As the resident African (I don’t always count Mohaned) at Cosh HQ, it’s my honour to discuss this prestigious tournament. Last time around I was the happiest man on earth as my Super Eagles of Nigeria took the prize to Abuja. This year, after a decent World Cup brought promise, our shambolic governing body fired, then re-hired Stephen Keshi and the chaos led to our failure to even qualify for this year’s tournament. That’s enough about my shame, disgrace and embarrassment. No more talk of Nigeria because that would be a disservice to the teams that deservingly qualified.
The tournament was due to be hosted by the beautiful country of Morocco. However, they decided to throw their preparation and money already spent out the window due to fears over a pandemic that only exists in three countries. Ebola was the excuse but no one is buying it. Only one country known to have ebola qualified for the showpiece and we all know they can secure their borders to keep the disease out. Morocco should have known better but alas they didn’t. Now in haste, Equatorial Guinea is hosting the tournament. In reality the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had no other choice. Hosting a tournament of this size in a democratic nation requires debate and a what could be a length voting process.. The only countries that can get these done are incredibly football mad ones or ones run by dictators. Equatorial Guinea falls in the latter category and it should be of no surprise to anyone that their nickname is “National Thunder.”
Sixteen teams have qualified for the African showpiece event to be hosted in four cities; Bata, Malabo, Mongomo and Ebebiyin. Of all the groups, Pot 1 that includes the Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire, the Black Stars of Ghana, the aforementioned National Thunder of Equatorial Guinea and the Zambian Stallions has to be the ‘group of death’. Each group has at least two quality nations so expect exciting football at every stage of the competition.
We know that the facilities will not be top class and accommodations may not be up to scratch. The standard of play will not be Champions League standard either (maybe CAF Champions League). However, there will be a lot of positives to take and they always outweigh the bad.
So what can we expect from this tournament?
Crazy fans: If you think fans in South America may be the rowdiest and in Europe they may be the most cynical, Africans are by far the most vibrant and colorful. People come out in full body paint, costumes conveying the national animal and you’ll see the odd witch doctor in the stands too. The crowds are noisy but not because of the chanting we’ve become accustomed to in Europe. African fans are very musical with their trumpets, drums and in South Africa the scourge of western media: Bafana Bafana’s vuvuzela.
Attacking football: Many people will say that the discipline of the European game and the technical acumen of the Latin American game are missing in Africa. To those who believe this I say that you are not entirely incorrect. That being said, the legendary Egyptian sides of the early 2000s were disciplined, slick passers of the ball while the continent has had its fair share of skillful magicians such as Okocha, Abedi Pele and Mohamed Aboutrika. Not to mention three of the best strikers to grace the European club stage in George Weah, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba. For the most part, the African game is one of sheer determination and driven by an almost childish desire to just play the game naturally. More often that not this leads to free flowing attacking encounters, at least until the final which reverts to the global norm of being pure dross.
A Cinderella story and a giant slaying: Last time around the Stallions of Burkina Faso made the final but fell to Nigeria in a final that few predicted before the tournament began. The year before, Chipolopolo (The Bullets) of Zambia beat a star studded Cote D’Ivoire team on penalties in what must be seen as the biggest footballing shock of the last ten years. Christopher Katongo rose to prominence for Zambia and Jonathan Pitriopia for Burkina Faso. These two leaders may have never been heard of if not for the realization of the dreams of these two minnows of the African game. Before that, the Pharoahs of Egypt (these nicknames are great aren’t they?) dominated. It’s almost as if once they fell into chaos the rest of Africa saw the opportunity to try to fill the void. Along with the serial underachievers, Cote D’Ivoire, Algeria – also known as the Fennec Foxes – may be the favourites this time around led by an exciting new generation of players such as Bentaleb, Brahimi and Feghouli. That said, watch out for the Teranga Lions of Senegal who are back from the footballing doldrums with attacking talent like Papiss Cisse, Sadio Mane, Mame Biram Diouf and Moussa Sow just to name a few.
Bernie and Mohaned bickering: Our teams aren’t in the tournament but believe me we will be bickering over our respective nations anyway. Sure Egypt hold the record with a million victories and Nigeria only have three, but Nigeria have produced the more notable stars. Kanu, Okocha, Enyeama (the greatest African goalie), Taribo West, Yekini, Amokachi…..need I say more!? We will be bickering, but one thing about the African continent that others don’t have is a sense of togetherness. You won’t see much hooliganism, xenophobia or even fighting between rival supporters that you often see in Europe and South America. The African Cup of Nations is truly a celebration for the continent. When Cote D’Ivoire go out (mark my words), expect their fans to cheer on another country. Most Nigerians will probably support Ghana and you will have the North Africans supporting Algeria. No malice, just regional camaraderie. As we saw during the World Cup, North, South, East and West Africa supported one another and I expect more of the same in Equatorial Guinea.
The Cosh boys will be tuning in and watching all the action while enjoying some ful and suya. Trust me, so should you.