiff competition from Milosutin Srebojevic’s Ugandan team after they remarkably secured the ticket to the 2017 African Cup of Nations. However, the Dream Team still remains the favourite.
Nigeria which won two awards—best youth player (Osimhen) and the most promising talent, Oghenekaro— from five nominations in 2015, is better positioned to double the figures in the 2016 awards come January 5, 2017.