JOHANNESBURG. — Nigeria striker Kelechi Iheanacho has called on players heading to the Africa Cup of Nations to prove to the world the tournament is underrated.
The 25-year-old Super Eagle urges players heading to Cameroon to show the rest of the world how great the continental finals are.
The 33rd edition of the continental finals, which were originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, will kick off on January 9 and run through to February 6 in Cameroon.
However, the competition has been shrouded in controversy with several clubs across Europe reluctant to release players in their set-up as most of their domestic leagues have reached a crucial stage.
The 25-year-old Iheanacho, who currently turns out for English Premier League side Leicester City, and will likely represent the Super Eagles in Cameroon, believes the African players have a great opportunity to show the rest of the world greatness of football on the continent.
“We need to keep doing what we’re doing and do our best and keep showing the world that Africa deserves more and there are more opportunities for good footballers over there,” Iheanacho said as quoted by talkSPORT.
“Our competition needs to be looked at as well but I think we need to prove with our play that our competition is underrated by doing extraordinary things on the pitch, by scoring goals, by performing really well so when we do that it will speak for itself.”
Apart from Iheanacho, other players who are in the Super Eagles’ squad from the Premier League include Wilfred Ndidi, who also turns out for Leicester, defender William Troost-Ekong and striker Emmanuel Dennis of Watford, Frank Onyeka of Brentford, and Alex Iwobi of Everton.
Iheanacho’s comments come just a day after former Arsenal striker Ian Wright castigated those disrespecting AFCON.
“Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations? There is no great honour, none other than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism,” the Arsenal legend posed a question on his Tiktok page.
“We played our Euros (Euro 2020) across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there’s no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament, is a problem.
“There are players getting asked if they will be honouring the call-ups to their national teams. Imagine if that was an England player representing the Three Lions. Can you imagine the furore?”
The 58-year-old Wright, who played for the Gunners in the English Premier League and managed to score 128 goals from 221 appearances, further reminded clubs in Europe that some of the best players in their leagues are Africans.
“Some of the best players in Europe right now are Africans. If we love them at our clubs, why not love them at their national teams across the globe,” Wright continued.
Hosts Cameroon will get the tournament underway with a Group A fixture against Burkina Faso at Stade Omnisport Paul Biya, Olembe on January 9 before Ethiopia take on Cape Verde in the second fixture.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, who are drawn in Group D alongside Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan, will open their campaign with a game against the Pharaohs on January 11 at Roumde Adjia Stadium. — Goal.com.