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No Continent for Big Guns
For years, the African Cup of Nations has been dominated by the same big names; Egypt won three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010, while Cameroon and Nigeria have always been dominant.
The 2012 edition saw some shift in power as former powerhouses such as Cameroon and Nigeria, among others, missed out. Furthermore, little known Zambia edged out tournament favorites Ivory Coast to lift the coveted trophy.
2013 saw the return of Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa (albeit as hosts) and the debut entry of Cape Verde. Ivory Coast was the stern favourite once more whilst Zambia could not be ignored as they were now defending champions.
The Chipolopolo however, despite their unbeaten run in the tourney, failed get out of the Group Stages while Ivory Coast was eliminated at the quarter final stage by a resurgent Super Eagles.
Cape Verde on the other hand shocked many pre-tournament, by qualifying at the expense of Cameroon and soldiered on to qualify for the quarter finals. Along the way, they played very beautiful and organized football and their players really impressed.
Even big name players underperformed as new stars rose and shone. Wakaso Mubarak of Ghana, Nigeria’s Sunday Mba and Cape Verde’s Ryan Mendes but to mention a few. Burkina Faso’s Jonathan Pitroipa meanwhile finally seemed to show the continent that his great potential may finally have come to fruitition with his instrumental role in eliminating Ghana at the semi final stage.
AFCON 2013 proved that there are no longer big teams or big names in African football – just big hearts and lots of spirit that inject into the games an element of surprise.
Lesson for Kenya : Invest in Local Coaches
Many people, sadly Nigerians too, doubted that Stephen Keshi would lead Nigeria even past the group stage of the tournament. He however proved critics wrong by winning the title.
We never seem to trust our own and despite Nandwa having handled the team well recently, talk is rife that Belgian Adel Amrouche is the new Harambee Stars Head Coach, just few months after Henri Michel quit over unclear circumstances.
How many coaches has Kenya had in the past one year? What success have they brought? Why not entrust the job to a local coach who understands the players and the league better? Keshi did it for Nigeria and I believe a local coach for us will be the perfect remedy for our beloved Harambee Stars.
Ivory Coast is the Oranje of Africa
Ivory Coast and The Netherlands have much more in common than the colour of their football kit.
Both teams always seem to have remarkably skilled and technically sound squads. Both play incredibly in the early stages major tournaments but tend to then fall at the last hurdle. Both, despite their talents only have one major crown to their name.
Ivory Coast has arguably had the best squad in Africa over the last few years. Yet they still draw blanks in the Africa Cup of Nations. With players of the calibre of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers, Didier Zokora, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou to name but a few; players who have played and triumphed on big stages such as the UEFA Champions League and other club cup competitions and Leagues across Europe, it’s a mystery how they never seem to overcome the pressure that accompanies the favourites tag.
At AFCON 2013, they cruised through the group stages only to be unexplainably undone by a less experienced and less talented Nigerian squad in the quarter-finals. That was that and it was déjà vu of similar past failures.
Just like The Netherlands of the 1970’s which failed to win the World Cup despite reaching two consecutive Finals, Ivory Coast has failed to win anything with this incredible group of players. AFCON 2013 proved that Ivory Coast, like The Netherlands is always the bridesmaid but never the bride.
United We Stand
It’s not just in real life that such lessons are best endowed but even in the glory of green pitches, in the weaving of passes, in the shooting and scoring of goals, in the cheering of the fans, in the greatest of moments; Football is meant to bring all of us together.
Some teams we loved might have fallen down the pecking order over time, some that we though had no place in the highest places are fast re-writing history. It’s not every single day that a team written off wins a title neither is it every day that a team that’s expected to win fails to. Most often the difference is the level of hard work put in setting up the team over time and the factors that bring the team together.
For countries where putting on the team jersey is everyone’s pride and not bordered on personal ambition; winning may not always be the achievement but the spirit and determination to succeed when given a chance to impress often draws fans and praise to a side.
For a team that mostly relies on individual brilliance, a team where every player plays for himself- everyone with hidden agendas and personal cases to present to the fans; often than not- the division is clearly seen in their passing, their celebration and even in their talk.
AFCON2013 was no different. Countries like Ethiopia may have not won the title but the attitude shown by the East African’s was proof enough of what a united front given time can do. Not much can be said on the much acclaimed Ivory Coast side; Once in a while it was clearly visible on the pitch.
Mali deserves a special mention. For a country embroiled in turmoil, third place was a commendable and a special achievement. Even more special is the fact that there was still the disappointment that they could have gone all the way. Coincidentally, Nigeria had differences between them; but what makes a great team? The ability to rise above every single challenge and set them aside for that single goal Uniting to achieve what brought you there.
AFCON is Losing the Popularity Battle
Before the first quarter final of Euro 2012, twitter crashed. Before the first quarter final of AFCON 2013, twitter crashed. The similarity ends there. For where Euro 2012 was solely responsible for the overcapacity of twitter in June 2012, AFCON 2013 wasn’t in February 2013.
AFCON is not popular. If it ever was, the 2013 edition proved that it no longer is. Newspaper headlines did not start with it. Tweets and status updates of it were not as high as expected. Even the crowds in South Africa indicated this. Constantly we were told games were sold out; constantly we saw half empty stadia. Tickets had been sold but nobody was attending.
CAF has been fighting a losing battle all along. It is not for us to blame them, and we have to consider that yes, Africa’s climate is not like that of Europe. So while we have our sort of summer at the beginning of the year, the European Leagues are returning from their winter break at their halfway point.
Thus, AFCON has to compete with the European Leagues. At that, it stands no chance. European Leagues have better marketing, shown everywhere due to satellite TV, and lets face it, better following. So instead of watching Ghana, most will elect to watch Arsenal. Instead of discussing Burkina Faso’s line up, most will discuss the changes they made to their fantasy squads.
As long as AFCON is held at the same time as the European Leagues, it will never attain its full popularity. Timing is everything, and maybe the time has now come for CAF to compromise, and alter the time of the year that AFCON is to be held.