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Nwabali, Williams are evidence of improved African football leagues

Nwabali, Williams are evidence of improved African football leagues
February 10
08:34 2024

BY SUNDAY OMEIKE

For years, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has been derided as a tournament bereft of technical capabilities. A gathering of rugged players from the backwaters rubbing shoulders with the few players from Europe’s elite and fighting for a derided trophy.

Many European clubs scoff – hello, Jurgen Klopp – at the tournament littered with players plying their trade in Africa-based clubs or lower-tier sides in top European leagues.

This latest edition of AFCON- its 34th- taking place in Ivory Coast has however seen a seismic shift in the technicality of the game played by hitherto-derided nations who have improved to shock more illustrious nations. The statistics after the group stage showed a tournament maturing before our very eyes, with a record highest goals-per-game rate of 2.47 in 15 years. The number of 10+ passing sequences per game jumped by 31% and more goals have been scored from this compared to AFCON 2021.

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By the end of the group stage, AFCON 2023 had become the first in history to average over 600 successful passes per game, with passing accuracy of over 80%, and has sprinkled lots of late drama that indicates improved technicality from both players and the coaching level.

Despite the presence of the much-vaunted foreign legion gracing this year’s tournament, two ‘local players’ have blessed our screens with displays of skills and confidence that would not be expected of players plying their trade on the continent.

Stanley Nwabali and Ronwen Williams, goalkeepers of Nigeria and South Africa respectively, both hit the ground running in Ivory Coast and maintained high standards the likes of Yassine Bounou could not match.

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Four consecutive clean sheets, spectacular saves, pitch-perfect communication and organisation of the backline, enviable distribution of the ball and reading of the game, amongst others. They also took to penalty saves like fish in water. These are attributes the likes of the great Gianluigi Buffon are known for. This is not expected of goalkeepers playing for teams in Africa- Nwabali for Chippa United and Williams for Mamelodi Sundowns, both in South Africa.

Nwabali is a product of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) where he played for Enyimba, Lobi Stars and Katsina United before taking his trade to Chippa United, South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) side, where he is the first choice stopper and his performances have been a major reason the club is not in relegation places.

Williams on the other hand was a substitute goalkeeper for much of his career before hitting it with Mamelodi Sundowns where title and clean sheets- he has conceded only thrice this season- have been raked in thanks to his heroics. He also became the first goalkeeper to save four penalties in a match in AFCON history.

These two are a testament that the football played on the continent can only get better with more investment. Their performances are a show of approval for our local leagues and this rare win should be milked in every possible way.

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The performances of Nwabali and Williams in particular, sprinkled with those of lower-ranked nations in Ivory Coast, have done a great job at advertising local leagues on the continent — especially the PSL — and it is hoped that CAF’s recent investment in the Africa Super League will equip national federations with financial muscle to take full advantage and move up the next level.

Congratulations to the worthy ambassadors.



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