At the time of kick off of the African Nations Cup qualifying matches, it was expected that the big football nations would walk through the series with ease. With a total of seven groups and two best teams from each group expected to qualify, it was seemingly impossible that any Africa’s big teams would miss out of the tournament slated to kick off in Morocco by January 2015. However, at the end of match day one, the scripts were torn up as some minnows came close to creating upsets while others were successful in delivering surprise results.
In Calabar, African champions Nigeria were expected to defeat the Red Devils of Congo coached by Claude Le Roy as the Super Eagles looked set to give fans something to smile about amid the seemingly endless tussle for power in the Nigerian Football Federation. Coach Stephen Keshi- whose contract expired at the World Cup- signed on for a two game deal to manage the team he led to glory in South Africa while his new contract is tweaked to accommodate his demands. Of all the players at the World Cup, only Vincent Enyeama and Osaze Odemwingie were absent due to family issues and injury respectively. Erstwhile captain Joseph Yobo had announced his retirement in Brazil and with the the promising duo of Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona being his replacements, there were few who tried to convince him to reconsider. On paper, all seemed set for a comfortable win but the final result, a 3-2 win for Congo, means the Eagles have it all to do to qualify.
Nigeria’s neighbours Ghana, still reeling from a scandalous World Cup which saw the country having to airlift $3 million to prevent a possible strike by the players, hosted Uganda and hoped to start off on a clean slate despite the boycott of fans who refused to attend the game. The clean slate was soon muddied as Uganda shot into a surprise lead only for Ghana to manage to steal a point in the latter half of the game. In Tunis, minnows Botswana were 15 minutes away from sealing a famous win but for two late goals from Tunisia and in Ivory Coast, the Elephants had to come from behind to win all three points after Sierra Leone grabbed yet another surprising lead in the fixture.
At the end of match day one, what was supposed to be a smooth sail for Africa’s big football nations was clearly going to be anything but- and that is excellent news for broadcast rights owners, SuperSport. The erstwhile predictability of African football had ensured that interest in these games were gong to be minimal but the turn of events so far has piqued interest with fans across the country intently engaged in analyzing their countries hopes for qualification. It would appear that the age old saying about how there are ‘no minnows in football’ is finally becoming a reality in Africa but whether or not the events of match day one are to become a way of life or were simply a fluke, the broadcast rights of these qualifying series have shot up in value.
Forecasts of television audiences on the continent will need to be revised as, given the excitement provided by match day one, many more Africans will be glued to their television sets for the next series of matches. Also, the events of the first match day will see smaller countries become a lot more adventurous and in turn, the big sides will be more cautious. The result of both scenarios increases the possibilities of upsets and will guarantee that a number of traditional football powers will be missing from Morocco 2015.
At the end of the year, Africa will find out who its qualifiers are but until then, the upsets and excitement will present SuperSport with an extraordinary opportunity to monetize these qualifying series because for them the increased interest and attention around what should have been routine qualifying games can only mean one thing: increased television revenue.