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AFRICA FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Osimhen may become next big name to miss out on prime prize of African Footballer of the Year

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Palais des Congrès, Movenpick, Marrakech, MOROCCO

The local television stations here in Morocco has been vocal in beaming the exploits of home boy, Achraf Hakimi the right back who played a crucial role in pushing Morocco to an historic World Cup semi-finals last year in Qatar.

Hakimi took the winning kick in the penalty shoot-out against Spain which launched  Morocco, Africa and the entire Arab World into a historic World Cup semi-finals for the first time ever.

Clips of Hakimi’s exploits, at the Paris St-Germain are also being aired in apparent motive of shaping the awards’ outcome.

He now stands as the main obstacle to the apparent front runner, Victor Osimhen.

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Should Hakimi wins, it will be the second time a Moroccan had beaten a Nigerian at the last hour, bringing in the memory of the 1998 episode when Mustapha Hadji edged out the front-runner, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha.

But with Osimhen ranking highest among the African players at the 2023 Ballon d’Or, he still looks the most likely winner of the prime CAF Award ahead of the duo of Hakimi and Mohamed Salah.

If he wins, he becomes the first Nigerian to do so since the 1999 award to Nwankwo Kanu.

He will also become the first winner to have previously won the

Best Young Player of the Year. He was the African Best Young player in 2015 courtesy of his performances at the FIFA U17 World Cup that year.

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In the Women’s category, record-extending Asisat Oshoala had previously won the Best Young Player of the Year (Women) in 2014.

But sometimes, expectations don’t square up with results. In the past, there have been frontrunners who stumbled on the last day as exemplified by Mikel Obi who was expected to win the title, on home soil in 2013 after Nigeria had won the Africa Cup of Nations that year.

Similar examples are that of Okocha in 1998 and Ghana’s Michael Esssien who  made the CAF award shortlist every year from 2005 to 2009, and finished second behind Mali striker Frederic Kanoute in 2007.

His compatriot and Ghana’s all-time leading goalscorer Asamoah Gyan is another notable name to miss out, finishing behind Eto’o in 2010, while Bayern Munich and Black Stars centre-back Samuel Kuffour was second in both 1999 and 2001.

Other notable misses are those of  Egypt’s Mohamed Aboutrika  in 2006 and 2010 as well as South Africa’s Benni McCarthy in 1996.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.